Little Red Book, also known as RED or XiaoHongShu in Chinese is one of the most important, dynamic and significant social e-commerce applications in China. Founded in 2013 by Mao Wen Chao and Qu Fang, it emerged in the Chinese digital landscape as a pioneer in its category. The main concept of RED is to help users to discover and buy products online, but also to share recommendations and advices to others. RED is the Chinese version of Instagram and both of them offers the possibility to promote business by doing social media marketing. Conversion rates can be a lot more effective than other online advertising because of the highly specific targeting of customer’s interests which are measured by gathering up the activity they had on the platform whether it is in terms of likes, comments, shares, etc. resulting in a greater ROI.
Instagram is known as a social media extremely used in the West and the rest of the world nowadays, but not in China. This platform allows users to share pictures and videos with their friends and network with the possibility to like, comment and share contents. Founded by Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger in 2010, it has been bought by Facebook in 2012 for $1billion.
XiaoHongShu has distinguished itself by a very strong community aspect in particular: it combines products reviews forum, where the authenticity of opinions is guaranteed, with an online commerce platform. This reminds us of its western counterparts Instagram and Pinterest combined, which all allow users to save their favorite publications, interact with contents and other people, create their own content and also to follow official accounts from brands they like and celebrities. These apps are a very efficient tool for marketing purposes.
Mostly intended for urban women aged between 25 and 40 years old, Little Red Book proposes deals and offers especially on foreign luxury brands. RED has been able to surf on this spread of HaiTao and are presented nowadays as one of the main applications of cross-border trade in China. Users are going on RED to look up for products, reviews and tutorials created by other users.
Instagram is also intended for young people aged between 18 and 35 years old, it is centered on content and social community. Instagram is without any doubt one of the most used content-based social media in the West and worldwide since the apparition of media. Users are going on Instagram to keep in touch with their friends, see their latest posts, videos, memes and follow celebrities and official pages. Now they also use Instagram to buy products.
The content which appears on the homepage page of RED and Instagram can vary according to an algorithm that determines which products are more interesting for users based on their activity history on the app. The posts which appears on the feed are either popular posts or user-generated content. RED users can choose to see posts from the accounts they follow, discover random products or search for nearby products. All the remaining posts which appears on the feed are recommendations from the app based on the personal interests set by the users. In contrary, the posts users see on the feed of Instagram are only the posts from the people they are following thus only sponsored advertisements can appear on its feed as undesired content. Similar posts from accounts that users don’t follow can be found in the discover section of the app.
For brands who wants to sell on social media, it is essential for them to have a regular presence on the feed in order to engage their followers accordingly to popular trends.
Both apps have the possibility to post “stories” which are pictures or videos that their followers can see but which only last for 24 hours. The search bar in RED is located on the homepage and it enables the users to search for products across the platform either in forms of accounts, posts related to the word searched or corresponding product pages. For Instagram, the search bar is located on the discovery section of the app and it enables the search of accounts, tags or locations.
The homepage of RED integrates social and e-commerce together as it offers the possibility for users to find or discover products they would like to have by displaying all the related content on the user’s feed. The only action to take when scrolling onto an interesting product showed-off in a post is to click on the attached link which redirects directly to the product page for purchase.
RED’S OFFICIAL PAGE
INSTAGRAM’S OFFICIAL PAGE
Users of RED and Instagram can follow officially certified pages from brands, celebrities or resellers which sells products they like in order to be kept updated about the latest releases, discounts and therefore see the posts appear on their feed. For RED, the official pages of brands can be customized and are different than the ones of real users whereas for Instagram, these pages are the same ones for real users and also brands as there is no difference in the look of it except that it has to be certified and allowed to sell. Official pages on both apps can publish stories and posts which contains the product they want to sell in order to engage their followers.
Throughout the official page, users can discover the catalogues of the brand and buy products if the brand has opened up a shop in the app. RED users can buy directly within the shop when they found a product they would like to buy whereas Instagram users will have to be redirected to the corresponding product page on the official website of the brand.
There are various requirement for setting up a shop linked to an official account and start selling on both apps. Details and explanations can be found on *XiaoHongShu School platform or Instagram’s help page.
Little Red Book allow users to buy products directly on its platform. Users can either buy directly from links integrated within posts they will find on the homepage, search the product page in the store section or go to the official page of the brand to select the product. After reviewing the product page, they can use WeChat Pay or Alipay to make the transaction and receive their purchase at the address they gave. Each product is displayed on a product page which includes pictures, reviews, and descriptions of it but also other similar recommended products. The e-commerce aspect is really fully integrated within the app environment, which facilitate highly the discovery and purchase process.
For Instagram, which started to test some e-commerce features over the platform such as product reviews since 2016, the platform launched its own e-commerce system allowing brands to start selling throughout the social media in 2018. The app launched its Shopping feature which can be found in the discover section. It allows brands to tag products on their posts in order to redirect users on the official website of the brand and finalize the transaction. Users cannot buy directly from links integrated within posts as they are to be redirected to the official website of the brand by using an integrated browser within the app. People also need to have a Facebook catalog in order to sell product on Instagram.
The market section of RED displays all the products pages that are recommended according to the users interests. These pages are created by brands or sellers who owns a shop within the app and act as direct links to the purchase of products while the shopping section of Instagram only redirect the user to the official website for purchase.
For brands who are in favor of traditional marketing, they have the possibilities for RED to either pay for ads that pop-up upon app-opening or ads integrated within the explore page feed, both of which can help to increase exposure and click through. Since the official page is customizable, brands can also create original and appealing content to advertise on their page or pay for trending searches in order to increase their visibility in the shop section. The product pages in RED are also an efficient tool to redirect users to similar products or to promote the official accounts of brands. One way to efficiently advertise to Chinese customers is the collaboration with KOLs which is very common for social media marketing.
Instagram advertising is a method of paying to post sponsored content the the platform to reach a larger and more targeted audience. Brands and users can post an image, set of images or video which can be accompanied by text to reach the audience. About 80 percent of Instagrammers follow a business on Instagram and 60 percent say they use it to discover new products. Take all those great user generated photos and use them in your ads! There are five different types of Instagram ads which are Photo Ads, Video Ads, Carousel Ads, Slideshow Ads and Stories Ads which only appears on the feed or in the stories of the app.
For Instagram, hashtags are an important feature because they allow you as a brand to target your marketing to individuals who are directly interested in your product or service. Most companies average about seven hashtags per photo they post. If you search for hashtag topics that best relate to your company, you can find people who are specifically interested in that product or service and then directly target those people instead of wasting effort by directing attention at people who aren’t at all interested. As for RED, users get to indicate all the topics that they have an interest in when registering to the app or later on in order to personalize their feed with related posts.
RED’s platform incorporates a influencer marketing system called multi-channel networks (MCNs), which contact influential content creators on behalf of brands in order to increase popularity. Brands can search for the influencer they would like to work with and contact them through the app in order to promote their products and increase brand awareness, user engagement, and followers. KOLs have a high influence over Chinese population, which are more willing to trust celebrities than even the brand’s official channel. Celebrities often have their own RED profile and use it to advertise to their audience by posting sponsored content on their accounts. Depending on the number of followers they have and the target audience, posts in forms of pictures, videos, stories can all be a relevant way of advertising.
In contrary, Instagram have its own influencer marketing system but no multi-channel networks (MCNs), as local influencers and celebrities are often reached out to via brands through agencies or directly to feature their products on their feed and posts stories to increase brand popularity. Celebrities have their own official page but advertising is not their first vocation. They post images related to them and their life as a form of social sharing but engagement can be very high depending on the concerned KOL.
*XiaoHongShu School is a platform established in order to help brands and sellers to learn everything about selling on RED. It allows users to access knowledge on how to open a shop on the app and on how to address all the issues encountered while doing so. The access if free and the platform contains multiple features such as :
– “Freshman Centre” – for users to study the rules and pass a test in order to open a shop in XiaoHongShu.
– “Module Centre” – for users to learn more about topics such as listing products, handling returns, supply chain and advertising.
– “Test Centre” – to log in the account.
– “Help Centre” – FAQ.
– “Service Centre” – Global delivery solutions brochure.
– “Open Platform” – on how to technically develop a shop and to connect it to XiaoHongShu’s open platform in order to track performance.
Today, the success is such that XiaoHongShu has opened a physical store in Shanghai but the items sold in the shop are only the top-ranked products on the application. The community aspect of the application has been integrated into the customer experience with a totally transparent way during the purchasing process.
RED opened up its 2nd offline store in Shanghai
Little Red Book has often been called the “Instagram of China”, as the basic features of both applications are mostly similar. Users are here to discover content and interact with people. However, RED had managed to integrate e-commerce within its social aspect way before Instagram did, therefore establishing the base for social e-commerce with efficiency.
For the one of Instagram, which is still in an implementation phase, further development in the sector will determine the e-commerce landscape of tomorow for the West, while in China this concept is already far more developed and widely accepted by the population. Since Instagram isn’t working in China, Little Red Book seems to outplay its western counterpart for this specific market. While marketing is evolving along with the different communication tools and media, the importance of social marketing will only increase for business.