Is 小红书 (Little Red Book, aka RED) all it’s cracked up to be? Or is it just a flash in the pan, a one-hit wonder, an over-hyped fad, bound to go the way of Vine and MySpace? It’s hard to tell. One thing’s for sure – in the last few years, it’s gone from being a relatively niche platform, used almost exclusively to share cosmetics tips, to a full-blown social commerce powerhouse. In Part 1 of this guide, we’re going to give an overview of what RED is, the kinds of users it attracts, user behaviour, KOLs vs KOCs, RED ads and best practices.
First up, let us hit you with some quick facts:
- 300 million registered users, and growing
- 100 million monthly active users
- 50%+ users in first and second tier cities
- 80:20 female to male ratio
- Annual KOL investment growth of more than 100% – more than Weibo, WeChat and Douyin
What is Little Red Book?
RED started out in 2013 as a platform for mainland Chinese consumers who were headed to Hong Kong for some shopping. It catered to the propensity among Chinese consumers to do thorough pre-purchase research, by providing a space in which they could recommend to each other the best quality and best value products, with video and photo evidence.
With the content being user-generated, it garnered high levels of trust, as those who were using the platform were not usually incentivized, and were therefore seen to be unbiased. It became particularly popular with young women, who would recommend cosmetics, jewelry and apparel to one another. The company quickly pivoted from a Hong Kong focus to, more broadly, shopping destinations all over Asia, and then to shopping tips for e-commerce.
In 2014, it opened ‘RED store’, allowing users to make purchases directly through the app. Since then, it has been at the forefront of the growth in social commerce, and, alongside Alibaba’s Taobao, pioneered widespread adoption of livestream commerce. Though more and more brands are joining, user-generated content still makes up 70% of all content on the platform.
The Most Popular Topics
The main topics have remained essentially the same since day one: cosmetics, fashion, beauty and luxury. In recent years, however, more lifestyle products are being featured on the platform, such those that fall under the categories of home decoration, movies, photography, music, technology and toys (not adult toys).
The Users to Expect
Little Red Book has a decidedly specific user-base: young, affluent, urban women. Estimates put the userbase at between 80 and 90% female, around half of whom are under 24 years old, the majority of whom live in first or second tier cities.
Share of users by city tier, 2021, source Statista
With 100 million monthly users, however, that still makes for between 10 and 20 million male users; not a meagre sum, by any means.
Little Red Book User Behaviour
RED has the sort of interface you’d expect of a visual-heavy social media app. Users are met first with three feeds: posts by accounts followed, ‘explore’ and ‘nearby’. Scrolling vertically, these feeds consist of videos and images, with short captions, hashtags and the option to add URLs that lead to product or store pages. Content in the ‘explore’ and ‘nearby’ feeds is suggested algorithmically, according to interests declared by the user, and their prior in-app behaviour. Users can follow each other, flesh out their own profile, and build networks.
Besides the social feeds, there is the mall (商城) section, where users can select from a series of product-category feeds. These lead to product pages, which in turn lead to storefronts like that pictured.
Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) vs Key Opinion Customers (KOCs)
Anyone who’s taken an even fleeting interest in marketing in China will be familiar with KOLs. Referred to as influencers outside of China, enlisting KOLs for a while was seen as the one-shot-kill solution to being seen and heard, whether for a product launch, an event, a livestream or a general endorsement. Today, they’re still a cornerstone of marketing budgets, while traditional ad spending is decreasing.
However, brands are reporting a shift in focus. With budgets tightening, and the KOL honeymoon period over, there’s a new interest in targeting, in specificity. While KOLs might garner huge interest in a product for a moment or two, it is often the KOLs themselves that the audience pays attention to, not the brand behind the product.
Enter, the key opinion customer. While KOLs might have hundreds of thousands of followers, KOCs may only have a few hundred, or a couple of thousand. They are rarely paid directly by brands, but instead recruited indirectly through campaigns including loyalty schemes, rewards and giveaways.
They are the social commerce equivalent of a brand ambassador, people who are looked to by their friends and close contacts as a trusted source of information. For them to repeatedly feature a brand, ostensibly by their own volition, places the brand front and center. The social nature of RED has caused it to become the epicenter of the growth in KOCs.
Little Red Book Ads – Are they worth it?
RED does not provide the traditional display ad format option. They do however have full-screen pop-up ads and integrated ads. The latter appear, and behave, like posts in a chosen feed.
The most common way of advertising on RED is by enlisting the help of a KOL. Though the prices for some KOLs are eye-wateringly high, there are affordable options too, that a decent agency will have access to.
Whether either traditional ads or KOLs are worth it depends largely on whether your brand has an official account and/or an e-store set up on the RED platform. Official accounts allow brands to interact with users in a similar way to an individual user would; meanwhile an e-store fulfils the general ecommerce functions. If your brand isn’t already integrated in the RED ecosystem, then the return on ad investment is going to be low.
- Post videos. Videos are much more likely to be recommended, and interacted with, than single images. Choose a decent cover image to go with the videos.
- Interaction is the name of the game on RED. In any RED campaign, always bear in mind that this is a social commerce app. Brands are expected to be social agents too, not just faceless entities. Build communication with users into any plans.
- Optimize keywords & hashtags. Unlike some platforms, on RED, long-tail traffic is very much a thing. Posts are recommended based on engagement and interaction – if a post is matched up with a keyword, and it has a good history of engagement, then it will not necessarily lose its spot to newer content.
- Post often. Especially in the beginning. The posts need to be well-researched and visually compelling, so it’s a good idea to spend some time preparing everything before campaign launch, so that a series of daily posts are ready to go from the outset. Preparation is key.
Part 2 of our Little Red Book Guide
Here in Part 1 of this guide, we’ve given a general introduction to RED and its social aspects. In Part 2, we will detail exactly how the e-Commerce side of LRB works, how to get started and our selection of best practices. Stay Tuned!
If your RED project can’t wait for the second half of this guide to be published, please reach out to us, we can schedule a call for you with one of our consultants.