Improve your Brand Image with Zhihu

January, 2021

Author: Manuel Wolffram, Senior Key Account Manager at Klai GmbH

One of the internet’s biggest accomplishments is the ease with which people can access a vast amount of information. A lot of people are searching for information online. In the West they can find their answers on sites like Wikipedia, in China there’s Baidu Baike, the chinese equivalent to Wikipedia.

In China however there is an additional tool people have to do their research: Zhihu. Zhihu in its essence is a Chinese Q&A website that provides users with Wikipedia-level, scientific answers to whatever question they pose. It is only available in Chinese language. It’s a point of pride for the Zhihu community to answer even silly-seeming questions with elaborate and sincere answers. Sometimes excessively so, as a means to play into the joke.

Zhihu’s strategy to guarantee high level answers and questions right after launch in 2011 was to keep the registration process on an invite-only basis. Users could either be referred by hundreds of already registered users or go through a lengthy application process, where they had to provide a large amount of personal and professional information to verify their expertise.

The goal was to establish a reputation for scientific accuracy, authenticity and detail, which ultimately succeded and proved to be the reason for Zhihu’s success and growth.

The numbers speak for themselves. As of 2018 the site has a total number of more than 220 million users, with over 30 million questions and 130 million corresponding answers.

And even though open registration was started in March 2013, the early invite-only strategy established the baseline for the level of scientific accuracy and detail that’s expected from the Zhihu community and continues to be the reason why answers on Zhihu are well respected.

As already mentioned, Zhihu’s basic function provides users the opportunity to ask and/or answer questions. They can also tag other users to invite them to answer specific questions, follow other users’ accounts and keep track of their own questions and answers. The answers are then ranked according to an upvote system; the more upvotes an answer gets, the more prominently it is displayed.

The average user on Zhihu tends to be well educated and therefore have an above- average disposable income, which makes them a valuable audience for brand messaging. Therefore it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there are already well over 30.000 official business accounts run by brands on the platform, that use Zhihu to improve their brand image and to build and interact with their customer bases.

Zhihu works especially well for brands that offer high-involvement products, such as cars, solar panels or similar products, where customers commit their time to do in- depth research into the product they’re looking to purchase.

However, with greater affluence come greater expectations, especially considering the expected level of scientific accuracy and detail by the Zhihu community when it comes to answers.

There are plenty of options brands have to promote their image on the platform. They can start their own Q&A-campaigns, they can cooperate with influencers, provide answers or invite people to ask them questions, they can ask their employees what it’s like to work for the company and what they love about their positions or they can organize live-streams. The options are almost limitless, however it is vital that brands remain mindful of the type of platform on which they’re advertising in order to hit the right tone.

Since users on Zhihu look for reliable information, brands can successfully promote their image by providing in-depth, scientifically accurate and authentic answers to questions that fall within their area of expertise.

On the flip side, what users on Zhihu aren’t looking for is aggressive and obvious advertising. So when brands are looking for questions to answer, they should refrain from obvious, in-your-face type of questions like “Why is our product better than everyone else’s?” and lean towards questions that provide users with interesting facts that fall within the brand’s scope of expertise like for example “How does a solar panel work?”

At first glance this might seem like a lot of work, but it allows brands to interact and build trust with customers, because brands have the time and space to actually prove their expertise and know-how by providing valuable content as opposed to merely proclaiming it.

That is especially true for brands that provide high-involvement products, which makes advertising on other platforms awkward. Nobody seriously considers an ad for solar panels when they’re trying to relax by watching cat videos on TikTok.

Beyond that, it happens to boost a brand’s SEO. Since Zhihu has an established reputation for scientific accuracy, search engine algorithms tend to prioritize content on Zhihu, which helps brands to become associated with desired keywords. Moreover, it improves a brand’s search result environment, because individual content on Zhihu can also show up on search results. This means that a search result for a brand’s website can not only turn up the website itself, but also links to high-value content the brand provided, which is valuable in and of itself.

To sum up: Is Zhihu the right platform to do some shotgun advertising to boost short- term sales numbers before the next budget or performance meeting? No.

It is however a great opportunity and long-term investment to improve a brand’s image and reputation and to establish trust with its potential customers without scaring them off with aggressive and obvious marketing ploys.

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