Founded by Zhou Yuan in 2011, Zhihu, which means “do you know?” in classical Chinese, is a question and answer forum. The platform’s core offering is simple: users ask and answer questions on topics covering everything from software development to post-natal care. Users can like, save, share, and comment on answers, and even invite specific users to answer their questions. In 2016, Zhihu introduced enterprise accounts, with international brands that are active on the platform including Audi, Siemens, and SK-II.
Zhihu is one of the “top five comprehensive online content communities in China” (according to the platform’s SEC registration statement). Initially invite-only, it now has 76 million monthly active users and 43.1 million cumulative content creators who have posted 315.3 million questions and answers (as of 31 December 2020). In March 2021, Zhihu raised USD 523 million in its NYSE IPO, plus private placements from investors including Alibaba and JD.com.
Comparisons to Quora, which was founded two years earlier in 2009, are apt, however, Zhihu differs in a number of key ways. Zhihu has vastly grown in scope since its early days, adding new business and content blocks including Zhihu University, which offers paid knowledge services such as audio books and online courses; Zhihu Live, live streaming sessions with an emphasis on real-time knowledge sharing; paid consultancy services, in which people pay to consult with specific users with professional knowledge in their field; premium branded content; and a paid membership programme (Yan Selection). As a result, it has a very engaged community of core users, many of whom are specialists in their field, and people turn to it as one of the more authoritative sources of information and advice on the Chinese internet.
For brands, there are a number of benefits to using Zhihu, especially for those with a focus on content marketing. First, Zhihu’s users are highly-educated millennials from first-tier cities who typically have a high income and strong purchasing power, placing them right in the key demographic for many brands. The platform’s high levels of interactivity and engagement also help with market research, as it can give brands an insight into the concerns of their key customers on a deeper level than sales or survey data can provide.
Zhihu can be an essential part of a brand’s SEO strategy in China as it ranks highly on major Chinese search engines like Baidu, as well as WeChat’s built-in search function. This can help increase brand visibility, and, if content is leveraged correctly, strengthen trust in a brand due to the platform’s own inherent trustworthiness.
"Zhihu’s reputation as one of China’s most trustworthy, expert-led social media platforms means it has great potential for brands"
Nevertheless, Zhihu should be approached with a clear strategy in mind. The simplest way to engage with the community is to ask and answer questions, ideally those that relate directly to your brand’s expertise or the latest developments in your industry. Content should be meaningful and informative rather than brand-focused, as users typically don’t respond well to overt promotion. Additionally, brands can consider using some of the platform’s newer features, such as Zhihu Live, to showcase their expertise; for example, a cosmetics brand could live stream beginner makeup tutorials.
Zhihu’s unique positioning among China’s social media platforms has a number of potential benefits for brands, especially for B2B companies and those in expertise-led fields such as IT and professional services.