Jingjing Ma
Aug 2, 2019

China's top 20 social-media platforms: A guide for marketers

You know Weibo and WeChat...QQ and Baidu..perhaps Douyin and Pinduoduo. But do you recall the significance of BiliBili, Kuaishou, Momo, Zhihu and Paipai?

China's top 20 social-media platforms: A guide for marketers

Social-media platforms are far more than a side consideration for marketers active in China. Each has its own idiosyncrasies and suitabilities, and the speed at which they gain and lose popularity makes them hard to keep up with. So we've compiled a guide to what we consider the current top 20 platforms, including need-to-know information for marketers, a sample of popular creators on that platform (if applicable) and an overview of each platform's audience and advertising offerings. We intend to update this guide as time goes on. If you have platforms you think should be here, please let us know.


1. Weibo

Founded: 2009

Function: Weibo describes itself as a social-media platform for users to create, share and search for content. It is often referred to as the Twitter of China, although this shorthand description is somewhat lacking.

Popular creators:

  • 谢娜(Xie Na): host, 124 million followers
  • 杨幂(Yang Mi): actor, 104 million followers
  • 姚晨(Yao Chen ): actor, 81.6 million followers

Audience: Weibo’s latest financial statement showed that its number of monthly active users (MAUs) reached 462 million by the end of 2018, and that 93% of these are mobile end-users. 81% of Weibo users are aged below 30, and over 50% are from third- and fourth-tier cities in China.

Advertising: Advert formats offered on the platform include search advertising, in-feed advertising and videos. They are charged by cost per 1000 impressions (CPM) and cost per engagement (CPE), with the former costing 5 yuan (US$0.74) per 1,000 users and the latter 0.5 yuan (US$0.07) per engagement.

FYI: Compared with other mobile social platforms, Weibo focuses on content consumption and hot topics, sharing more characteristics with traditional media. It has a competitive edge in terms of KOL interactions, and the combination of advertising it offers such as hashtags and red envelopes (which users can use to transfer money to each other).


2. WeChat

Founded: 2011

Function: WeChat is a WhatsApp-like multi-purpose messaging, social and mobile payment app run by Tencent.

Audience: The number of WeChat MAUs has exceeded 1 billion, and 63 million of these are 55 or older. WeChat users send 45 billion messages every day, and 410 million voice and video chats.

Advertising: On WeChat, adverts can be put in Moments (models include local-based advertising, text and image, and video) and Official Public Accounts (models include text, image and cards). Except for local-based advertising which is available from 300 yuan (US$43) per day, a minimal entry price of 50,000 yuan (US$7,442) is set for ads on the platform. Depending on the target cities, CPM varies from 50 to 150 yuan (US$7 to US$22) for scheduling ads. Video ads cost an extra 20% on top of existing CPM pricing. By contrast, real-time bidding is available from CPM 30 yuan (US$4) and requires a minimum spend of 1,000 yuan (US$145) per day.

FYI: Leon Zhang, general manager of social media at MediaCom, said Weibo as a “public square” is closely associated with hot topics and celebrities, while WeChat has both public-accounts and mini-programs inside one ecosystem, making for a closed-loop user journey. Thus, the advertising placement selection needs to be aligned with the platform characteristics.


L-R: screenshots of Meitu, XIaohongshu and Weibo

3. QQ

Founded: 1999

Function: QQ is an instant messaging tool by Tencent. QQ claims to deliver a more interesting chatting experience thanks to AI and is characterised by highly 'sticky' young users.

Audience: By the end of 2018, its MAUs had reached 807 million. QQ is a platform that targets young people.

Advertising: QQ has a bunch of choices for advertising in its QQ app, QQ browser and Qzone, for example, the public account of QQeStore and the algorithm-driven entertainment news feed QQ Kandian. Real-time bidding is from CPM 25 yuan, while CPC (cost per click) is also adopted.

FYI: Ma Shicong, an analyst at Beijing research company Analysys International, said that the major advantage of QQ is its large user base and high proportion of young users. According to official introduction, QQ is suitable for native ads on e-commerce, mobile apps and branding campaigns.


4. Baidu

Founded: 2000

Function: Baidu is the leader in China’s search market, commanding over 60% of market share, with businesses covering maps service, video search, news and documents tabs, represented by Zhidao, Tieba and Baike.

Audience: Official data showed there are billions of search queries on the engine every day, over 100 million users read Baidu in-feed news and the platform handles about 80 billion positioning queries. Based on users’ behaviors and intentions, Baidu can create user portraits of 2 million characteristics to identify user needs and habits.

Advertising: Baidu ad models include search advertising, in-feed ads, launch ads, offline campaigns and one-stop solution. Baidu’s adverts mainly come from medical, retail and education industries, but after a 2016 scandal, Baidu was forced to rectify and clean the medical ads. As for advertising expense, Baidu said each client (among its 500,000 total) averagely spend no more than 30,000 yuan (US$4,500) marketing on Baidu each year.


5. Douyin/TikTok

Founded: 2016

Function: Douyin is China’s short-video platform.

Popular creators:

  • 迪丽热巴 (Dilireba): actor, 54.5 million followers
  • 会说话的刘二豆 (erdou): cat video, 46.4 million followers
  • 黑脸V (Black face V): humourous video maker, 24.4 million followers

Audience: Douyin has grown rapidly, with MAUs at 500 million as of January 2019. Meanwhile, its international app TikTok has covered 150 countries, with overseas users accounting for 20% of its total. About 45% of Douyin users are based in first- and second-tier cities, remarkably higher than other short video platforms, data from Chinese internet consultancy iResearch showed. Over 50% of Douyin users are aged 24 and below, with female users representing nearly 60%.

Advertising: Advertising on Douyin is also based on CPM. The price is competitive, about 70 yuan (US$10.40), according to media reports. In the upcoming two years, the price is likely to rise to 140 yuan (US$20.80). Although a startup, the platform’s advertising revenue was calculated to have exceeded 10 billion yuan (US$1.5 billion) in 2018.

FYI: With networking and video being hot trends, mobile social apps that are distinctive in these two aspects are expected to shock mobile social leaders, an analyst with iiMediaResearch said in a report.


6. Kuaishou

Founded: 2011

Function: Kuaishou is a video-sharing and live-streaming app.

Popular creators:

  • 小伊伊(xiaoyiyi): performance video maker, 28 million followers
  • 刘大美人: singing video maker, 22.7 million followers
  • 炫迈妹儿it(xuanmai521): humorous video maker, 14.6 million followers

Audience: Since 2015, Kuaishou has been developing very fast, with DAUs reaching 160 million by the end of 2018. Unlike Douyin, Kuaishou is targeted at “small-town youngsters”—people who come from third- and fourth-tier cities and are the main consumption power in e-commerce, tourism and cars, among other sectors. In terms of age, over 80% are Post-90s.

Advertising: Advertising on Kuaishou is charged based on CPC or CPV (cost per view). Given several similar brands may bid for an advertising place, the cost is generally 0.5 yuan (US$0.07) per click or view.

FYI: Analysis International's Shicong said that most of Kuaishou’s advertising is news feed ads, and the platform’s atmosphere of decentralized community makes it suitable for medium and small advertisers.


L-R: Screenshots of Gailvlun, Bilibili, Douban

7. Qutoutiao

Founded: 2016

Function: Qutoutiao is a mobile content aggregator.

Audience: The platform mainly targets China’s third- and fourth-tier cities. By the end of 2018, Qutoutiao’s MAUs reached 93.8 million, up nearly 300% from the fourth quarter of 2017. Around 80% of the users are aged between 25 and 49, while women account for 70%.

Advertising: Advertising is a major source of revenue for the app. Generally, after every three to four pieces of news, there appears an ad. Ads on the platform include games, e-commerce, microlending, and insurance. As for ad formats, the platform offers photo set, small and large picture, as well as video, with the clickrate varying between 2% and 15%. Advertising on Qutoutiao is charged by CPC, and the unit price generally falls between 0.4 to 1 yuan, but adjusts according to factors like sales conversion rate and advertising scale.


8. Pinduoduo

Founded: 2015

Function: Pinduoduo is a social e-commerce platform allowing users to participate in group buying deals.

Audience: Its target users are similar to that of Qutoutiao. In the fourth quarter of 2018, MAUs on the platform were 272.6 million, up 93% from the same period in 2017.

Advertising: By now, Pinduoduo’s advertising revenue mainly comes from online promotion by stores to increase sales, including scenarios for digital marketing (charged by clicking commodities), and search advertising (charged by clicking keywords). Storeowners should first deposit at least 500 yuan (US$74) in their Pinduoduo accounts and then could customize their own adverts in the system.

FYI: Qutoutiao is a personalized news feed app with social franchising incentives, while Pinduoduo is social commerce, said MediaCom's Zhang, noting that which industries or products are suitable depends on specific campaign objectives, mechanisms and audience targeting needs.


9. BiliBili

Founded: 2009

Function: BiliBili is an online entertainment platform, which provides a wide array of genres and media formats, including videos, live broadcasting and mobile games.

Popular creators:

  • 敖厂长 (ao changzhang): humorous video maker, 5 million followers
  • LexBurner: movie commentator, 5 million followers
  • papi酱 (papi jiang): humorous video maker, 4.7 million followers

Audience: BiliBili had 92.8 million MAUs in the fourth quarter of 2018, with each active user spending an average of 78.4 minutes daily on its mobile app. Its main users are Generation Z with high user stickiness.

Advertising: BiliBili offers advertising in different placement formats, including background advertisements, advertisements placed at the launch screen of our mobile apps, in-program advertisements and performance-based feed. The platform adopts both CPC and CPM approaches, with the lowest price for the former is about 0.5 yuan and an average of 2 yuan per 1,000 for the latter. But advertisers need to deposit at least 5,000 yuan in their Bilibili accounts to make ads.

FYI: Considering the user group of BiliBili, it’s a wise choice for advertisers of art education, vocational education, entertainment, food, cosmetics and accessories.


10. Xiaohongshu

Founded: 2013

Function: Xiaohongshu is a platform for the youth to share their life in the form of short videos, photos and text.

Popular creators:

  • 林允(Lin Yun): actor, 10 million followers
  • 美妆薯(Mei Zhuangshu): beauty blogger, 4.5 million followers
  • 凌听雨(Ling Tingyu): fashion blogger, 3.3 million followers

Audience: Xiaohongshu is a social e-commerce platform, with 85 millions users as of June, of whom over 70% are Post-90s. When it was first launched, most users were women, but now an increasing number of men using Xiaohongshu. Now 20% of its users are men.

Advertising: Xiaohongshu offers four types of promotion: brand account operation, Red mall, direct advertising and KOL. Many advertisers tend to work with KOLs and internet celebrities to promote their products.

FYI: Recently, Xiaohongshu has been accused of creating fake shopping contents and even of selling fake products.


Screenshots of short-video apps

11. Momo

Founded: 2011

Function: Momo is a live-streaming video platform, re-branded at the second half of 2015 from its social networking and dating services.

Audience: By the end of 2018, Momo’s MAUs reached 113 million. Unlike that of Xiaohongshu, more men are into the app. According to an iiMedia Research report in June 2018, about 56% of its users are men and around 70% of the users are aged 30 or below.

Advertising: Ads put on Momo are generally charged based on CPC, CPM, CPA, CPT and CPD. For CPM, advertisers need to deposit a minimum of 5,000 yuan (US$774) at the platform and the fees will be charged at least 6 yuan (US$0.90) per CPM.


12. Zhihu

Founded: 2010

Function: Zhihu is a Quora-like question-and-answer website where all kinds of questions are created, answered and edited by the community of users.

Popular creators:

  • 张佳玮 (Zhang Jiawei): Zhihu writer, 256,776 followers
  • 肥肥猫 (Feifeimao): Zhihu writer, 517,833 followers
  • 司主人 (Sizhuren): Zhihu writer, 837,146 followers

Audience: The number of its users exceeded 220 million by the end of 2018. Its main users are male white-collar workers in first- and second-tier cities, aged between 23 and 40, with sound education background.

Advertising: With forms like pictures, text and videos, ads can be put in the app’s landing pages, question pages and answer pages. The price is generally 0.6 to 0.8 yuan ($0.09 to US$0.12) per click.

FYI: Zhihu users are more willing to pay for knowledge, so it’s suitable to make ads on premium low-frequency products, for example, tourism, e-commerce and dental care.


13. Douban

Founded: 2005

Function: Douban is an interest-based social networking platform.

Popular creators:

  • 阿北 (a bei): writer, 132,649 followers
  • 大岛 (dadao): writer, 98,149followers
  • 雨果 (yuguo): writer, 19,592 followers

Audience: As of the beginning of 2018, Douban had 160 million registered users and 300 million MAUs, but has lost users over time. Most of the users are degree holders who live in major cities, and they have higher salary and stronger brand awareness.

Advertising: Douban has a self-service advertising platform, where advertisers can customize their own advertising by ticking off target audience, region, time and budget. Two types of ads can be placed on Douban, pictures and text, and both are charged based on CPC.

FYI: Interest-focused group is a typical type of communities, which is very suitable for nurturing authentic user engagement, deep-dive discussion and PGC (professional generated content), MediaCom's Zhang said. With further commercial development of the platforms, both KOLs and more advertising formats can be used in a combination to amplify the content and engagement.


14. Douyu

Founded: 2014

Function: Douyu is the largest e-sports live-streaming app in China. Besides games, it also covers entertainment, sports and outdoor live-streaming. Like BiliBili, Douyu is also characterized by 'bullet screen'.

Popular creators:

  • 骚白 (saobai): video game commentator, 13 million followers
  • 旭旭宝宝 (xuxu baobao): video game commentator, 10 million followers
  • 温柚 (wenyou): video game commentator, 2.4 million followers

Audience: By the end of 2018, the number of its users reached 42 million, and continues to grow. There are some remarkable characteristics, like users aged below 30 years old account for over 50%, and there are twice as many male users as female users.

Advertising: A crucial platform to publicize new games, Douyu has several places for ads on live-streaming screen. The ads are made based on real-time-bidding. But its approval process has not been very strict, allowing some fake advertising through.

FYI: In October 2018, Douyu was temporarily taken down from the Chinese iOS app store because of issues with p2p lending adverts. With increasingly strict regulation, Douyu may raise advertising price and cut the amount of low quality ads.


15. Xigua Video

Founded: 2016

Function: Xigua Video is a short-video platform. In October 2018, Xigua Video upgraded its branding and content, launching entertainment programs, under cooperation with ByteDance’s other brands like Jinri Toutiao, Douyin and live-streaming app Huoshan Zhibo.

Popular creators:

  • 陈翔六点半(Chen Xiang Liudianban): humorous video maker, 47 million followers
  • 冯提莫(Feng Timo): singer, 31.4 million followers
  • 办公室小野(Bangongshi xiaoye): food video maker, 23 million followers

Audience: The platform has an accumulative of 300 million users, with videos being played 4 billion times each day. Its main users are aged between 18 to 40, over 49% in first- and second-tier cities, while male users account for nearly 60%.

Advertising: Ads on Xigua Video are expected to reach audiences on different platforms of ByteDance. The platform adopts CPV (cost per view) mode – under which advertisers only need to pay for a view of more than 5 seconds. For GD (guaranteed delivery) advertisements, the platform charges CPM 160 yuan for static ones, and 200 yuan for dynamic ones.


16. Maimai

Founded: 2013

Function: Maimai is a LinkedIn-like real-name professional networking platform.

Audience: By mid-2018, the platform had around 50 million users, and MAUs of 9.4 million. Its main users are entrepreneurs, managers and white-collar workers, of whom 49% are in first-tier cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen. Most of them come from internet, media and finance industries.

Advertising: Similar to WeChat Moments, Maimai has in-feed ads, but not too many. A typical interactive ad by Maimai is the one for an 18-day 618 shopping festival, which attracts users to test their personality in the workplace and the completed test automatically became a news feed ad.


17. Meitu

Founded: 2008

Function: Meitu is a popular image-editing app in China. In August 2018, Meitu upgraded its strategy to launch a socializing function to the image editing app.

Audience: By the end of 2018, Meitu’s MAUs reached 117 million, up 0.3% year-on-year. Most are female users.

Advertising: Meitu’s online advertising revenue increased 102% last year to 620 million yuan (US$90 million). Along with the mature of Meitu socializing platform, the company aims for scale development of advertising business via programmatic advertising technology.


18. SOUL

Founded: 2016

Function: SOUL is a dating app targeting generation Z.

Audience: Although a relatively new social app, its MAUs reached 10.8 million by December 2018. Over 60% of its users are women, and more than a half of its users are aged below 30.

Advertising: SOUL is characterized by two keywords, namely social and anonymous. Different from WeChat Moments and QQ Zone, SOUL lets users post their feelings to complete strangers. Its algorithms match users with similar personality, interests and world views, while also feeding users with others’ posts on the platform.

FYI: SOUL was removed from app store in a recent campaign to clean the audio services industry, China's internet regulator said on June 28. It said 26 audio apps were either summoned for talks, removed or shut down. This indicates the political risks involved in online marketing in China.


19. Gailvlun

Founded: 2015

Function: Gailvlun is a dating app targeting generation Z. Keywords related to the platform are story, emotion and memory. It stresses interaction and companionship. The platform regularly organizes online and offline activities like “Being a couple for a week” and “The other I on the planet”.

Audience: Latest data available showed that the number of daily active users was 130,000 by the end of 2017, with over 50% women and aged below 23.

Advertising: It requires an invitation code to get registered. As an app mainly directed by users, no commercials are found on the app, but it raised funds twice in 2017.


20. Paipai

Founded: 2012

Function: Paipai is an entertaining and socializing app which aims to create fun social experience for users through games like question and answer and, draw and guess.

Audience: In 2018, MAUs on the platform were about 9.1 million, and about 80% of its users are below 30 years old. The target users likely have much free time, like grabbing red envelopes and extremely active in WeChat Moments and QQ Zone.

Advertising: The platform’s revenue mainly comes from members’ recharging and gifting. No advertisements have been found on the platform as of now.

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