What Next for Little Red Book?

Little Red Book, one of China’s foremost UGC (user-generated content) platforms, recently made a return to the Android store after been taken down from major app stores in China in August.

The brand and product recommendation platform remains absent from the all-important Apple Store and it is believed that the app was removed due to inappropriate content. A Weibo topic/hashtag #小红书疑被各大安卓应用商店下架# (#Little Red Book removed from major Android stores#) subsequently received more than 300 Million page views and 19k comments. Little Red Book responded quickly by launching a comprehensive investigation to rectify the alleged content issues and made an official announcement on Weibo on 1st August.

According to NEXTTECH, there has been speculation that Little Red Book’s content issues might have started in 2018 as the platform started raising capital, driving an urgent need to demonstrate increasing engagement with a knock on effect on monetisation and potential revenue.

So often in China this pressure can lead to previously high-quality platforms diluting their loyal (and genuine) user base with poorer quality content, often driven by bots. As a reference, travel platform Mafengwo was recently taken to task over allegations that it fabricated up to 85% of its location-based reviews.

Little Red Book

 

In March 2019, Little Red Book had reached 220 million users (85 million monthly average users). Pressure from investors to start monetising the LRB engaged user base will have been exacerbated by revenue reports from other UGC platforms, such as Kuaishou 快手 and Douyin 抖音. 

Consequently, there appears to have been a shift in direction, from content to a more commercial focus. What effect has this had, and what does this mean for brands considering a presence on the platform?

Monitoring Content Authenticity

Little Red Book has developed authority as the go-to platform to research purchases via authentic product reviews, chiefly in fashion and beauty sectors. 

According to research by ZP Partners, 68% of premium shoppers learned about their newly-purchased fashion and beauty products via Little Red Book, compared with just 53% citing Taobao/Tmall/JD and 37% for Weibo as a source of influence.

Now however, this place of authority is under threat, as Chinese media have continuously reported on fake fans within the Little Red Book platform, as well as posts on restricted, forbidden, and fake products. Additionally, Hot Pot’s own research has unearthed numerous third parties on QQ and Taobao offering pay-for-play review posts for Little Red Book.

To retain credibility and authenticity, Little Red Book has recently established an internal risk assessment and anti-fraud team to audit content, leveraging pattern recognition and machine learning technology. A 500-person strong team deletes an average of 4,285 fake posts per day, 18.6 counterfeit accounts per day, and 168 fake likes every 5 minutes. In total, 90,000 posts related to tobacco and other medical products have been removed. However, this doesn’t appear to have been enough to avoid the censors.

With its origins as an interactive content sharing community, Little Red Book now is facing a genuine challenge over the quality of its content and risks losing users’ trust.

The Struggle to Monetise

Global-to-China cross-border eCommerce started in earnest in 2014, the same year that Little Red Book — only established one year earlier – launched its own cross-border eCommerce business. From a simple content seeding (种草) community, the platform started to build a seamless route for users to make purchases.

However, even with its significant user base, Little Red Book has perennially struggled to monetise its eCommerce business. With only 7.3% market share in cross-border in 2018, Little Red Book has been unable to break into the ranks of more dominant cross-border eCommerce giants, such as Kaola, Tmall HK and JD Worldwide, which have a combined market share of 64.3%, according to iResearch.

The majority of users currently search for and learn about products on Little Red Book before completing purchases on other platforms.

Based on the platform’s positioning and traditional user behaviour, it is widely believed that Little Red Book should focus its monetisation efforts on further developing its suite of brand marketing and advertising services, instead of pivoting to be an eCommerce platform. 

Key Considerations from the Hot Pot Team:

  • Little Red Book’s current challenges are not uncommon for Chinese platforms at this stage of development – the music app NetEase 网易云音乐, as well as popular video sharing platform BiliBili 哔哩哔哩 and short video social channel Kuaishou 快手 have all been taken down from app stores previously, only to remain fairly consistent in terms of user base
  • Challenges around content authenticity are down to the platform to solve, however when leveraged in the right way Little Red Book can prove particularly fertile ground for beauty and fashion brands to reach and engage target consumers with content, UGC and influencers linking out to external eCommerce conversion channels
  • As with all potential platform partnerships brands must dig beyond the vanity metrics to understand the end value delivered. Are you measuring activity based on falsely inflated impressions, or on quality traffic that truly reflects meaningful engagement with your target audience?
  • Little Red Book’s eCommerce offering (Red Mall) is as yet relatively unproven and among Hot Pot’s network few brands have seen meaningful returns on investment. The pressure to monetise has produced a model that currently lacks credibility and a suitable supporting infrastructure.

 

At Hot Pot China we partner with forward-thinking brands on their China activity. As part of our strategic advisory work we help map out benefits of platform partnerships and digital marketing initiatives. We guide our clients in maximising ROI from their short, medium and long-term marketing activity in China.

Contact Hot Pot China here to discuss how our team of China specialists can help realise greater value in your brand, digital and eCommerce initiatives.