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Little Red Book: China's Rising 'Search Engine'—A Second Baidu?

Updated: Jun 4

As is widely recognized, Little Red Book, also known as Red or Xiaohongshu, is typically characterized as a social media platform (or Xiaohongshu app) that also serves as a social media channel. However, in recent times, Little Red Book has increasingly assumed the role of a search engine in China. In light of this evolving positioning, marketers must adapt their Little Red Book marketing strategies to align with this shift.

In the following sections, we will delve into the development of Little Red Book to elucidate the factors contributing to its current transformation into a more prominent search engine rather than merely a social media platform. Additionally, we will explore actionable steps that marketers can take to leverage this change in its role for more effective marketing endeavors.

With the evolution of Little Red Book, several significant transformations have taken place. When it first launched in 2013, Little Red Book offered a downloadable PDF version of 'Little Red Book Abroad Shopping Strategy' on its website, which garnered over half a million downloads. Following this initial exposure, Little Red Book underwent its first major overhaul to foster greater user engagement. It introduced a User-Generated Content (UGC) community, laying the foundation for its present-day platform.

Initially, this platform primarily served as a communication hub, allowing overseas online shoppers to connect, share their insights, and discuss their experiences. This shift was driven by the rising popularity of shopping agents (referred to as 'daigou' in Chinese), who purchase items abroad on behalf of Chinese consumers, especially when certain brands or products were not readily available in the Chinese market. This niche market had an underdeveloped buying process and lacked efficient information, prompting Little Red Book to attract a wave of first-generation users who shared their diverse brand experiences, thus solidifying its position as a UGC community.

By the end of 2022, Little Red Book had amassed a substantial monthly active content creator base, featured daily user-generated content, and maintained a robust user engagement.

Figures of active content creator, monthly active user and daily UGC on Little Red Book
Figures of Little Red Book

As the daily user-generated content on Little Red Book continued to proliferate, consumers increasingly turned to the platform as a valuable source of information. By 2023, data provided by Little Red Book's COO, Nan Ke, revealed a significant shift in user behavior. "Searching" had emerged as one of the most frequently performed actions on the platform, with the daily search volume surpassing 300 million queries. Remarkably, 60% of users initiated their engagement with Little Red Book by conducting searches within the platform. Little Red Book is gradually evolving into something akin to a second 'Baidu' in its own unique way.

In addition to the wealth of user-generated content, the uncomplicated interface design of Little Red Book is another key factor driving users to adopt it as a search engine. Without overwhelming users with excessive features, the platform's homepage prominently showcases a user-friendly search bar and thoughtfully curated recommendations for user-generated content. This minimalist approach makes it effortless for users to locate the search functionality and discover relevant UGC, further cementing Little Red Book's role as a convenient search engine.

A simply designed interface of Little Red Book on both desktop and mobile
A simply designed interface of Little Red Book

Unlike traditional search engines like Baidu or Google, which primarily offer official, formal, and often academic-related data and information, Little Red Book positions itself primarily as a User-Generated Content (UGC) social media platform while also providing search functionality. Consequently, it delivers a wholly distinct user experience when individuals seek information on the platform. This distinctive experience is particularly noteworthy when users are searching for content related to various aspects of their lives, including personal development (such as studying abroad, career growth, and interview skills), business-related topics (including B2B commerce, exporting, and entrepreneurial management), shopping insights (covering fashion, beauty, and furniture), diverse interests (like diving, travel, and snowboarding), and more.

Comparison of traditional search engine and Little Red Book

Searching on Little Red Book provides users with a richer, more tailored, and personalized experience, even incorporating a higher degree of professionalism, given the presence of users with various expertise, such as doctors and financial directors. In contrast to traditional search engines, Little Red Book offers a dynamic range of content, encompassing vivid videos, images, and engaging copywriting that appeal to users both visually and acoustically. This approach fosters a completely fresh and engaging user experience, distinct from the more conventional search engine model, which primarily relies on text-based content with limited imagery.

Furthermore, unlike traditional search engines where users often halt their interaction once they've either found their answer or reached a point of frustration, Little Red Book offers a unique advantage. On Little Red Book, after locating the desired information—whether or not it fully addresses their query—users can take the additional step of engaging in direct interactions and deeper communication with the content creator within the specific post. This feature enhances user engagement on the platform, fostering an environment where users are encouraged to create fresh content and share their own experiences after being inspired by others. In essence, it promotes a more dynamic and interactive community.

As marketing professionals, how can we improve our approach to harnessing Little Red Book as a search engine, rather than merely a social media platform? Much like traditional search engine optimization (SEO), Little Red Book's search algorithm offers an avenue to elevate the performance of your account within the platform. Three key factors significantly impact search results on Little Red Book:

1. Keywords Relevance

The degree of keyword relevance significantly influences the visibility of your posts. Given that users are increasingly utilizing the platform as a search engine, they tend to input detailed queries in their quest for solutions. Hence, it becomes paramount to offer solutions rather than simply showcasing or introducing your brand or products, as this approach leads to a higher keyword relevance.

Demonstrating how your products effectively address specific issues within various life scenarios is more crucial than merely highlighting their sophistication or numerous functionalities. For instance, let's consider the case of MENGQIAN, a brand specializing in hair dye products, which currently boasts fewer than 1500 followers on Little Red Book. When users search for terms like 'hair dye products,' the brand's visibility on the platform is limited. However, if the search query revolves around a problem-solving angle, such as 'which hair dye colors make one's skin appear fair and radiant?' (a significant cultural consideration, as many Asian countries prioritize fair skin), one of MENGQIAN's posts manages to secure a prominent spot in the search results.

Keywords relevance example on Little Red Book
Keywords relevance of MENGQIAN

Therefore, it's imperative for brands to prioritize content that offers solutions over content focused solely on product features and functionalities. As an illustration, if your brand specializes in Bluetooth speakers, consider crafting content like 'how to enjoy music while showering' instead of solely emphasizing the waterproof functionality of the speaker. Similarly, create content such as 'enhance your camping experience with music' rather than merely promoting the extended battery life of your Bluetooth speaker.

2. Recent Interactions

Moreover, akin to most social media platforms, Little Red Book includes three essential buttons on every post for users to take action after perusing: the "like," "favorite," and "comment" options. Interestingly, in the realm of Little Red Book, comments or user interactions carry significant weight when it comes to post ranking. As an example, when we conduct a search query such as 'redecoration of the house,' it's intriguing to note that the post occupying the top-ranking position isn't necessarily the one with the highest number of likes and favorites, especially when compared to posts in the second and fourth positions (excluding the third, which is an advertisement post and thus not taken into consideration). Instead, the top-ranking post is the one that has garnered the most recent interactions within the comment section.

Little Red Book search engine algorithm example

Hence, in the realm of Little Red Book marketing, it's imperative to not only generate high-quality content but also to promptly engage with followers by responding to messages and comments in a timely manner. This practice is pivotal for maintaining an active and vibrant presence on the platform and enhancing your post rankings.

3. User Profile and Persona

Given that the platform employs a 'personalization at scale' algorithm, the user persona plays a pivotal role in determining the ranking of your posts on Little Red Book. This user persona encompasses various factors, including gender, geographic location, age, occupation, recent search history, interests, and more.

Little Red Book search engine algorithm of user persona

This algorithm is designed to provide users with tailored content based on their individual user persona, enhancing their overall experience. To effectively harness this algorithm and bolster your brand's exposure, a strategic approach involves managing related keywords and hashtags to define the user persona of your targeted potential customers. For instance, if your brand specializes in pet food, you can employ keywords and hashtags that resonate with this user persona. These may include terms such as "pet keeper (interests)", the names of first and second-tier cities (geographic location, given that a significant portion of pet keepers reside in these urban areas), and trending words closely associated with your product.

In summary, if you are an international brand that has been operating on Little Red Book for some time with compelling content, yet you haven't seen the desired performance, consider incorporating these Little Red Book marketing strategy tips alongside engaging content. This integration can significantly boost your brand's performance and visibility on the platform.

If you are an emerging brand seeking to make a strong entry into Little Red Book marketing, explore our 2024 Xiaohongshu (Little Red Book) Guide. We offer comprehensive expertise in Little Red Book marketing, and we can tailor a customized marketing strategy to suit your specific needs and goals. Click here to learn more about how we can help you succeed on Little Red Book.

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