Every day, over 600 million users open their Douyin app; over 300 million use Kuaishou. If you’ve never heard of these apps — well, welcome to the party. If you’re struggling to understand how China’s Gen Z engages with their native, new media platforms, you’ve come to the right place.
We do a lot of work in higher education at Hybrid, and in the world of HE advertising, agencies, marketing departments — any stakeholder, really — spends a lot of time understanding how Gen Z spends their time online. From what they engage with to how they communicate, each touchpoint is an opportunity to connect with an audience they want, but can struggle to communicate with.
It’s a task that’s challenging enough to crack domestically, where your audience is down the road and within (relatively) close proximity, but when you factor in international audiences, it becomes a tall order.
One big challenge that keeps coming up is how to speak to Gen Z in China and effectively connecting with prospective students. Having a 270-million- strong Gen Z cohort means its market is always near the top of the international recruitment priority list, and yet many unis, agencies and the players in between struggle to understand how to make an impact, how to nurture that journey and how to turn consideration into conversion.
We’ve worked in China for over 10 years, we’ve helped a lot of clients get their opportunities heard, and this is what we know:
China’s first consumer-led generation
In May 2022, a researcher from Young China Group declared that “Gen Z is the first real consumer generation in China” — this was in reference to not just their spending habits, but to their online behaviours as well. Social media is integral to China’s burgeoning consumerism, it’s entertainment, it’s a marketplace, and it’s a space for expression. In every sense, prospective students in China are putting themselves online, and they’re ready to engage.
But for how long? Well, the typical Gen Z attention span was recently posited to be as short as 8 seconds, making short-form video absolutely king. Short-video users are growing and spending more time with the services the world over, and especially in China; their blend of addictive content and interactive potential pull consumers in from other traditional media channels. Their platforms have pioneered short-form tv series where single episodes exist within 1 to 5 minute time frames, creating “vertical dramas” that utilise the scroll UX of the platform to keep engagement going.
Importantly, too, China’s anti-monopoly directives give emerging channels a shot at major cut-through. This has been the case for short to medium video platforms Douyin and Kuaishou. It is also true of the longer-form platform Bilibili.
Here’s a guide to each:
The platform that became TikTok — an app that’s taken the Western-world by storm. Douyin is owned by tech giant ByteDance, and Insider Intelligence have pinned the platform to soon reach 700 million users. It allows its users to create, edit, publish and engage with short videos and livestreams. It’s got many of the similar hallmarks of TikTok in the content its users put out. The music in the background. The viral trends. The dynamism. We’ve helped our clients to appear in-feed, across the search function, and through native ads, whilst also exploring brand takeovers (full-screen ads shown as soon as a user opens the app).
Douyin’s user base is distinct from TikTok, so any influencer marketing you want to achieve on Douyin would need to be through that channel specifically. Every single day, more than 60 million users get involved across the app, producing and consuming content. If you want to advertise in China, to Gen Z, you’re missing a trick if you’re not using Douyin
Kuaishou is currently one of China’s hottest video-sharing and live-streaming apps, boasting 100 million active daily users to Douyin’s 60 million. Over 60% of these are Gen Z. Again, posts revolve around short-form video (almost 20 million are created and shared every day!), but can include short intros and tags to boost engagement and nurture user followings. There are also a host of filters, stickers and AR effects which are continually being updated.
But it’s not just about people opening the app. It’s the longevity and the engagement. Insider Intelligence said that time spent on-platform by daily users increased 25.2% year-on-year leading up to August 2021. This number has only gone up over the past 12 months, and so working Kuaishou into your China marketing activity looks like a non-brainer.
It might be a 30 billion-dollar unicorn backed by Chinese tech giant Tencent, but Kuaishou’s functionality is making it a big hit with the rural youth population and those outside of Chinese Tier 1 cities. Even users without the latest smartphones can utilise the platform’s plug-and-play tools to produce and browse content, so its reach is a big draw for international advertisers.
It’s not shortform, strictly, but it’s on the up, and Gen Z are loving it. In China, it’s now the platform most akin to YouTube, but its defining features and unique community culture stand it apart from Western counterparts, and make it an emerging go-to for youth-led brands. Half of young people are on Bilibili, with people under 35 years’ accounting for 86% of the platform’s 200 million active monthly users. Many spend upwards of 70 minutes per day on the platform.
Bilibili is not as conversion-focused as Douyin and Kuaishou, but it’s still a chance to engage with key demographics, at awareness and consideration stage of your recruitment cycle, for example, Bilibili’s display advertising platform is called Qifei, and enables the boosting of existing video to more users on the platform, similar to “organic boosting” on Facebook. In our experience, the Danmu or “bullet chat” functionality is also much loved by both Millennials and Gen Z’ers, driving conversations around client brands.
Each of these three platforms give Gen Z users a way of getting into digital subcultures, memes and generational trends. Thus, brands wanting to reach then need to tap in and show brand personality to reflect the platform’s output.
Want to enhance your presence on high-exposure China channels? Get in touch with Hybrid today!