Douban is one of the lesser known social medial platforms in China which has been around since 2005 and still enjoys widespread popularity. It has about 60 million registered and about 150 million unregistered users. In fact, one of the unique features of the network is the fact that users, who are not registered, can still enjoy 90% of the site’s functionality.

Marketing on Douban offers some unique opportunities for brands targeting niche audiences and could present an interesting opportunity to explore. In this post we are going to have a closer look at the options.

Of course, compared to Weibo, WeChat, Renren or Qzone, those are fairly small numbers but what sets Douban apart is the unique culture created by a core of dedicated users. Unlike Weibo, it appeals to white collar, sophisticated Chinese urbanites. According to Doctor Yang Bo, the founder of Douban, most of the users live in major big cities of China. They are office workers, artists, freelancers and students who share common interests in arts, culture and lifestyle.

Douban is a truly unique Chinese social media phenomenon which can be loosely described as a sophisticated hybrid of Amazon’s book reviews, IMDB.com, Blogger, MySpace, Pandora and Pinterest wrapped up into one platform.

The main core of the site is its communities grouped into:

  • Books section, where people review and discuss books and can buy them directly from Chinese version of Amazon. This is one of the revenue sources for Douban;
  • Movies section. This one is similar to imdb.com (which is periodically blocked in China) and is the main forum for movie reviews and latest gossip. Here users can book tickets and even book seats in cinemas nearby;
  • Music section is, perhaps, the most popular one and it provides a platform for young musicians to post and promote their works. It is somewhat similar to what MySpace is all about these days;

The other part of the site features Groups which are, in turn, categorized by interests such as fashion, entertainment, photography, technology or lifestyle.

Next section is called City which features various events nearby, such as festivals, exhibitions, film screenings, theater performances etc. There is a section for people willing to get together for games, group shopping, dating or any other other local activity.

Next one is Douban.FM which is a music streaming service. In its structure and functionality it is similar to Pandora. It streams music that matches listener’s taste based on his/her history of favoring  or skipping tracks.

In its latest attempt to generate more revenue, Douban has added a section simply called Stuff (东西) which is still in beta. It is all about discovering and shopping for cool things but it is quite unlike a bazaar style of Taobao. The closest Western equivalent would be Fancy.com which resembles Douban Stuff’s type of merchandise and presentation. Items can be reviewed by users, favored, added to wish list or a shopping card and purchased. The Stuff section is somewhat a fresher and more sophisticated version of an online shopping site targeting buyers looking for individual style and less focused on searching for the cheapest bargains.

In the past, Douban has been criticized for slow user base growth as well as for failing to properly monetize its service by restricting its ads. It is true that advertising options are somewhat limited on the community pages with very little screen real estate dedicated to ads. Also, those spots tend to be quite expensive selling between 15 to 20 RMB per CPM, an order of magnitude higher than on comparable sites.

With the addition of the new Stuff section, Douban seems to have found a potentially lucrative formula to keep its distinct and sophisticated character and yet take advantage of the desire of the urban elite, its main user base, to express their individuality through buying unique things.

Overall, in terms of marketing value, Douban seems to be one of the most underrated  Chinese social media sites with great potential. Besides of obvious option of promoting products thorough its new Stuff section, marketing on Douban could be an excellent option for a more sophisticated promotion campaign targeting upscale urban consumers through its communities and groups platform.

Several high brands have also established what is called a brand stations on Douban. One example is of Adidas that features its collections but also actively promoting the brand through completions and events.

For example, visitors and followers get engaged in viewing and commenting on user generated content that feature Adidas brands that is often unique and visually appealing. Below are just a few examples from Adidas brand station on Douban:

Marketing on Douban: Adidas

User generated content featuring Adidas brand:

 

Video stories on artists creating “Adidas inspired” art:

Corporate content featuring Adidas latest collection (August 2014):

Contest by Adidas prompting users to submit their stockings and socks footwear matching design:

 


In conclusion, Douban, being a one of a kind social media site in China, is often overlooked by marketers as an alternative venue to appeal to increasingly sophisticated big city based users. It has recently developed more marketer-friendly platforms and tools that facilitate marketing on Douban and can be effectively used to target niche sectors of Chinese online community.

 

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Marketing on Douban, a Unique Chinese Social Network
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Marketing on Douban, a unique Chinese social network, offers new opportunities for brands targeting niche audiences a, especially sophisticated urbanites.
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