Launched in early 2019 by question-and-answer platform Zhihu, CHAO is staking out a claim to be the “Xiaohongshu for men.” While it’s tempting to dismiss it as yet another outlet for young Chinese guys to consume gaming and tech content, there are good reasons for luxury brands to pay attention to the platform’s growing community for male style and grooming content.
The market for menswear, accessories, and grooming products has never been hotter. Tmall recently hailed the arrival of the “Male Beauty Era,” reporting that the number of men buying beauty products had grown by 31 percent, higher than the 29 percent growth rate for women. Over the coming five years, the market for men’s beauty products in China is expected to grow by 15.2 percent, outperforming the forecast average 11 percent growth worldwide.
Men in China have never spent as much time or money on style and self-care as they do now, and the digital native millennial and Gen-Z generations are leading the charge. In this atmosphere, there’s every reason for brands to be curious about the prospect of a male-centered version of Xiaohongshu, or Little Red Book. Xiaohongshu’s combination of KOL-driven social content and e-commerce integration, along with location-based tagging, has proved a potent mix for brands seeking to reach young consumers.
CHAO’s interface is similar to that of Xiaohongshu and other image-heavy social networking apps. The homepage feed shows users the latest posts from accounts they're following and offers suggestions for which CHAO users and hashtags to follow.
The more interesting action for brands takes place on the “Discover” page (indicated by a compass icon). A banner at the top of the Discover page includes categories dedicated to sneakers, outfits, tech, daily life, and videos. Users simply click on a category and they’ll see a banner displaying the top hashtags for that subject.
One route in for luxury brands targeting male consumers could be to develop strategies for gaining exposure via popular hashtags. This could include partnering with KOLs to run campaigns or contests to grow awareness and affinity among CHAO users. No major brands appear to have launched their own channels on CHAO as of yet, and there are currently no e-commerce integrations, but a growing number of vendors and retailers are using CHAO accounts to showcase their products. Bigger brands might even be able to establish themselves as one of the dominant hashtags within their category. Some sportswear brands, like Adidas and Nike, for example, are currently ranking among the top sneaker hashtags.
As well as aiming to build density of activity around their own hashtags, luxury brands should try to be associated with other popular hashtags. For example, under the “outfits” category, being featured regularly in a #手表俱乐部 (“watch club”) post would be an effective way of raising a brand’s profile. The easiest way to achieve this will be to partner with the platform’s verified or otherwise popular users. Under the “watch club” tag, for example, one of the most active accounts is The Watchdrobe, a Hong Kong-based luxury watch store. Over on the “outfits” page, some of the key hashtags for luxury brands could be #每日穿搭 (“outfit of the day”), #男士皮肤 (“men’s skincare”) and #手表俱乐部 (“watch club”).
As well as browsing within the top hashtags, users can explore the category pages for recent posts on a given subject. Posts on CHAO look similar to Instagram posts, with plenty of space for luxury brands to tell their stories with both words and pictures. Images are large and scrollable (users can upload a maximum of nine photos to one post) and captions can run long at 1,024 characters.
There are similar interactive features allowing users to comment, like and share a post, or add it to their favorites. Another key feature is the ability to add clickable tags linking to accounts and locations. As on Xiaohongshu, the location tag feature gathers all posts for a single place — whether a boutique, hotel, restaurant or gallery — on a single page, which can function passively as a hub for that brand’s content.
Xiaohongshu’s reputation was built partly on the review-style posts that many users contribute to the platform. These deliver value between users and are attractive for brands. Some CHAO users posting about menswear, accessories, and grooming are taking up this posting style, and many are tagging products and locations. However, at present this is by no means the norm — posts are equally likely to feature very brief captions, or comments unrelated to the products featured. As the platform develops, it’ll be interesting to see what type of writing comes to define CHAO posts.
Users can also post videos of up to one minute in length, but at present, the video feature is underused. Currently, CHAO’s video content is dominated by gaming-related posts but expect this to change as the platform continues to grow.
There's a caveat to all of this: these are still early days for CHAO, and the platform’s user base is still clearly small. Even the most popular hashtags have only featured on a few thousand posts. Encouragingly, some of the more active and fast-growing topics relate directly to luxury brands, including outfit of the day (6,165 posts), men’s skincare (2,805 posts), and men’s fragrances (2,800 posts). Follower numbers are hidden, so at present, it’s not easy to discern who the emerging influencers on the platform are, though consumers can see who the more active users are.
Luxury brands don’t need to panic about their lack of a CHAO strategy just yet. However, Chinese social networks do have a habit of blowing up quickly, so anyone marketing style and beauty products to younger men would be well advised to at least start getting familiar and considering running a few experiments with this one.