3 Chinese Social Apps To Bet On in 2021

Key Takeaways:

  • Stuck at home, China’s internet users have skyrocketed to just shy of one billion, with many social apps seeing a record number of active users.

  • Poizon, which functions as both a resale app and online fashion community, is a good starting point for brands testing the China market.

  • Lifestyle apps like Soul and Keep offer brands the opportunity to reach China’s Gen Zers through co-sponsored offline and online activities.

Over the last few weeks, Clubhouse has taken the internet by storm, touted as the hottest social app out of Silicon Valley since Snapchat. The hype even reached China despite the audio-based platform requiring an iOS device, an overseas Apple ID, and an invitation.

After Elon Musk joined the site to host a virtual talk show with Robinhood’s CEO, invitation codes trended on Weibo and even sold on China’s secondhand marketplace Xianyu for up to $60. Users were not only enticed by the app’s exclusivity but the rare chance to talk freely in real-time.

But that didn’t last long. With Chinese users congregating online to discuss sensitive topics like Xinjiang and Hong Kong, Beijing quickly put an end to Clubhouse use. However, the ban did not kill the country’s growing interest in audio platforms or its increasing desire for virtual socialization. Local designers are already talking about how to recreate Clubhouse for the market while existing podcast sites like Lizhi have seen their shares surge.


With some of China’s population stuck at home once again, the demand for social and lifestyle apps has skyrocketed. By the end of 2020, China’s internet users jumped to almost 1 billion, and major apps like Douyin and Bilibili hit record numbers of active users.

But beyond the big names, where else are netizens spending their time? Whether your brand wants to reach a younger demographic or simply track the latest trends, here are three lesser-known local apps they should have on their radar in 2021.

Poizon (得物): The resale app riding China’s sneaker craze

Poizon launched an AR try-on feature in April 2020. Photo: Screenshots/Xinhua

What it is: Created as a sneaker-resale platform in 2015, Poizon is currently ranked among the top-five free apps on China’s App Store and is valued at three times the price of its American counterpart, StockX, at one billion dollars. A one-stop marketplace for streetwear and luxury accessories, Poizon also supports interactive fashion communities by providing its style-conscious Gen-Z audience with curated looks from fashion experts.

How it works: When a seller posts a pair of shoes, interested buyers can bid on it or pay a fixed price to purchase immediately. Once the customer pays, the seller sends it to Poizon for authentication, and if it passes it will be issued a certificate of authenticity before being delivered. All the items sold on Poizon are deadstock products, meaning they’re new, unused, and come with the original packaging box and tags.

Why brands should care: A few years ago, luxury brands steered clear of consignment, wary of counterfeits. But with the secondhand market now expected to grow to $64 billion globally and gaining momentum in China, this trend should not be ignored.

What sets Poizon apart from its resale counterparts Xianyu and Isheyipai is its focus on streetwear. The athletic footwear market in China is expected to reach $10 billion by 2025, which will account for ten percent of the global market. With its authentication services and 1.4 million monthly active users, Poizon is a good starting point for global brands interested in gauging the Mainland market before making a full commitment. In the way Gucci teamed up with The Realreal, partnering with resale platforms such as Poizon could also help companies better create a circular, end-to-end brand experience. But neglecting the resale market would mean leaving this lucrative field to third parties, who may not respect the brand identity.

Keep: The at-home fitness app keeping pounds at bay

Keep users can share their fitness journeys and purchase equipment on the app. Photo: Screenshots

What it is: “Self-discipline gives me freedom” is the slogan of China’s top exercise app. With over 300 million registered users and 10 million paying members (mostly tier-1 and tier-2 urbanites under 25), Keep has evolved into a fitness powerhouse by providing training lessons, an Instagram-like social network, branded products, and offline gyms, known as “Keepland.” In January, Keep announced it had completed $360 million in Series F financing, doubling the company’s valuation to $2 billion, thanks to a pandemic-boosted demand for at-home workouts.

How it works: Like other exercise apps, Keep offers a range of instructional videos, from yoga and stretching to HIIT and strength training. Paying members get access to premium services, such as customized workout plans and professional diet advice. An online store is also built into the app to offer the same equipment and apparel that the trainers use. To motivate users to keep active, Keep organizes activities and incentives throughout the year, including prizes in cooperation with brands like Volvo.

Why brands should care: Online fitness apps in China saw user numbers jump 12 percent year-on-year in the first quarter of 2020. But Keep was ahead of the curve, boasting a 23-percent user surge during that same period. According to Iresearch, 18.1 million devices accessed Keep each month for an average of 20 minutes per day.

Given Keep’s diverse product offerings, there are several ways brands could jump on the social fitness train. For one, Keep has already featured several KOLs in its workout videos, such as Youtuber Pamela Reif, model Karlie Kloss, and Chinese actor Lixian, which raises the option of using brand ambassadors. The app has also advertised with brands like adidas and Sketchers, created a Marvel-themed superhero class, and started a discussion forum for Victoria’s Secret Angels. Offline, Keep’s line of apparel, treadmills, smart wristbands, and healthy food all present co-branding opportunities.

Soul: The AI-driven dating app that goes deeper

On Soul, strangers can chat and video call without knowing each other’s appearance. Photo: soulapp.cn

What it is: Unlike competitors Momo and Tantan, Soul offers an alternative to superficial swipe culture. By taking profile pictures out of the equation, the Chinese dating app helps its Gen Z users find matches based on common interests and emotional connections. And youths are taking the bait: since launching in 2015, Soul has hit 100 million registered users and over 30 million monthly active users. The platform currently tops the Social category in the Mainland App Store and has a tailored version for Japan, Korea, and North America.

How it works: Committed to fostering meaningful relationships, Soul relies on personality tests to sort and recommend users based on similar values and hobbies. Once the quiz is completed, members have full access to the app, including functions like Soul Cam, Audio Call, and one-on-one chat. There’s also an explore page where people can share pictures, short videos, and status updates with the entire Soul community. Yet, users cannot see any personal information aside from their test match score and the public posts; Soul employs photo filters and voice changers to shield identities. While this feature comes across as somewhat catfish-y, the platform claims it is encouraging Gen Zers to freely express themselves.

Why brands should care: China is no stranger to online dating. In 2019, more than 622 million people used dating apps in China, and the market is set to hit $290 million in revenues by 2024, according to Statista.com. The pandemic has only accelerated this trend, as reflected by the 200 percent surge in Soul users last year. With an average daily usage rate of over 60 minutes and an interaction ratio among MAU of over 95 percent, Soul is a promising platform for consumer brands targeting China’s young consumers.

That said, Soul has been slow to monetize, rolling out Soul Tokens (used to purchase additional services) and premium memberships in 2019. In fact, the app appears cautious in pushing commercials and partnering with influencers – the latter going against its premise of prioritizing quality content over popularity contests.

One way brands can partner with the app, then, is through activities. Take Soul’s recent collaboration with Tim Hortons as an example. For the concept, the platform created the trending topic “100 Moments Where Coffee Saved Your Day” to encourage users to share coffee-related stories, offering them a chance to win free drinks. Another example is how the app invited 10,000 Soulers, whittled down from a competition of tens of millions to an offline showing of the Disney film “Soul” last December. That same day, Soul also jointly set up a special charity event with WABC Yitu Charity Foundation, inviting nearly a hundred children with autism and their families to watch the movie. Ultimately, brands that want to tap this app and China’s burgeoning dating market must prioritize emotional connections and tell meaningful stories – showcasing their own “soul.”

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