Which Styles of Writing Are Most Popular on Zhihu?
Zhihu is China’s modern question & answer platform. At its core, it’s quite similar to Quora.
Like any social platform, if you want to know how to use it for marketing, you'll need to get a sense for the "vibe". Only then can you create the type of content that readers really want to see. Only then can you actually educate your readers, or even persuade them to consider your products.
I’ve translated the top two answers for the question “What’s the format of a typical Zhihu answer?” The question actually has 333 answers so far, but I feel like the top two alone give some pretty good insight.
The first answer, from Alpha Sobolev is brief and to-the-point:
“I just want to say that, regardless of how many times you update your answer, regardless of how many upvotes you receive, regardless of what type of praise you receive in the comments section, and regardless of who you want to argue with…
Please put your original answer up top!
Please respect the people that are reading your answer for the first time!
Please consider how confusing it is for people to have to go through a ton of background information and analysis!
Please consider what it’s like for those who start reading your post just to see you arguing with others!
Consider those who are blindly lost scrolling through full screens of text just to try to find where the original answer is!”
It seems that many readers are frustrated when they can't find the actual answer to a question straight away. So when answering questions on Zhihu, it's advised that you put the answer up-front. After providing the answer, you still have unlimited room to provide additional information.
The next answer is from Scorched Rice. They share nine different common answer types. I think it gives a good feel for that variety of content on Zhihu. Plus, it helps illuminate the different mindsets that answer-seekers take on. The parts in quotes are translations, while the rest is my explanation.
Top Nine Formats for Zhihu Answers
1) The Success Story
Rags-to-riches stories work well on Zhihu. They often go something like this:
“Let me tell you a story.
Since childhood Billy did _____, mother/father/siblings did ______,
Billy relied on ____, and experienced _______,
Now his current salary is ____, and he has ____ real estate, and works at _____, which just goes to show that ____ and not that ____.
You guessed it, the “Billy” in the story is me.
But did you think that was easy? Things weren’t actually that perfect in real life.
Not long after, _____ and ____ happened.
And now it’s _____
To sum up, what I want to say is _____.”
Answers like this are meant to be motivational, and also to provide some useful takeaway.
2) The Professional Answer
“Thanks for asking. I’m a member of ____ association / I’m a teacher at _____ , so I’m qualified to answer this.
Actually _____ , which used to be referred to as _____ is actually _____ ,
Let’s take a look at the article “_____” published by _____. See formula ____ in the graph.
To sum up: ________
This type of answer looks professional and logical. Placing credentials up top is meant to persuade the reader that the answerer is well-qualified to answer the question. The answer should be supported with data.
Before we move on, let me say that this style of answer is most similar to what we usually use for marketing. It’s not that we use this exact format, but we do provide answers that are well-reasoned and professionally written. I view most of the other answer styles in this post as competitors. They compete for the attention of readers that might otherwise be learning more about your product.
3) The Contender Answer
“I disagree with the top answer.
My reasoning is ____.
Updated on ____.
(This post cannot be forwarded. I retain the right to _____)”
This type of answer is for those that want to take a strong position against the top answer. It can be especially effective for charged topics.
4) The Negative Psychology Answer
“Beware! Beware! Beware! (Say important things 3 times!)
Warning: The below photos/information are dangerous for those that ______!
*Insert many photos here*
Photo source: __________
If you’d like to learn more, please follow me at ____.”
Tell people not to look at something and they’re bound to look.
5) Vote First, Answer Later
In it, the answerer promises to release photos or other information if the answer receives a fixed number of upvotes first.
This flips the natural relationship between quality answers and upvotes around, which I find annoying.
There are plenty of questions asking for funny answers, like “What’s some logic that you couldn’t help but agree with?”
For serious questions, it’s best to give serious answers. Only use comedy sparingly, like if it fits into a story.
7) Personal Photos
Sometimes photos themselves are enough to be an answer. Just check these 11,000+ answers for “How pretty can a regular person become?”
8) Romance Story
This works for questions like, “What is it like to have a handsome boyfriend?” Like the last few answer-types, it’s only relevant for specific questions.
Will somebody looking for sensational content check an answer of yours that provides a professional answer to a professional question? Well, no. But, somebody looking for professional answers is likely to get distracted by sensationalist content.
9) “Thanks for the Upvotes”
Zhihu answers can be edited over time. Some authors return to their original answers to express thanks for all the upvotes they have received. Ex: “OMG, so many upvotes? I never expected it, thanks so much everybody!”
Our Advice on Writing Zhihu Answers
All of the answer types above are common, but only a couple are useful for marketing. We’ve been using Zhihu mainly for marketing schools or B2B-type companies in China, but also for consumer products a little bit. So, many of the writing methods above just aren’t suitable. We wouldn’t want to be offensive or overly silly or even create an answer simply for the purpose of getting upvotes.
Instead, we want to write content that is useful, easy-to-read and accurate. So we write answers that give an actual answer very near the top of the post and then elaborate from there. This helps the reader orient themselves, then they can read through as much content as they want to. From there we add supporting information and images.
Unfortunately, Chinese writing isn’t a skill that is easy to teach to our English-reading readers, so it’s tough to go into the nitty-gritty details. As a manager of marketing teams, these are the rules I would follow:
- Have a professional Chinese writer do the writing.
- Give them the goal of providing useful, valuable information to readers.
- Provide the writer with plenty of information and resources, such as your blog posts and internal reports, as well as access to experts that know more.
- Use images whenever relevant.
- Listen to the comments of your readers.
For more information on how to use Zhihu for marketing, check this post.