How can foreign brands leverage Key Opinion Leaders in China?
This is your go-to guide for everything you need to know about the influencers in the Chinese social media landscape and how it differs from Western markets.
We’ll take a look at influencer marketing, brand advocacy, and content strategy guidelines that can help brands build relationships with consumers in China on various channels and overall how to build a cost-efficient successful KOL marketing campaign.
What is a KOL in China?
Key opinion leaders (KOLs), also known as influencers, are individuals or organizations with a large following and influence in a particular field. KOLs have become incredibly important in China, with businesses relying on them to sell products and gain larger brand exposure.
Why are Key Opinions Leaders so Important in China?
KOL stands for Key Opinion Leader. They are internet celebrities on Chinese social media platforms. Using Chinese KOLs as part of your marketing strategy in China is essential if you want to quickly gain consumers’ trust as well as to develop your visibility. Even more so than Western influencers in many cases.
In fact, KOLs can be considered professionals in the Chinese social media sphere. They know how to distinguish themselves, promoting and selling products, presenting clearly the advantages of your goods and so on. China’s influencer marketing is one of the best marketing tactics in the market nowadays.
Their success can be explained by their interesting personality combined with their extensive knowledge of China’s social media landscape that they use to create engagement with a large online audience. As Chinese consumers highly rely on word-of-mouth when buying a product, they are greatly influenced by recommendations from people they are following on social media.
Chinese influencers, as opposed to Western influencers, have the ability to communicate easily with their fan base. Giving them more opportunities to promote brands and their products locally.
KOLs China: a Powerful Weapon for Brands Growth in China
Thanks to their influence among Chinese consumers, Key opinion Leaders provide a powerful infrastructure for brands to tap into their large, engaged, and active communities of followers who are strongly influenced by their reviews and experience. These influencers are considered experts in a particular area and field by their followers. Some will specialize in beauty products while others will specialize in the fashion industry.
This phenomenon has merged since China’s digitalization over the years, with the democratization of hundreds of live-streaming video platforms such as Douyin and Kuaishou. Users are able to live-stream their daily lives and build up large communities that can become highly monetizable.
How Can China KOLs Help You Increase Your Sales?
Following the important impact that Chinese influencers can have on the internet, it has become essential for brands to partner with them, in order to promote their products as well as to increase brand awareness.
For example, when brands are posting reviews and promoting their products on their own website and social media channels, people might be thinking that it is biased. And, because Chinese consumers are extremely cautious when it comes to trying new products (cosmetics, beauty products, food, etc.) they will be more reassured to look for reviews from KOLs, either on pictures or during live-streaming.
How to Find the Right Influencers for Your Marketing Effort in China?
In such a large industry (considering the size of the Chinese market) you need the right tools to find the appropriate social media influencers that will be able to promote effectively your brand and your products. Before getting into practice, you’ll need to think about your influencer marketing strategy through:
- What your brand is trying to achieve with Kol Marketing?
- What platform fits your brand’s target audience and goals the best?
- How and where to find the right Chinese influencers to represent your brand and achieve your China goals?
The Best Websites to Find Chinese KOLs
- Yourank.cn: This is a big analytical platform with data on most KOLs, it can help you identify a specific Key Opinion leader as there is a lot of historical data.
- WeMedia: This is typically considered a ‘Low-end platform’, there will be good Chinese KOLs but you might also encounter a fake KOL. Be careful of fake KOLs as they can waste a lot of time & budget when it comes to your advertising and marketing campaign.
- Newrank.cn – This website offers appropriate KOLs for any brand. They can help you sort through a large number of potential KOLs, but it can be time-consuming if you are not sure about what you’re looking for.
Tips for Partnering with KOLs in China
As these platforms are open to almost every ‘KOLs’, it can be difficult to contact a KOL and directly partner with them. The market is extremely competitive, and collaborating with a KOL can be time-consuming and extremely expensive as well.
Collaborating with KOLs isn’t cheap in China. A KOL Market value is calculated based on a few factors, including the brand’s image and how established it is in China. Moreover, you will have to find a Chinese KOL in your area of expertise and be willing to promote your products. If you want, you can try to negotiate with them the price of the collab, like offering them your products instead of paying for their services.
Finding the right KOLs that will be able to display and promote you in the best way possible your products can be difficult. That’s where we can help you, by finding the KOLs that suit your brand. We are KOL specialists and we have a whole database of trusted, reputable KOLs that have already partnered multiple times with us. If you want more information about our services, do not hesitate to contact us directly.
How to Launch a Chinese KOL Marketing Campaign?
The most effective brands in influencer marketing are the ones that know how to use social media platforms as an ‘echo chamber’: meaning that you ‘attract’ users on different platforms with multiple KOLs promoting your product or service. If Chinese user encounters the brand through multiple influencers from multiple sources the credibility and reputation of your brand will be greatly enhanced.
Most brands don’t have natural brand advocacy, and it takes time to build credibility with a KOL audience. But as we said, there are very engaged communities that you can tap into with the right content and strategy.
How Many Key Option Leaders Should I Hire to Promote My Brand in China?
Brands working with multiple KOLs are much more likely to see an evolution and increased sales. It all depends on the budget that you have. You will have to invest intelligently with a smaller budget. A combination of ‘sellers’ and ‘curators’ (mentioned above) works well too.
It is also important to up-promote and optimize your posts, in some ways, it is not the size of the campaign that matters, but essentially how well you’ll have planned your strategy beforehand.
How Much Should I Spend on China Key Option Leaders Marketing?
According to the type of KOL you want to collaborate with, the price will depend on various factors such as the popularity of the KOL, its number of followers, your sector of activity, the number of products the KOL will promote, the time spent on it, the sales, etc.
Having a good idea of the budget you’ll need is essential to know what kind of KOL you can afford to hire. It is also important to underline the fact that some KOLs are known to overcharge brands that are not extremely popular in China yet, and those who lack experience working with KOLs are ready to accept everything to work with them.
In terms of budget, working with popular and famous KOLs requires spending between $19,000 and $610,000, and a single post with an average KOL can reach $3,600. Of course, for the most popular KOLs, it can reach millions of dollars per post and video.
What are the Different Types of KOLs in Terms of the Results Expected?
A tier 1 may be able to deliver over 100 000 views and interactions but is it just a matter of numbers? No, it’s about what makes the most sense with your product/budget.
A tier 2 can deliver between 40-80k views but they may be more targeted and relevant for your brand. In contrast, lower values tier 3 KOLs may drive 10k interactions but you can hire multiple KOLs to increase even more your visibility through various channels.
It is worth mentioning that WeChat does not show any higher statistics than 100k views. This is a limitation of using a very large KOL, you do not get the most accurate impression of how a large-scale campaign went in terms of data analysis and metrics.
Include Your KOLs Campaign in a Global Influencer Marketing Strategy
The most important point is to engage in a multi-strategy approach, tier 1 KOLs combined with mid-tier can be very effective. Less than 100k views will show the exact figure, this can be very helpful for more accurate data/analytics. Stay flexible and do not just put all your eggs in one basket with 1 expensive KOL when a multi-tiered strategy works best.
Well-known KOLs Will Help You Attract Smaller Ones
Engage with a large KOL, this does motivate and influence smaller KOLs in greater numbers because the brand is deemed as established and reputable enough to work with a top-tier KOL. In this field, KOL activity is typically cumulative. Think of the influence KOLs will have on other influencers.
Driving Engagement & Conversion Rates
Who is developing your Chinese content? KOL posts are great tools but you need to know how to take advantage of these large communities and the great exposure you’ll get. If you provide poor content, it will be a waste of time for everybody.
The best way to drive engagement is click-throughs and sale conversion rates, which ensure you have the best content. How well do you understand your Chinese target audience? Does the content fit the brand? How well have you tailored your value proposition to this market? All these questions are essential when establishing your plan to enter the Chinese market.
Systematically Send Product Samples to KOLs
This should be a requirement, make sure you always send as many comprehensive samples as possible and way in advance. This allows the seller to get a sense of the product, they can then write about the product from a personal standpoint if they have been using it, and share their experience in the best way possible, giving more details to their community. You can build a database of relevant KOLs with contact details and addresses to streamline this process.
Be Sure That KOLs Understand Your Products and Your Brand’s Values
This will lead to a more successful social media campaign, when they speak about a brand they should mean it. If a KOL is not asking for a sample of the product before promoting that should be seen as a red flag. They should know and understand the product as the communities will be looking for this.
This also works as a filter for the quality of the product, you do not want to select a KOL who could potentially damage your brand because their reputation is declining through their lack of awareness for example.
Favor KOLs who will emphasize the story about your brand and your product. You will see that it directly has an impact in terms of social engagement and conversion rates.
Engaging with Your Audience by Replying to Their Comments and Reviews
Users will have questions about the product, where to purchase it, specific technical questions, etc. That’s why it is important to follow these threads closely, with your customer services team being prepared and active when replying to them, and help close sales by engaging with the KOLs’ fan base.
Keep a very close eye on conversations and promote discussion with them, replying with user-friendly posts on KOLs’ original posts.
To Go Further on the Chinese Influenceurs Market: What are Kols?
What is the Typical Profile of a Chinese Kol?
KOLs during a live streaming
Most of the time, they are aged between 18 and 30 years old and are followed by a wide audience, especially the younger generation (Millenials and Gen Z). Even though for years brands preferred to collaborate with celebrities (singers, actors, models, etc.), the rising use of social media all across China has allowed everyone to easily share their life and opinion with their followers, gaining more popularity online than some celebrities. Nowadays, many teenagers want to become KOLs, also called WangHong (网红).
KOLs: Content Creators, e-Commerce Influencers, and Entrepreneurs
A Key Opinion Leader is at heart a content creator. They create content (often in the form of live streams), own e-commerce businesses, engage in monetization through advertising and are at the head of entrepreneurial communities.
For example, as they are mastering the art of selling products quicker than anyone else, some of the biggest e-commerce platforms are promoting their flash sales and special events with famous KOLs.
By definition, there’s only a small number of leading influencers in each field, and that’s why it is important to have a local partner to help you choose the best KOL according to your field of expertise.
KOLs’ Influence Leading to Impulsive Purchases
Most KOL campaigns in China are leading to impulsive purchases, as KOLs create in a short amount of time excited about the product. People are not looking for a specific product, but when they come across it, they will probably make an impulsive purchase thinking about the deal they can make (as sometimes they can benefit from vouchers and special offers).
Group buying and flash sales should be part of your influencer marketing strategy as they have a high chance of being viral and grabbing a lot of engagement within a short period of time (a few minutes). People will share a successful KOL campaign with their friends, especially if there is a promotion or incentive. You can offer a short-term discount through KOL posts to create this immediacy for instant purchasing.
For instance, considered the ‘King of Lipstick’, Li Jiaqi was able to sell 15,000 lipstick in just 5 minutes!
The Different Types of Key Opinions Leaders in China
There are different types of influencers in China. First of all, you have to differentiate those who are ‘expert sellers’ who are great for sales on WeChat, Weibo, Douyin, Xiaohongshu, and shops/e-commerce platforms. They are good at creating buzz and driving traffic to a store leading to increased sales.
Then you’ll have ‘Curators’ who are really good at branding, content, and story-telling. They can help you build emotional trust between your followers and you. A combination of expert sellers and curators is the best way to start when entering the Chinese market and help you build your brand’s reputation as well as quickly increase your sales and visibility.
Also, depending on your target audience, your KOL campaigns will not need the same kind of Chinese KOL.
They are of course the first category you’ll think about when looking at information about KOL marketing in China. They are popular in China, whereas singers, actors, models, etc. Indeed, the biggest celebrities are extremely appreciated by luxury brands such as L’Oréal, Dior, Chanel, etc.
Celebrities are much more like brand ambassadors than Key Opinions Leaders. They won’t try to promote multiple brands and products for example. However, some celebrities are active on social media as well and can act as influencers.
KOLs – Key Opinion Leaders
They are considered influencers in the way that they generate monetary value thanks to their content and interaction with consumers. They often collaborate with many brands at the same time, sharing their opinion with their followers. In general, they are specialized in one industry and are thus able to give as many details as possible to convince people to buy your products.
Contrary to KOLs which have millions of followers, micro-KOLs have around 250,000 followers (which is still considered a high number for Westerners). Because of their smaller community, they are in general interacting more with people, and partnering with them will also be less expensive for you. For example, you’ll be able to hire several micro-KOLs instead of only one KOL. Micro-Kols are super popular with small-budget brands that wish to do KOL marketing in China.
KOC – Key Opinion Consumers
They are called Key Opinion Customers (or Key Opinion Consumers depending on who you ask) because they generally recommend brands and products with more control than KOLs for example. Contrary to other influencers, KOCs are ordinary buyers. They will give an honest opinion about a product they bought and be as neutral as possible.
Chinese consumers highly appreciate their honesty, and for instance, the beauty brand Perfect Diary favored this strategy to increase brand awareness and create buzz online. With their high engagement rate and lower cost, KOC is taking more space in the brands’ China KOL Marketing strategy.
Don’t forget that in general, celebrities will only collaborate with the biggest international brands, while micro-KOLs will be more affordable and willing to work with you. The influence of each KOL depends on its audience and the impact it has online.
KOLs Impact on Social Media
As we mentioned earlier, some KOLs were able to develop their communities on social media by trying out new outfits, and new products, filming some tutorials, giving reviews, and sharing their experience with followers. Most of the Chinese population will seek information on the internet and on social media. That’s why KOLs have such an impact online, and even more than celebrities sometimes.
You can recruit these Key Opinion Leaders to represent your company, brand, product, or services in China through paid posts. This is a very powerful tool for international companies that are trying to enter the Chinese market, as it allows you to tap into large active communities that are strongly influenced by KOLs’ opinions.
It is estimated that more than 1 billion USD is spent on Key Opinion Leader marketing in China each year, which is an incredibly lucrative industry for both companies and KOLs.
KOL China: Marketing through Chinese Social Media Channels
As mentioned all along in this article, Key Opinion Leaders are working online. You’ll find KOLs on every platform in China.
Chinese KOLs on WeChat
Created by the Chinese company Tencent and released in 2011 in China, WeChat was at the beginning only a mobile messaging app. And even though new features were introduced, this functionality remains the core of the app. Marketed as Weixin (微信) in China, it was then rebranded as WeChat in 2012 for the international market.
With more than 1.2 billion active users as of 2023, WeChat is the most popular app in China. Thus, the majority of brands have an official account on WeChat, on which they can share content as well as posts with KOLs promoting the products.
Chinese KOLs on Weibo
Launched in 2009 by the Chinese technology company Sina Corporation (新浪), Weibo (微博) is one of the biggest social media platforms in China. As its name indicates (“micro-blog”), Weibo provides micro-blogging services and is often compared to Twitter. Weibo is one of the best apps for KOL marketing in China.
Indeed, on this extremely popular platform, many Key Opinion Leaders are able to increase their online reputation, collaborating with brands and sharing their reviews online. Their content is accessible to everyone, and it is much more like an open space compared to WeChat.
People can then share content and reply to both the Key Opinion Leading doing the promotion and also the Brand itself. However, the most popular posts on Weibo are from celebrities who are extremely active on this social media. Thus, brands are often collaborating with stars that are known to everybody.
Chinese KOLs on Douyin
With more than 750 million monthly active users in China as of 2023, Douyin, known as Tik Tok in other parts of the world, is one of the most lucrative and promising apps in China.
Douyin is extremely popular among young Chinese users, attracting a lot of big Key Opinion Leaders but also many micro-KOLs as well.
Thanks to the short video format and the possibility of live streaming directly on Douyin, many people can easily find everything they want about specific subjects and products. For example, it has become pretty common for brands to promote their products through KOLs on Douyin.
One of the major advantages of Douyin is that people can directly purchase on the platform, even more after the new update allowing brands to open their flagship stores on Douyin.
Chinese KOLs on Xiaohongshu
Founded in 2013 by Charlwin Mao and Miranda Qu, Xiaohongshu (小红书) also known as ‘The Little Red Book’ and ‘RED’, is a social media and one of the world’s largest community e-commerce platforms. Over the years, it has grown to become China’s foremost shopping platform in terms of beauty, fashion and luxury products. In 2018, it was listed on Forbes’ “Top 50 Most Innovative Companies in China 2018” list.
As of 2023, Xiaohongshu is boasting over 200 million registered users and 85 million daily active users. Xiaohongshu is mostly used by young Chinese women, to share reviews about cosmetic products, beauty products, fashion, etc. On this platform, you’ll see a lot of KOLs promoting several products and giving their opinion about them.
Xiaohongshu is the best social media platform for lifestyle, beauty, and cosmetics brands.
Chinese Key Opinion Leaders on e-Commerce Platforms
The most popular e-commerce platforms are conscious that Key Opinion Leaders are wonderful for quickly promoting and selling products. Thus, it is common to find KOLs promoting major e-commerce events, during which they will also try to sell as many products as possible. In China, a large part of the population will rely on live streaming to purchase products that they don’t necessarily need.
You can of course find Key Opinion Leaders on other platforms that are more specialized.
Let Us Assist You in the Management of Key Opinion Leaders in China!
With China being one of the most promising markets for foreign companies, it is important to take into account that almost everyone in China is using social media on a daily basis.
In this digitalized country, it is also important to develop brand awareness and e-reputation on platforms such as Weibo, WeChat, Douyin, Xiaohongshu, etc.
By using the services of Key Opinion Leaders, you will not only be able to conquer a wide audience, but you will also be able to get help to promote your brand and products.
Collaborating with an agency specialized in the Chinese market is the best way to achieve your goal and increase your Return On Investment especially when it comes to something as intricate as China KOL Marketing. As all companies are different, the marketing and advertising strategy must be tailored according to their needs and within their financial means.
Choosing the right KOL to promote your brand in China is not as easy as you might think, and that’s why our Agency has a dedicated team for China KOL Marketing. This team not only works hard to help the brand find the right KOLS but is also constantly growing our network of Chinese KOLs and Stars. This allows our Agency to connect you quickly with the right KOL at the best price on the market.
If you have any other questions on KOLs or about doing business in China, don’t hesitate to contact us directly, and we will reply to you within 24 hours.