Following China’s rapid digitalization, Chinese consumers are now more than ever connected online, with social media that are part of their daily lives. Having more than 989 million internet users as of 2021, China is the eldorado for brands that want to attract consumers online. This phenomenon has changed their way of consumption, which means that brands had also to adapt in order to attract this tech-savvy population. Traditional advertising on TV, subway stations, buildings, etc. are now almost considered insufficient. Therefore, it is essential for brands to develop their online reputation by taking advantage of the opportunities that online platforms have to offer. Indeed, one of the biggest assets for brands is the possibility to collaborate with influencers (called KOLs) that have a huge community and can promote your products easily. Now you are probably wondering why and how they can help you right? This article will give you the key points of collaborating with KOLs, as well as some tips and advice to take advantage of this new way of advertising.

What are KOLs?

KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders) are social media influencers who are extremely popular on the internet, having between a thousand and hundreds of followers on the most popular social media such as WeChat, Weibo, Douyin,  QQ, Xiaohongshu, or video platforms like Youku; Bilibili, Meipai, and Nice.

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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).

Why is KOL’s Marketing so Important in China?

Using KOL as part of your marketing strategy in China is essential if you want to quickly attract consumers as well as to develop your visibility. In fact, KOLs can be considered professionals in the social media sphere. They know how to distinguish themselves, promoting and selling products, presenting clearly the advantages of your products. Their success is mainly due to the fact that they interact directly with their audience (during live streaming for example) and they know how to engage a target audience.

As Chinese consumers highly rely on word-of-mouth when buying a products, they are greatly influenced by recommandations from people they are following on social media.

KOLs impact on social media

Some KOLs from Douyin

As mentioned earlier, some KOLs were able to develop their communities on social media by trying out new outfits, 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.

KOL Lu MinTang on Xiaohongshu

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’ opinion.

It is estimated that more than 1 billion USD is spent on KOL advertising each year, which is an incredibly lucrative industry for both companies and KOLs.

KOLs: Powerful Weapons for Brands Growth in China

Thanks to their influence among Chinese consumers, KOLs 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 KOLs help you increase your sales in the Chinese market?

Famous KOL Austin Li (ft. Ayunga) on Douyin

Following the important impact that KOLs 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 their brand awareness. For example, when brands are posting reviews and promoting their products on their own website and social media accounts, 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.

KOLs: Content creators, e-commerce influencers, and entrepreneurs 

KOLs are content creators, 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 event with famous KOLs.

Two of the most famous KOLs promoting e-commerce flashsales

However, this industry is kind of saturated, with less than 2% of users on these platforms that are considered to be 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 KOL’s create in a short amount of time excitement 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).

Li Jiaqi on Wechat

Group buying and flash sales can become viral within a short period of time (a few minutes). People will share attractive campaigns 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.

Li Jiaqi, the ‘King of lipstick’

For instance, considered as the ‘King of Lipstick’, Li Jiaqi was able to sell 15,000 lipstick in just 5 minutes!

The Different Types of KOLs 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, 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 with, when entering the Chinese market and help you build your brand’s reputation as well as to quickly increase your sales and visibility.

But when it comes to KOLs, we can say that they are mainly divided into three to four categories:

KOL Li Jiaqi on RED
  • KOLs: 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.
Micro-KOLs on Weitao
  • Micro-KOLs: On the contrary to KOLs that 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.
KOC in China
  • KOC: they are called Key Opinion Customers because they are in general recommending brands and products with more control than KOLs for example. On the 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. Their honesty is highly appreciated by Chinese consumers, and for instance, the beauty brand Perfect Diary favored this strategy to increase its brand awareness and create buzz online. 
Actress Fan Bingbing on RED
  • Celebrities: they are of course the first category you’ll think about when entering the Chinese market. They are popular in China, whereas as 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 KOLs. 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.
The Chinese Influencers’ Pyramid

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 collaborate with you. The influence of each KOL depends on its audience and the impact it has online.

How to find the right KOLs 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 KOLs that will be able to promote effectively your brand and your products. You have to think about what your brand is trying to achieve and leverage the right platforms to find the right KOLs.

The best websites to find Chinese KOLs are:

Yourank.cn: This is a big analytical platform with data on most KOL’s, it can help you identify a specific KOL as there is a lot of historical data.

The main issue with Yourank.cn is that there is a lot of data to go through to find the relevant information about an influencer. It can be quite interesting if you have the time to analyze all of the statistics and compare them.

WeMedia: This is typically considered as a ‘Low-end platform’, there will be good KOLs but also fake KOLs. Be careful of fake KOL’s as they can waste a lot of time & budget when it comes to your advertising and marketing campaign.

Newrank.cn – This website offers ‘curated KOL’ services. 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.

Partnering with KOLs: Tips

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.

In fact, you have to know that collaborating with KOLs isn’t cheap in China and 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 KOL in your area of expertise and 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 in the best way possible your products can be difficult. That’s 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.

KOLs through various Chinese social media

As mentioned all along this article, KOLs are working online. You’ll find KOLs on every platforms in China.

KOLs on WeChat

Lancôme 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 2021, 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.

KOLs on Weibo

Singer and Rapper Cai Xukun for De Beers 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. However, it has evolved into a microblogging hybrid with Instagram, Pinterest, Reddit, and YouTube over the years. On these extremely popular platforms, many KOLs were 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 KOLs and brands. However, the most popular posts on Weibo are from celebrities who are extremely active on this social media. Thus, brands are often collaborating with celebrities that are known to everybody.

KOLs on Douyin

Douyin has attracted many KOLs and celebrities

With more than 600 million daily active users in China as of 2021, 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 KOLs and 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 store on Douyin.

KOLs on Xiaohongshu

KOLs’ shopping notes 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 2021, Xiaohongshu is boasting over 300 million registered users and 85 million monthly active users. Xiaohongshu is mostly used by young Chinese women, sharing 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 it.

KOLs on e-commerce platforms

KOLs for L’Oréal on Tmall

As you probably already know, the most popular e-commerce platforms are conscious that KOLs are wonderful to quickly promote and sells products. Thus, it is common to see 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.

How to launch a campaign with a KOL?

The most effective strategy is to create an ‘echo chamber’, which means that you ‘attract’ users on different platforms with multiple KOL’s 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 KOLs should I hire to promote my brand in China?

Chinese consumers are following in average 5 to 15 KOLs

Brands working with multiple KOL’s 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 optimizes 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 KOL 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 and 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 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 KOL’s 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 the 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 into a global marketing strategy

The most important point is to engage in a ‘multi-strategy approach, tier 1 KOL’s combined with mid-tier can be very effective. Less than 100 k 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 KOLs fan base.

Keep a very close eye on conversation and promote discussion with them, replying with user-friendly posts on KOLs’ original post.

We help you Collaborate with the right KOL

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 its brand awareness and e-reputation of platforms such as Weibo, WeChat, Douyin, Xiaohongshu, etc. By using the services of KOLs, 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. 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 is not as easy as you might think, and that’s why have decided to help brands contact the appropriate KOLs that will be able to take you as far as possible. Proud of the success of the companies we have helped over the years finding the right KOLs, we know exactly the needs of each company and the strategies that must be tailored to them in order to get the best of the Chinese 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.

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