Selecting Travel KOLs: How do we choose our bloggers?

In our last blog, we wrote about the metrics you need to understand when selecting a travel KOL. So what’s the process when our clients come to us and suggest they would like us to organise a KOL trip?

Match product with skills, audience and interests

The first thing we consider is the objective of the project and the product itself. When we were looking to promote the destinations accessible by rail for our client, London North Eastern Railway, we needed to find a mainstream travel blogger with a strong reputation and access to a wide reach on China’s popular travel review sites. We also wanted someone with excellent photography skills so they could really showcase the personality of the North East of England and Scotland. Thus, the influential blogger Sicilia (西西里玩不停) was the perfect choice.

However, when we were looking at our Heritage is GREAT trip for English Heritage, we knew we needed to find someone with a really keen, genuine interest in both history and heritage. The trip involves visits to many sites up and down the country, so a love of heritage was essential. Our choice, in the end, surprised us all, as we discovered that the actual co-founder of one of China’s premier travel review sites, Qyer, Mr Cai Jinghui, is a huge heritage fan. Never backwards in coming forwards, our team in Beijing approached him with the proposed trip and we are delighted that Mr Cai will be visiting in September, bringing with him a museum expert and photographer. The review will appear on Qyer and posts will be shared on Mr Cai’s personal social media accounts – presumably with many of the Chinese travel industry’s A-listers.

We also ensure your blogger appeals to the right audience. If you are VisitBrighton or Destination Bristol, we might look for a blogger with a predominantly millennial audience. If you are London Zoo, families are probably more important to you. We will choose the right blogger who actively markets to your target segment.

Be practical and flexible

We always have to consider budget and scheduling. We know lots of great Chinese travel bloggers, but they are busy people and charge different fees for their time. Travel blogging is how they make their living (lucky for some!). Sometimes, it’s a difficult balancing act to find someone who matches our budget, wants to visit the UK, and has the time in their schedule to do so. Where we can’t pay the normal fees, sometimes we can offer the KOLs something else; help with a future holiday, discounts on hotel rooms, or the promise of more work for other clients. We are competing for these bloggers with places like Australia and Dubai who have huge Chinese KOL budgets, so we have to be prepared to find a work-around to make things work with the right blogger.

Success often depends on the destination. We have never had to pay for bloggers we’ve hosted at the paradise island of Vanuatu because the bloggers have never been before, were really excited to go (who wouldn’t be?), and know that the island will offer them new and original content that give them a competitive edge over other bloggers. But, over time, as more travel blogs are written about Vanuatu, fees will inevitably come into play.

Occasionally, bloggers are free when the opportunity is too good to refuse – this is usually when the entire trip includes luxury accommodation and business-class flights.

It can also depend on their personal circumstances, who we know, and whom they know. We invited Wang Yuan (王二媛), the food blogger and editor of the Chinese fashion website MOGU Street Lifestyle to England and Scotland in June. Yuan brought her friend, Liu Bo (bobobaby7), along, who is also an influential KOL, free of charge. Liu Bo has a staggering popularity on Weibo and their being on a trip together meant that the two ladies took more pictures, shared more content, and had more fun, making for an even better result for the client at minimal extra cost.

The platforms are always in charge

It’s important to think about how the content will be promoted. Weibo have set up a group for Fashion KOLs, whereby bloggers pay a fee to have their content promoted. For example, a celebrity would have to pay Weibo a sum for people to see their posts otherwise they won’t be sent traffic. This cost can be as little as 200 RMB (£22.00) or upwards of 5,000 RMB (£575.00) if the blogger represents a big brand. Fashion KOLs often include this cost into their service fee, but if you just want a detailed blog with no Weibo promotion behind it, they will only charge you for travel time.

Contrary to popular belief, most Chinese bloggers are no longer freelancers – they have to partner with a company for Weibo to send them traffic. These companies manage a network of bloggers and have direct contacts with Weibo, and bloggers have to share profits with their company.

It’s a professional service and you’ll need a contract

Working with KOLs is completely different to working with journalists. Bloggers will agree a fee and the deliverables and this will be written in a contract, signed by both parties. It will cover things like the minimum number of social posts which will be delivered, and how many platforms the review will be published on. Remember, Chinese bloggers don’t publish on their own blogging websites (this is very old school indeed and the market moved on from that about 10 years ago). They publish on third party platforms such as Qyer, Mafengwo and Ctrip.

Social media posts on WeChat and Weibo made throughout the blogger’s trip are normally free of charge with a certain number agreed within the contract per trip, but costs may incur for video content. A detailed blog with video can cost between 25,000 and 30,000 RMB (£2,800 – £3,500) per project, which includes an average of 3 to 5 Weibo posts.

Pick the best of the bunch

Of course, we check if the bloggers are actually any good. Chinese social media and travel site users follow bloggers for their personality and to communicate with them, in addition to reading their travel insights. Readers enjoy blogs that inject personality into them while being informative about the destination or attraction. This comes down to effective writing skills – some KOLs can’t write at all!

Travel bloggers don’t all write about the same thing – some will focus on specific travel trends, such as food tourism or flower and garden tourism, to stand out among the rest. If your travel blogger is eating at the finest restaurants during their trip, it makes sense for them to have had blogged about food in the past. The content travel KOLs produce and publish on their social media accounts and travel sites is important to keep in mind.

There are practical considerations too. Does the blogger have a visa for our client’s destination or will we have to cost that into the trip? Where does the blogger live? Will we have to pay for connecting flights in China or transit hotels? Language barriers may be an issue if the blogger only speaks Mandarin, but a detailed and informative itinerary can help assure them and having a Mandarin-speaking colleague on hand to communicate with them is always useful.

Most importantly, we consider whether the blogger will be easy to work with in sticking to the itinerary, communicating promptly if any problems arise, and being an all-round responsible traveller. We never want our blogger trips to turn into a headache, either for us or for our clients.

If you would like to find out more about working with Chinese KOLs, please contact us for a chat.

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Chinese KOLs – it’s not all about WeChat and Weibo

If you are trying to decide on the right Chinese Key Opinion Leader (KOL) or travel blogger to promote your tourism brand, you may be tempted to focus only on the number of followers they have on WeChat and Weibo, China’s most popular social media platforms. However, this is not necessarily the only, or even best metric, to consider to ensure you receive the high-quality coverage and targeted reach that you are looking for. Working with a Chinese KOL is a significant investment in both time and money, and it is important that the best returns are delivered. So how should you go about choosing the right one for you?

What is a follower on Weibo?

To start, let’s consider what exactly you are looking at when you consider followers on Weibo.

Weibo is a micro blogging platform (like Twitter) and has 431 million active monthly users. Every KOL worth his or her salt will state a number of followers. However, it’s often difficult to determine where these followers come from, and whether they are even real. Unfortunately, Weibo is plague ridden with zombie followers – fake users who infect accounts and falsely bolster follower figures. One way to check if a blogger has legitimate followers is by the engagements their posts receive – whether ‘Likes’, Comments’, or ‘Shares’. You also need to look at their posts to check they are well written and relevant.

Don’t underestimate ‘engagements’…

Engagements are important to consider. While follower figures tell you how many people MAY have seen a post about your attraction or destination, engagements confirm that there are Chinese internet users interested in the content. Users may ‘like’ a post to keep a virtual tab on future travel ideas, ‘share’ it to inform friends or family planning a trip, or ‘comment’ to find out useful travel information. Having said that, the level of engagement on Weibo is dropping in recent years so don’t be too disappointed with low levels of engagement.

Huan Liu Weibo post

‘Views’ can also be useful, but this information isn’t made public, meaning you will need to ask your blogger permission to see this statistic. Depending on your blogger’s popularity on social media, ‘views’ can rack up fast. It depends on the content. One of our bloggers, Liu Huan, who we brought over to the UK in May 2018, had over 337,000 users see her post about the beautiful RHS Wisley Gardens. She doesn’t have 337,000 followers herself on Weibo, but her post captured the imagination of others who shared/reposted it, thus racking up the views.

A ‘view’ doesn’t necessarily have to come from Weibo. Weibo posts can be forwarded to WeChat Moments, where WeChat users can share photos, videos, and lifestyle updates with family and friends. WeChat users can open a link to a Weibo post through WeChat Moments and Weibo will register this as a ‘view’.

Another way to get loads of ‘views’ is to have a post promoted on the Weibo side bar. Popular posts displayed here receive engagements in the hundreds of thousands. Of course, bloggers must pay for this privilege.

Weibo post view example

When is a view not a view?

However you shouldn’t take ‘views’ for granted. On Weibo, a ‘view’ is counted as such when a post is seen once – seen being the key word. Users can scroll or swipe past hundreds of posts on their dashboard (just as you may do every day on your Twitter feed), and Weibo registers this as a ‘view’. Users may not have read the post, but as far as Weibo’s concerned, they still viewed it.

What about WeChat?

WeChat is a bit trickier to navigate when it comes to bloggers. WeChat is a private platform (think more along the lines of Facebook and WhatsApp), so, if you want to follow what the blogger is saying about you on WeChat, you’ll need them to accept you as a WeChat friend first. Even then, you are not going to have access to views. WeChat (just like Facebook) doesn’t record views. It does, however, record comments and likes so that is a good way to understand the power of each post. You can also request the number of followers that the KOL has on WeChat.

Who’s looking?

Another problem with basing your decision on Weibo or WeChat follower figures is that you will have no idea who these people are or why they might be following that account. OK, so you can assume that, if your KOL is a professional travel blogger, many of their followers will be interested in travel. But how are you going to know whether they are interested in European travel? Or a trip to the UK? Or, indeed, currently thinking at all about their next trip at all?

The travel review site Mafengwo is targeted at people looking to book holidays. Mafengwo’s popularity is largely due to its user-generated content, especially the user-made travel guides of which there are now over one million on the site. This site receives over 25 million visits a month to its website and popular app. These visitors are researching travel ideas, and are looking for inspiration. Five of the most popular blogs are selected daily by Mafengwo to be featured on the homepage, and some blogs stay up there longer than a day depending on their engagements. If your blogger manages to get his/her work featured on the homepage of Mafengwo, their guide/recommendations could receive up to 50,000+ views, versus around 9,000 if they are not. It is a similar situation for other review sites, such as Qyer, Ctrip or TripAdvisor. One of our recent bloggers, Sicilia, reached the home page of Mafengwo, Qyer AND Ctrip with the same blog about her rail journey from London to Scotland on LNER, with views and engagements racking up into the thousands as a result.

Visitors to the site will also search by destination to find blogs relevant to their holiday. So, a blog about the UK will be served to people who are actually interested in the UK, and the blog will be up there forever. Users can even save the trip so they can replicate it exactly themselves, share it with their family and friends, and even buy elements of it directly from the website.

Mafengwo KOL's content

It’s difficult to determine how successful coverage by KOLs will be on WeChat and Weibo due to how widespread posts can be topically, and the fact we don’t know for sure what stage in the holiday planning process their followers are in. However, what we do know is 70% of Chinese travellers use online resources to help plan their trip, so selecting KOLs who are deliberately targeting travellers with their content in an environment such as Mafengwo, Qyer or Ctrip, where readers are actively seeking travel ideas, is obviously a more effective strategy than basing decisions on followers alone.

If you are interested in finding out more about working with Chinese travel KOLs, please contact us for a chat.

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A Day in the Life of Vivienne Song

Vivienne Song is China Travel Outbound’s Beijing Director. Her team of diligent, skilled, and young businesspeople collaborate closely with the Brighton team to ensure our clients receive the best possible promotion in China. Exceptionally hardworking, Vivienne is an essential member of our China Travel Outbound team.  

But what is her life in China like? Vivienne, her husband, and her two adorable cats live in Beijing, China’s capital city. Living and working in Beijing has its difficulties, but it also provides many modern conveniences un-afforded by other global cities. In this article, the Marketing Executive for our Brighton office Tom Luckin interviews Vivienne to reveal what an average day is like for a businesswoman living in this relentless city.

TL: What is it like being a working woman in China?

VS: For many years, the image of women in China was to look after the family and support the husband while he’s at work. Men are meant to be ‘out to hunt’ to support the whole family. Nowadays, women are standing out in business, and are starting to take the lead. We now do the same jobs as men, and sometimes make more money than they do, all the while looking after the family. It’s a tough role – but it shapes us to become stronger people.

From my circle of friends, I am seeing more and more women who are younger than me and are already very independent financially and emotionally.

TL: How do you travel to work every morning?

VS: Whenever the weather is lovely, I cycle to work. Beijing’s brilliant shared bike service means you can simply pick up and ride any shared bike on the street for as little as 1 RMB [about 11 pence] per hour. Travelling to work by bus is also handy, since they run fairly frequently and let you to sit back and relax.

The best contribution I have made to Beijing’s notorious traffic is by not driving myself. The traffic is bad enough as it is – we don’t need one more terrible driver to make it worse!

TL: What do you do on a typical working day?

VS: Monday and Tuesday will usually be office days for me and my team to schedule meetings for clients and review the work we did last week. As Beijing is extremely large, and has overwhelming traffic, travelling around efficiently really depends on luck. This is why we tend to organise one meeting in the morning, and two meetings in the afternoon.

Face-to-face meetings are very important. We always visit a tour operators’ office so that we can introduce our client in person and provide assistance to help develop and promote the tour products. Professional partnerships are very important to us, but so are our friendships with tour operators.

TL: Please can you talk about the people who make up your Beijing team?

VS: Sarah Cao is our PR & Media Manager. She studied in the US and majored in Tourism Management and Hospitality. After returning to China, she worked for a PR company in the media industry for two years.

I have known Ian King for ten years as he used to be my colleague in the MICE department of China Travel International, who I worked for shortly after moving to Beijing. He has experience in both the travel trade industry and brand marketing. He also used to look after high-profile clients such as P&G and Unilever. He also has very good connections in the entertainment industry.

TL: Sounds like a busy life you live! What do you do to relax?

VS: I really enjoy going to the gym to sweat away all the pressure. It’s the best way to stay fit, helping myself stay energetic and ready for work. Watching old movies is one of my other favourite things to do to relax at the weekend. Al Pacino is my all-time favourite actor.

TL: Who doesn’t love Al Pacino!? …Why did you decide to begin a career in the travel industry?

VS: There was a TV show on about 20 years ago called ‘The Wonderful World’, which was one of the first travel shows broadcast in China. It influenced a lot of people of my generation to think about beginning a career in the travel industry, but at the time, we did not know much about outbound travel. The show taught us a lot about other cultures around the world.

The female host of ‘The Wonderful World’, or ‘Guide’ as we called her, had one of the most admired jobs in China for quite some time. Since then, I decided to work in the travel industry as I naively thought the job was all about travelling for fun!

TL: What were the early days of your career like? Any highlights?

VS: I started my career with Star Cruises, which is an international cruise company based in Singapore. I was lucky to snatch a role in their Tourism Department where you not only travel to many different countries and enjoy all the tours as part of the job, but also work with people from different cultural backgrounds.

I’ve worked in many different positions in the tourism industry, from tour product sales for Star Cruises and account management for China Travel International’s MICE department, to wholesale product management and PR & media management for the Destination Tourism office. My last position before I joined CTO was at Mafengwo as BD Manager, which I enjoyed very much. Not only did the role improve my knowledge of online travel marketing, but I also made lots of friends there who are hardworking, fun people.

TL: Speaking of friends, can you talk a bit about your family?

VS: While my husband and I live in Beijing with our two cats, my parents and parents-in-law live in other Chinese cities. Unfortunately, we don’t visit our parents that often due to my very busy schedule, but I make it a routine to frequently phone my mum to catch up. Every year, I try to make a week free to go travelling with them. Last year, I took them to Chiang Mai in Thailand, and for the upcoming Chinese New Year in February, we are going to Chengdu to see the pandas.

TL: What is your apartment like in Beijing? Do you enjoy living there?

VS: Our apartment has two bedrooms and one large living room, perfect for hosting friends and family. Both my husband and I love to cook. We often invite our friends round for house parties to try our new dishes.

Everything happens so quickly in China. Many of us believe the country is still in a fast-growing phase, and we are lucky to be involved with such rapid changes. Beijing teaches you to quickly adapt to your environment and learn fast in order to catch up with the changing times. Life here is never short of challenges. I love the feeling of becoming a better version of myself with each passing day.

It’s very convenient living in China since everything is slowly but surely getting digitised – like payment systems. I have tried to avoid carrying cash when I go on business trips to other Chinese cities, since everything can be paid for through WeChat Pay or Alipay – from shops and restaurants, to hotels and taxis, and even some street vendors.

Buying items online for delivery is a service available throughout China, but unfortunately it is not free. You can order something at 11pm, and it will be with you by 7am the next day. Online supermarkets deliver within a maximum of 2 hours, and because my place is near the station, I always receive my order within 30 minutes. Sometimes it works out cheaper to get things delivered than to go to the supermarket.

The shared bike service is one of my favourite sharing economies. I love to cycle, but I couldn’t buy a bike, as I have nowhere to park it and it could get easily stolen, not to mention having to carry it up and down from the apartment! The shared bike service makes travelling to work so much easier and fun. The spring and autumn months in Beijing are gorgeous times to ride a bike – I often cycle through the old Hutong alleys during these months to see more scenic views of the city.

TL: To bring it back to social media, why are platforms like WeChat and Alipay so important to Chinese consumers?

VS: WeChat and Alipay are very important as they are with you throughout your everyday life. The conveniences they provide certainly make life easier overall, but at the same time, the command these two apps have over your life is quite frightening.

TL: Your role requires you to travel abroad occasionally for business meetings. What do you enjoy about the UK when you visit there?

VS: The UK has so many world-class museums that I can easily spend days exploring. The museum stores are perfect for souvenir shopping – you can always find perfect gifts for friends and colleagues there.

The other thing that impressed me on my last trip to the UK in November was the food. China’s impression of British food is basically just fish and chips. On a popular Chinese talk show I once watched, the host joked about how ‘Great Britain is one of the greatest and most powerful countries in the world, yet they don’t know how to cook’.

During my trip to the UK, I went to some restaurants which left no doubt in my mind about the slogan VisitBritain launched last year – the ‘Food is GREAT’! The ingredients are so fresh, and the dishes taste incredibly good.

-End of interview-

Many thanks to Vivienne for agreeing to the interview and providing most of the photos used in this article.

If you are interested in the benefits of attracting more Chinese visitors to your destination or attraction, please contact us for a chat.

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