The rise of the Chinese KOL has been widely documented, but in order to understand how you might use them as part of your marketing tool kit, you should first understand who they are, what they do, how they work, and their potential and pitfalls. We’ve put together a short guide to help and ask whether they are still worth considering or have had their day.
What is a Chinese KOL?
KOLs (standing for Key Opinion Leaders) are influencers; the people who are deemed experts in a specialised field and who can make high profits from it. Due to China’s thriving internet population of 721.4 million users, KOLs are a popular and powerful social media force – they possess strong communications networks due to a large and dedicated online following, the charisma to engage with their fans and in-depth knowledge about their fields. Followers are likely to listen to and emulate their favourite KOLs due to their position as specialists. They are respected and thus have loyal fans. It comes as no surprise then that KOLs are often utilised by brands to market their products, giving the brand easier and endorsed access to a niche audience. They’re often seen promoting and endorsing a brand’s products allowing a communication channel to be opened between a company and a KOL’s legion of loyal followers.
Who are they?
Originating from some of China’s most popular social media platforms, online KOLs are also known as micro-influencers. China’s social media community is vast, especially when 91% of them are also frequent users; from the January 2016 to January 2017 period alone, there was a 20% increase in the number of active Chinese social media users. It’s worth considering then two of China’s biggest social media networks which KOLs most commonly use: Weibo and WeChat. 2016 saw the number of active WeChat users reach 846 million whilst Weibo’s monthly active users reached 261 million. Despite Weibo’s much lower number of active users, a 76% year-on-year increase in user’s interactivity has been noted by the network, meaning Weibo is still a great medium to consider in order to connect with the online community.
KOLs have managed to navigate their way impressively and establish themselves within this community and, thus, are perfect conduits for brands to target specific audiences. They are persuasive and influential individuals who possess the ability to reach masses of people, whether it’s through endorsing a brand through photographs, blogs or videos. And, what’s more, it’s been proven that 50+% of Chinese consumers are loyal to brands that partner with celebrities; for social influencers, such as bloggers, the figure is 46%.
This is not just a Chinese phenomenon of course. British fashion and beauty blogger, Zoella, started her blog in 2009 before launching her now popular YouTube channel which currently has 11.6 million subscribers. She’s now asked to endorse and comment on many brands and products within her specialised area and is able to reach out to many people; she’s even been featured in multiple ‘social media influencer’ lists.
How are brands able to utilise Chinese KOLs?
Brands can utilise Chinese KOLs in many way, including social media exposure, advertising campaigns, and employing them for public appearances. Prices vary and depend on the popularity of the KOL and the type of promotion used but it is fair to say that the sums are not for the fainthearted. Another challenge lies in finding the most appropriate person for your brand. Websites such as the Chinese ParkLU, a ‘KOL broker’, help brands with this problem. The site lists different KOLs, their special areas of expertise and the number of social media followers they have. Brands are able to pay to be linked up with the most appropriate person wherein their products are then endorsed on their social media accounts.
Live-streaming is becoming more popular and KOLs play their part. Chinese video messaging network, Meipai, hosted a Cannes Film Festival live-stream which was sponsored by cosmetics company, L’Oreal Paris. 3.1 million people tuned in and 164 million likes were given. Chinese pop star and actress, Li Yuchun, promoted a L’Oreal lip balm during the stream which sold out only a few hours later, only emphasising the power of a KOL.
The KOL name can also extend to celebrities. On behalf of our client, Hard Rock Cafe, we invited popular Chinese Rock band, Miserable Faith, to the London restaurant. The band and crew all enjoyed a meal, were given a VIP tour, were given personalised gifts and had many pictures taken. The band posted about their visit to their 369,000 fans, effectively endorsing the Hard Rock Cafe brand.
Keeping it real
The rise of the KOL in China has become so well known that it has brought with it a certain degree of scepticism. In a country where everything can be copied and fake products abound, authenticity is lacking in many aspects of Chinese culture and is thus, highly prized. Fake reviews, or endorsements which are clearly funded masquerades will lack authenticity and will be rejected by an increasingly savvy audience. Whilst celebrity endorsement continues to be hugely powerful, the days of splashing lots of cash at top tier KOLs may be numbered. Better to look for the second tier of bloggers and influencers who may have fewer followers, but are still seen to be keeping it real.
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