How to Use Chinese KOLs and Influencers

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A key tool in any Chinese marketer’s arsenal has to be “Key Opinion Leaders”, or influencers as they’re more commonly known in the West. KOLs are widely used on Weibo and WeChat and are especially important for brands who are new to the Chinese market. Chinese KOLs are people who have large social media followings and the potential ability to influence consumers’ purchasing decisions. Whether than ability is realised or not depends on your choice of KOL and how you approach working together.

Why are KOLs so Important to Chinese Market

  • Celebrity power: Much has been written about the power of celebrity endorsements in China, and the same holds true for the power of KOLs. Whereas Western consumers are generally more cynical of celebrities promoting brands, the Chinese public is generally much more receptive to such endorsements. Especially when the person doing the promotion is a respected or popular blogger, a simple retweet can lead to a significant increase in fan numbers and brand awareness.
  • East-West Bridge: For Western companies entering the Chinese market, one potential barrier to entry is that as a foreign brand it can be hard for a Chinese consumer to imagine themselves carrying that bag, wearing that outfit, eating that food, drinking that drink. It’s not always feasible nor desirable for a brand to shoot a localised photo shoot using Chinese models, which is where KOLs can be a big help to show Chinese consumers how your brand can be relevant for them.

How to Identify Good KOLs

Identifying a good KOL is a critical part of any KOL strategy. Any good KOL needs a mixture of both relevance and popularity. Without the former, any exposure counts for nothing. But without the later, there won’t be any exposure to speak of.

Most importantly though, and this is especially true in the Chinese market, is to be careful of fake or exaggerated KOL statistics. Arguably the least credible statistic is Weibo fan numbers, as fans can easily be bought. A KOL with 3 million followers is worthless if they have have zero interactions. For that reason we need to look to interaction numbers; on Weibo this means retweets, comments and likes. On WeChat, this means reads and likes, which are sometimes public viewable but sometimes hidden. Even these numbers can be fudged though – especially on Weibo – so they must be approached with caution and proper due diligence must be undertaken.

Points to be Aware Of

Whilst it’s important to be wary of KOLs’ fake/exaggerated statistics, once you’ve decided on and started working with a KOL it’s important to also respect them and their creative process. I always insist on seeing and signing off KOLs’ posts before they go to air, but it’s important to also remember that no one understands a KOL’s audience better than the KOL himself, and they earned their place as a KOL by knowing how to speak to their audiences. For this reason I recommend treating KOLs with the respect you would any media partner to keep them on side and friendly.

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