How to work with Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) on social media in China

Western brands can achieve great marketing success when they master social media in China. But to maximise the benefits, it’s essential to factor Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) into the strategy. In this blog, we’ll run through everything that Western brands need to know about these powerful digital influencers.

The role of social media in China

Social Media in China is a hugely growing digital channel, driven primarily by the popularity of WeChat (akin to a fusion of Whatsapp and Facebook in the West) and Weibo (the equivalent for Twitter.) Why? Because nearly 50% of China’s population is online, and more than 635 million Chinese use the internet regularly.

This user base is also very active and estimated to comprise over 400 million users every month. The Chinese love social networking and most will follow several networks, spending hours of their working week online.

What are Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs)?

Key Opinion Leaders are social media influencers – think of the Kardashians, but in China! They are powerful personalities with the all-important ‘expert’ status in their field. Many have followers in the thousands or even millions in China. Their views, likes and preferences are highly respected and KOLs often work with brands to sponsor or promote their products and services in different ways. This could be as simple as a reference or extend to a fully sponsored competition and giveaway campaign.

Some KOLs are extremely powerful and hugely expensive as a result of their marketing power. For example, a single Weibo post from Xue Zhiqian – a KOL super-celebrity – can cost more than 1 million RMB. Luckily, for every brand, there is a KOL that will fit their budget and target their audience in the right way. It’s a case of picking the right one!

Why are Key Opinion Leaders so influential in China?

The Chinese are heavily influenced by their social circle and by reviews and recommendations; arguably more so than in the West. Part of this could be because the population has long been suspicious of traditional and ‘official’ media networks, and prefers the authenticity of social networks.

Content that contacts share within a user network has a powerful currency, and it’s seen as being highly legitimate by followers. Family, friends and trusted business circles are particularly important influences. However, KOLs can also hold a place in this ‘circle of trust’. These individuals are seen to be experts – another vital quality in Chinese culture – as well as personalities, who have huge followings online. Some have millions of followers, who are keen to learn about their likes and preferences; and ready to follow suit.

How can you work effectively with Key Opinion Leaders?

To make a success of your social media in China, your campaign should include involvement from a KOL.

Tips for success include:

1. Choose your platform

WeChat and Weibo are always popular with Western brands, but other sites such as YouKu and Little Red Book should be considered, depending on the nature of your product or service and target audience. The Chinese social media landscape is rapidly evolving and fragmenting, and new platforms such as Douyin (TikTok) are coming online and offering interesting niches.

2. Choose your KOL

Chinese KOLs broadly fall into five categories – personalities and celebrities such as actors and singers, web celebs (such as Papi Jiang, the comedy blogger), skilled community bloggers, small media companies and industry-specific KOLs, who are trusted experts in their field. Celebrities tend to be the most expensive category. However, industry-specific KOLs can cost around 1,000-10,000 RMB for a single Weibo post. The choice of platform varies too, as WeChat promotions tend to be more expensive than Weibo ones.

To find the right KOL, you should use platform search engines to find KOL databases and to analyse individual profiles. You can also use a Chinese digital marketing agency to help you with this. It is important to engage with the KOL directly or their agent to make the necessary arrangements. This can be time-consuming but a Chinese digital marketing agency can greatly speed up and facilitate the process.

2. Master your content

As in the West, content is king when you launch a social media campaign in China. It should be useful, fun, interesting, and highly shareable. It goes without saying that the content also needs to be in Mandarin! One example of popular digital content is the use of cartoon styling and characters – something that a Chinese marketing agency can help you to create and target to your audience in the most effective way.

There are different types of content to choose from. For example, sponsored posts, where the KOL creates the content from your outline and brief, product reviews (used by professional KOLs) or campaign launches with giveaway campaigns which use referrals. Other methods to consider are commission-based social selling or livecasting.

3. Consider your promotions

A popular marketing approach in China is to offer discounts and promotions that need to be shared to validate. You’ll also need to integrate your e-commerce store and create necessary web-stores on WeChat Mini-program or equivalent platforms for a seamless user experience.

4. Be ready to engage

The promotion or sponsorship with your KOL will hopefully lead to a surge in enquiries, and you should be ready to engage and respond quickly to these in the local language. For many Western brands, this is likely to mean using the flexible and expert resource of a Chinese digital marketing agency, who can man instant messaging platforms and actively engage with followers on the social network of choice. Remember that when you are active on your chosen social media platforms, your audience will be appreciative of the time and respect that you show by immediately communicating with them, and they will feel more positive about your brand and more inclined to share it within their network.

5. Measure success

Regular analytics should be produced on your Chinese social media platforms of choice, to evidence the success of the KOL relationship and digital campaign.

Case studies: Western brands that used KOLs for their Chinese social media campaigns

Givenchy is perhaps the most famous example to date, after teaming up with Mr. Bags on Valentine’s Day to launch a limited edition of 80 mini bags through Givenchy’s WeChat store. The company also ran a lucky draw, led by the KOL, to encourage buyers to post selfies with their new bag in order to win an extra present. As a result, the bags sold out in just 12 minutes, for a total of 1.2M RMB. Beauty brand, Nars, also used KOLs and livecasting on Weitao; partnering with beauty bloggers to send potential customers to the newly launched Nars Tmall store. As a result, it had nearly half a million followers within the month.

Ge the help that you need

From finding the right KOL and arranging the commercial partnership arrangement through to creating local content and managing branded social media accounts in the right way, your specialist Chinese marketing agency can add value at every turn.

Working on a partnership basis, Market Me China has the expertise and skills that you need, with access to the right KOLs for your brand and the know-how to quickly facilitate Chinese social media KOL partnerships that deliver ROI in line with your objectives. Please contact us to find out more.