More and more international brands are becoming concerned with the existence of a true social media engagement when working with Chinese KOL and Influencers. Many communication agencies and marketing experts suggest choosing a more reliable KPI for their client’s campaigns, such as sales. But what do you do when you aim at recognisability and not conversion? Can you really trust the influencers’ profiles? How do you pick out the real accounts from the fake ones and how much should you pay for one engaged person?
KOL Marketing China: introduction to social media engagement analysis
Influencer marketing has become one of the most popular ways to engage with audiences, and is now a hot key word worldwide, and here’s why: a true influencer is a content creator, copywriter, designer and a consumer behaviour expert – all in one! But how do you find one in a market full of fraud and fakery?
Whether it’s down to practicality, lack of patience, or just pure greed, Influencers are often lured into the world of fake followers, despite it being considered cheating to monetise a fake follower base.
Over the past three years, HI-COM has searched, studied and followed trustworthy and reliable KOL profiles. We were tracking Influencers whose names were mentioned in social media awards, profiles who do not accept cash payments and do not monetise their popularity, as well as very dedicated influencers who have been cooperating with big names for several years, as these types of KOL profiles have logical follower base growth and logical engagement volumes.
We also followed studied a few suspicious accounts that have obvious or even very smart but commercial growth of the follower base and engagement. And finally we interviewed influencers in China, both real and ‘wanna-be-real’.
The growing trend of ‘Zombie fans’ will start to die out
Not so long ago, the trend of ‘zombie’ fans – or buying fake followers – was at its highest. But influencers who have genuinely been in the business for a long time quickly came to understand that the credibility of your account goes down, reliability decreases, and companies like Weibo or Alibaba would have their fake history on a record and would think twice about handing these influencers awards.
Although the zombie era has peaked and now seems to be coming to an end, there are still a few influence markets that have not reached the expected maturity.
Mature influencer markets in China include cosmetics, fashion, travel, and sport. Relatively new and under developed influence markets are finance, technology, and b2b.
By using specially developed software we were able to collect account growth, engagement, and other data from the social media platforms of our chosen influencers. We tested our collected database and compared the data from influencers in different industries, and different follower behaviours. We also compared various prices per post and more, in hope of learning more about the relationship between cost and social media engagement of a real follower.
In this experiment we considered engagement volume the amount of all likes, shares and comments for a given period of time.
Average engagement volume: a sum of engagement (likes, shares and comments) divided by X number of posts in a given time (in the last month, 3 months, year).
Average engagement rate: average engagement volume divided by number of fans. One of the possible indicators that can show us that an account is fake is if its engagement rate is 0.0001 or less (whether it’s because the account is buying fake fans, or is just losing popularity, the engagement is too low to invest into the account).
Cost per engagement: price of writing post divided by average engagement volume.
Once all necessary data have been collected/computed, all data from different industries are combined into an integral and standardised database.
Social media engagement cost analysis:
By comparing the data from three different industries, we can measure the Engagement Rates Distribution Density within the influencer profiles in those industries. In our example below, we ran the profiles in the cosmetics, gaming and travel industries.
Takeaway: distribution of engagement rate varies between industries in terms of standard deviation.
1. Does more followers equal higher price per social media engagement?
Takeaway: greater engagement volume is likely to lead to lower price per unit engagement.
2. Is it normal when a KOL’s follower base doubles in 1/2/3 months?
Takeaway: A healthy growth of a KOL account should show a gradual increase in followers along with a similar increase in likes and shares.
3. How long does the fame of an influencer last?
This diagram shows the behavior of a KOL’s follower base in a given time frame. The influencer was changing his editorial style at the end of 2017, after noticing a lower engagement a little past his peak of fame. In order to stay more relevant, the influencer started to post a new type of content (video), which brought some interest back. But the general trend of the fame of influencer is downward.
Takeaway: An average KOL account will see their number of followers and engagement decrease as the Influencer “grows older”. Unfortunately, fame on these platforms is often gone just as quickly as it appears.
4. Zombie fans – do KOLs buy them every day?
In our next analysis we took a look at the three big industries and analysed the follower background of a given KOL. Basically, we took a look at the number of followers that KOL followers have. Obviously, if a follower of an account has no followers of his own – it might be a zombie fan. We also took into account other popular ways to determine zombie fans available out there.
What we found is: Distribution of follower fans for all industries are bimodal in shape (there are two peaks). Our highest suspicion is that the first peak represents an account’s zombie fans.
High quality zombie fans whose characteristics include having an unnaturally low number of followers
Takeaway: follower inflation is common in the most popular industries, and the structure varies between industries. Most KOLs in China have zombie fans.
5. Cost of social media engagement in China