KOL Marketing in China: Where to Start in 2021 I HI-COM
As the Chinese internet has matured, netizens have already grown wary of click ads. KOL marketing represents a type of digital advertisement users can resonate with, as it is brought to them by someone they enjoy following. Today in China, KOL marketing has become a highly effective tool in any brand’s digital marketing arsenal, regardless of industry. For overseas brands entering the Chinese market, KOL marketing cannot be overlooked.
All You Need to Know Before Starting a KOL Campaign
China’s internet population is the largest in the world. At 939.9 million internet users in January 2021, China’s internet population is almost three times the US’s total population and makes up just over a fifth of the world’s total internet users. This massive environment has seen KOL marketing rise up as one of the most effective digital marketing tools in China.
What numbers can we expect with KOL marketing? As a result of the massive scale of the Chinese internet, top-tier KOLs in China usually have upwards of one million followers. In June of 2021, one post from KOLs in the top tier generates an average of 1.2 million impressions on short video app Douyin. The impressive exposure afforded by KOL marketing can help new brands generate the buzz and name recognition to reach new audiences.
KOLs Types According to Their Follower Size
According to Quest Mobile, KOLs in China can be ranked in five main groups according to their follower size.
- Mega KOLs: over 10 million followers. These are usually celebrities and highly successful personalities, working only with larger established brands. They appeal to not only the general Chinese public but international audiences, and their followers do not fall into any one category of consumer.
- High-tier KOLs: 1 million to 10 million followers. These KOLs are usually the most prominent influence leaders in the industries they work within and are able to set trends within China. Their rates reflect their influence. It’s also important to note that some platforms like WeChat do not show statistics higher than a certain number, limiting the ability to track campaign performance accurately for larger KOLs.
- Mid-tier: KOLs: 500 000 to 1 million followersKOLs in this tier usually have dedicated followings and generally have strong influence over a specific segment of the industry they work in. Their followings are therefore also a more specific demographic with tastes that more closely match the KOLs themselves.
- Micro KOLs: 100,000 – 500,000 followers. Like mid-tier KOLs, this tier of KOL has strong influence over a specific demographic within an industry and have more grassroots appeal. With lower rates than mid-tier KOLs, it makes sense to work with multiple micro KOLs to thoroughly reach your target audience.
- Nano KOLs: 20,00 – 50,000 followers.This tier of KOLs can also be considered KOCs, or key opinion consumers. They may have a dedicated following from a specific niche in the broader industry who trust their highly personalized product recommendations. This makes nano KOLs perfect for product seeding campaigns.
Best Platforms for KOL Marketing in China
Before we start reading about the best platforms for your next KOL campaign you might want to see some interesting and helpful data. We hope this info will help you design or adjust a better KOL campaign.
The dominant short-video platform in China, Douyin is a popular platform for KOL marketing, attracting a balanced mix of KOLs from each tier. The largest portion comes from mega KOLs, at 36.5%, and each tier of KOLs comprise at least 10% of Douyin’s KOLs.
This makes it easy to find the right KOL for your budget and goals. With a KOL penetration rate of 98.1% on the platform, it’s one of the best platforms for effective KOL marketing. Douyin’s demographics skew younger and 24% come from tier-one cities, making it perfect for brands looking to appeal to trendy urban youth.
One of the most popular livestreaming platforms in China, Kuaishou KOLs predominantly come from the highest tiers, with 37.7% being mega KOLs and 39.8% being high-tier KOLs.
Only 10% of Kuaishou users come from tier-one cities in China, compared to Douyin, giving it more geographical coverage across the Chinese market, albeit with a userbase possessing lower purchasing power. Another difference setting it apart from Douyin is its recommendation algorithm, which recommends more content from accounts users already follow.
With a KOL penetration rate of 97.6%, it’s a highly effective KOL marketing platform for brands looking to expand outside of tier one city markets.
As China’s answer to Twitter, Weibo is a microblogging platform known for its strong user communities. As such, the majority of KOLs on Weibo fall into the nano KOL tier, at 72.5%, with mid-tier and higher KOLs only making up less than 5% of the platform’s KOLs.
Its median user profile is a millennial middle-class woman living in a tier-one city, making it a platform with one of the most educated, highest-earning demographics. As such, Weibo’s userbase prioritizes in depth discussion around products.
It has a KOL penetration rate of 79.7%, making it a platform more suited to product seeding, brand outreach, and community building.
The most ubiquitous platform in China, WeChat is a whole ecosystem in one app. As the only Chinese platform with over one billion users, it has the highest user adoption of any other platform in China.
However, WeChat only shows content from friends and official accounts users follow, making KOL penetration on WeChat the lowest out of all platforms at 31.6%. The platform infrastructure creates a KOL distribution very similar to Weibo, with 72.9% of WeChat KOLs belonging to the nano KOL tier, while mid-tier and higher KOLs only make up around 5%.
KOL marketing on WeChat is still necessary, considering its near-universal adoption in China and its massive ecosystem perfect for conversion tracking. Considering its fragmented nature, the best WeChat KOL strategy involves working with multiple lower-tier KOLs to reach as wide an audience as possible.
Another great app for KOL marketing in China. With a KOL penetration rate of 80.4% and a balanced gender ratio (52% male and 48% female), Bilibili is definitely worth attention.
For those new to the platform, they should know that its users are still very much tied in with its fandom history, however, step by step other industries becoming popular on the app as well.
When thinking of KOL marketing, Xiaohongshu probably the first platform that comes to mind for most marketers in China. As a social recommendation platform, it was built with product recommendations as its defining feature.
While mega KOLs only make up 0.7% of Xiaohongshu KOLs, the remaining tiers are very evenly distributed. It’s KOL penetration rate is also high, at 94%. Like Douyin, this makes finding the perfect KOL for your marketing strategy and budget a simple process and KOL marketing highly effective.
Xiaohongshu’s demographics skew highly female, with women making up 90% of the userbase. They predominantly come from tier-one cities and are highly educated with expendable income. As a platform, Xiaohongshu’s algorithms prioritize in-depth high-engagement content, lending itself well for high-quality KOL marketing that thoroughly presents a product or brand.
What Type of Cooperation Should You Propose or Consider when Working with Chinese Influencers?
One of the best ways to make Chinese influencers advocate for your brand is to make him/her the face of that brand.
The price of such cooperation will be lower than if you worked with small-mid size celebrities, and the coverage you get might just be what you were looking for! While lots of different types of agreements can be made, brand advocacy is one of the most profitable and effective ways to spread the word in Chinese market.
Direct purchase – as in “please post this product review on that platform” type of cooperation. This is one of the most simple and easy ways to cooperate with Chinese Influencers. But remember, if you only use a one time post on one influencer’s account no matter how big (excluding huge celebrities of course), it might not bring you the result you were hoping for.
This is the one type of cooperation that Influencers love the most.
Of course, not every influencer is fit for such project, as the he/she must have a very high commercial audience profile (with an audience that is constantly purchasing the endorsed products). But this type will not suit new or lesser known brands, as it could be too difficult to convince the KOL of the value of such a cooperation.
The brand must be careful when choosing who to approach. Naturally, the brand’s reputation will be tightly connected to a co-branding KOL’s profile, and any scandal around that persona might affect the brand as well.
Collaborations and Omni-channel Approach
Collaborating with Chinese influencers in order to create multiple campaigns and run them on multiple channels is one of the most effective ways to gain some tangible results.
Keep in mind that to cover the whole of China might not be an easily achievable goal if you only plan to run one omni-channel campaign. The strategy here could be to start with a few larger influencers, who will influence their “smaller” colleagues, as well as the audience they talk to. Then you can continue to a higher number of mid-tier and micro-KOLs.
This way you will create a “buzz” and no matter where your potential client looks, they will see your product. This will instantly create interest and a “must have” feeling.
Regarding numbers, to cover, let’s say, the cosmetics market, we recommend working with top-tier and second-tier cities, and doing monthly campaigns for at least one year, with a total of around 50 – 100 influencers per month and at least 3 platforms.
Many brands are convinced that KOLs will talk about the brand for as little as a free gift.
Whilst this might work in the West, in China it’s all about cash. Of course, if an influencer receives a special edition luxury brand product packed in a way that flatters his/her ego (name on a box, special appreciation note), this may have the desired effect.
But it is highly unlikely that an influencer will “do his job for free” for an unknown (in China) brand.
KOL Marketing in China: How Much Does it Cost?
Depending on the type of cooperation, your niche, the market reach, and your goal, your budget will vary.
Another factor you should keep in mind is that the reach of an influencer does not mean engagement. Most influencers in the same reach or audience size have different levels of engagement.
Some have “sticky” fans, some have non-interactive accounts, some have high commercial profiles and some are buying their fans. If your goal is to engage with the audience and have more coverage by “shares” and re-posts, you might want to know how much you will pay per engaged person, and this information is listed here.
On average, to cover 1 top-tier city, you should work with a budget of 200,000 to 300,000 CNY or up to 45,000 USD per month. To cover a country, you should run monthly campaign in 3-8 cities.
Here are a few numbers to base your budget around:
Steps to Start KOL Campaign in 2021
Ready to include KOL marketing in your digital marketing campaign? Below we’ll walk through key tips and strategies to ensure your KOL campaign is a success.
Step 1. Define Your Target Audience
As with any form of marketing, identifying and defining your brand’s target audience is the cornerstone of any campaign. Understanding their habits and aspirations lets you craft an effective campaign that will resonate with your target demographic. Having narrowed down the type of people you wish to reach, you then can more easily identify the KOLs who have the most influence on them.
Step 2. Match Your Product and Platform
If you run a swimwear brand, you probably wouldn’t buy billboard ad space at a ski resort. For online digital marketing, it’s no different. Choosing the right platforms for marketing your product is crucial.
Each digital platform attracts different demographics, resulting in different industries thriving on different platforms. It’s important to research which platforms your target audience is more active on and what the leading industries are on each platform.
Below, we’ve listed a few industries and the platforms where they are most successful on:
– Xiaohongshu, where 90% of the userbase is female, is the prime platform for cosmetics and fashion
– Weibo for general lifestyle content
– Bilibili for makeup tutorials
– WeChat. As the education industry has a stronger emphasis on longer persuasive essays, WeChat is the most preferred platform, thanks to the platform’s emphasis on articles.
– Dazhong Dianping. For restaurants and cafes, having a presence on Dianping, China’s go-to review website, is a necessity.
– Douyin. For brands selling food and drink products, visual platforms such as Douyin provide large communities for recipe sharing and food challenges.
– Xiaohongshu. The same applies to this app.
– Weibo and WeChat, with a userbase that skews older, are the best for marketing parenting-related content.
– Xiaohongshu, as a more visual platform for product reviews, is also great for marketing parenting products.
– Dianping/Xiaohongshu/Weibo. These platforms provide real-time location-specific recommendations for users for popular sights and attractions.
– WeChat. For events, people in China check WeChat for events happening in their social circles.
Step 3. Match Your Product and KOL
Finding the right KOL for your brand in a foreign market can be a daunting task. Brands need to keep in mind the three R’s of influencer marketing when choosing a KOL: relevance, reach, and resonance. Make sure the KOL you find is relevant to your industry, has strong reach paired with healthy audience engagement, and resonates with your brand identity.
Below, we have listed a few resources to help you start your search for potential KOLs for your campaign:
Also, you can check these articles:
While these users may be KOLs on one platform, that doesn’t mean they aren’t KOLs on other platforms. With many KOLs being cross-platform, it is important to cross-reference different platforms to see where your KOL has the highest followings. Look for KOLs that match your brand identity with strong followings on platforms that suit your industry.
Step 4. Contacting KOLs
A successful KOL marketing campaign is the result of a KOL fully grasping your brand identity and putting their personal touch on it to achieve your stated campaign goals. This requires effective communication.
However, working cross-culturally presents some obstacles. Most Chinese KOLs don’t speak English with enough proficiency to fully understand the nuances of your brand message. Furthermore, cultural differences between KOLs and brands contribute to misunderstandings.
In China, people often do not tell you directly if they don’t understand what you want and will just agree so as to not “lose face”. This results in time wasted in determining what the KOL didn’t understand.
On the flip side, oftentimes Western brands come in confident that their tested-and-true content approach from outside the China market will work in China, only for it to fall flat. A KOL worth their rate will tell you what works and why – it’s their home court after all.
That’s why for overseas brands working with Chinese KOLs, it’s helpful to go through an agency like HI-COM to ensure nothing gets lost in translation.
How to Measure Your KOL Campaign in 3 Simple Steps
Now that you’ve launched your KOL campaign, it’s time to crunch some numbers to gauge its effectiveness. This is one of the most important steps, as it helps you calibrate your campaign strategy towards what works.
Data shows KOL marketing works best as a long-term strategy. This requires adjusting focus to different KPIs along the sales pipeline at different stages:
Step 1. Defining Reach
Reach is a metric that should be considered before, during, and after your KOL campaign.
Before the campaign, choosing a KOL often revolves around follower count. However, more important is how many of their followers are from your target demographic and how many of their followers actually engage with their posts.
During the campaign, success can be determined by how many more impressions the campaign nets than regular posts.
After the campaign, it’s important to measure the lasting effects of the campaign. How much higher is rate of follower and impression growth compared to before the campaign?
Step 2. Measuring Engagements
Impressions are the first step in the pipeline towards your campaign’s ultimate goal: sales. Engagement is the second step.
Engagement varies across platforms, but key metrics include likes, shares, comments, tags, and hashtags, all of which are easily accessible via every platform’s analytics. All of these figures allow brands to calculate the earned media value of their campaign.
Step 3. Tracking Conversions
Now let’s measure the bottom-line effectiveness of your KOL marketing campaign – conversions. Where Chinese internet infrastructure differs from that in the West is the walled garden nature of most platforms, with most platforms restricting third party links.
For example, Douyin and Xiaohongshu do not allow third party links. WeChat, as a Tencent platform, does not allow links to ecommerce platforms of competitor Alibaba.
However, conversions can be tracked if sales are made within each platform’s own ecosystem.
HI-COM is a digital marketing agency dedicated to providing China-specific strategy, social media communication and e-commerce marketing services to businesses around the world. Working with more than 100 brands, HI-COM is the go-to partner of companies that want to enter China market! Contact us for your free consultation today!
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