Influencer Marketing in China: Where to start in 2019

TABLE OF CONTENTS :
– Matching your product and platform
– Matching your product and KOL/ Chinese influencer
– Searching for Influencers
– Contacting Chinese Influencer
– Dealing with Chinese Influencers
– What budget will bring you a noticeable result
– What to expect or measuring your ROI

From choosing a restaurant for a date to getting a doctor’s appointment, many of us now fully depend on digital solutions for all our plans in life. These solutions come in the form of search engines, apps, social media platforms, online stores and many other guises.

The use of such solutions is particularly widespread in China. Its 911.4 million netizens (as of January 2018) make it the world’s largest social media market, where people are free to develop their startup ideas, have a healthy, open attitude towards innovation, and embrace everything new and progressive!

  • Our survey completed by 457 people (white collar men and women aged between 28 to 40 in China’s top tier cities in winter 2019) showed that 68% of consumers in China say their shopping choices are influenced by social media.
  • Influencer Marketing in China is a booming multimillion dollar industry that shows no signs of slowing down.
  • Influencer was one of the most desired occupations of college students in 2018 (54%).

A KOL (Key Opinion Leader), or Influencer is an influential figure whose main job is to share their opinion on subjects they have knowledge or experience in. A KOL may be a ‘shopping maniac’, a columnist, a fashion diva, a blogger, a chef, a humorous individual, a professional in his field, or may consist of a group of people sharing the same knowledge.

History of Chinese Influencers and Chinese Influencer Marketing in China

KOLs in China are found easily on Weibo, WeChat, Youku, Meipai, Duoying etc. and can come in useful for any type of industry or business.

Just ten years ago the term KOL was little known, but now netizens everywhere are fully familiar with it, and China is certainly no exception.

One of the biggest misconceptions about the Chinese market is that it is falling behind when it comes to innovation and marketing. In fact, China is one of the most progressive countries with regards to the technological and digital world, where KOL/influencer marketing in China started developing almost a decade ago, with the advent of Sina Weibo in 2009. Today, the most followed accounts on Weibo have more than 90 million followers, with celebrities racking up the highest numbers of followers.

So how do you start your KOL marketing/Influencer marketing campaign in China?

In many activities, getting started is often the hardest part, and KOL marketing/Influencer marketing is no exception, especially if your project will run in a foreign country with a whole new digital ecosystem. But fear not, just like any other project, Chinese Influencer marketing has its own steps.

 

1.Matching your product and platform 

It is probably not news to you that China has many many social media platforms that don’t exist anywhere else in the world. So with this in mind, don’t expect to have great results with your YouTube strategy on Chinese video platforms.

WeChat is known for a its relevant information, as people mostly use it to learn about new brands, products, industry leaders.

Weibo is mostly for entertainment.

RED (XiaoHongShu) is more like a search engine for cross border brands and product reviews.

And so each platform has its own niche, purpose and audience.

Learn about the capabilities of each platform, the audiences, the niches and more in this dedicated article:

Top 17 Chinese Social Media Sites (update of 2019)

2.Matching your product and KOL/ Chinese influencer

Once you know which platform is more suitable for your coming campaign, it’s time to pick an Influencer or a group of Influencers.

In industries such as beauty, fashion, F&B, entertainment, travel – there are hundreds of thousands of influencers. Picking the one who will do a good job and create leads and sales within the relevant audience is not easy. First things first – write down the criteria you feel your KOL needs to meet: Should you work with a young or older KOL, what type and style of content should the KOL create, what audience should he/she have, what is the engagement you would like to get from your campaign, what are your KPIs and can the KOL work with them?

Chinese Influencer Marketing in China 2019, chinese influencers ,

There are many questions that need to be answered before you reach out to any KOL or agency. And even after that, questions like “will your KOL be open to share his/her follower acquisition data for the past year?” may also be important.

Conducting an overall research action on the platform you wish to publish your campaign, and picking the profiles you feel match your style will be the next steps on your way.

3.Searching for Influencers

Here you will need a native Chinese speaker, as your research will include the content style and comment analysis. You can read about the influencers in the Western media, and those will most likely be top tier KOLs with price tags over 20K USD per post. Alternatively you can search popular and relevant topics, and see if you can find interesting profiles with a writing/video style that fits your identity.

Choosing your KOL is not an easy task, plus, be careful as there are so many fake profiles out there! Talk to a professional agency to ensure your money won’t be wasted, and most importantly, your brands’ reputation won’t suffer.

You can also review some of the top KOL in China in this article, as well as the reason why they are famous.

4.Contacting Chinese influencers

Contacting Chinese Influencers shouldn’t be too difficult, as long as you can read and write Chinese, be it a private message on Weibo or a listed E-mail. The important part here is to state right away that you mean business, so we recommend using your business email address and mentioning your budget, as well as any other interesting points that will make the influencer sit up and take note of what you have to say.

But don’t forget that there are many other things you should also ask the Influencer to provide, such us their business profile with listed account details, target audience, account growth over time, and proven record of brand cooperation with a presentation of their results. It is ok to ask things like what are the best performing content types when promoting a product in your category, or what are the recommended platforms that will match your product. An experienced influencer shall be able to give advice and have a strong understanding of what will work in the market.

5.Dealing with Chinese Influencers

When dealing with Chinese Influencers, communication is most important. You will protect yourself from a lot of trouble if you can communicate in the Influencers native language instead of English.

Most influencers don’t speak English well enough to understand the nuances of your brand message. So don’t get over excited when you receive a reply from an influencer in English, as it might be an automatic translation. In China people may not tell you directly if they don’t understand something you said and will just agree, so as not to lose “face”. So if at the end, part of the task has been ignored, an Influencer will find twenty reasons to cover up the fact that he/she simply didn’t understand what you were looking for.

Another thing you may wish to pay attention to is the finer details of the content. A western content approach is highly likely to fall flat in China, so don’t insist on a 9 picture gallery with minimal text, and expect high engagement rates. A good Influencer will tell you what will work and why. Give the influencer as much freedom as possible. After all you are paying for production, design and distribution here.

What type of cooperation can you propose or consider when working with Chinese Influencers?

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.

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 seeable results. Keep in mind that to cover whole 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 few bigger influencers, who will influencer their “smaller” colleagues, as well as the audience they talk too. Then continue to higher number of mid-tier and large number of micro-KOLs. This way you will create a “buzz” and no matter where your potential client looks, he/she will see your product. That will instantly create interest and the “must have” feeling.

Regarding the numbers, to cover, let’s say, cosmetics market, you shall work with top-tier and some second-tier cities, do monthly campaigns for at least one year, with a total amount of 50 – 100 influencers per month and at least 3 platforms.

Co-branding. This is the one type of cooperation that Influencers love most. Obviously, not every influencer is fit for such project, as the he/she must have a very high commercial audience profile (audience who is constantly purchasing products from KOL). But this type will not suite new or lesser knows brands, as it could be too difficult to convince the KOL of value of such 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.

chinese influencers

Brand advocacy. 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 the one 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.

Product Seeding. Many brands are convinced that KOLs will talk about the brand for as little as a free gift. Whilst this might work in the Wes, in China it’s all about cash. Of cause, 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 might work. But it is highly unlikely that an influencer will “do his job for free” for an unknown (in China) brand.

6.What budget will bring you a noticeable result

Depending on the type of cooperation, your niche, the market reach and your goal, your budget will vary.

Another factor you shall keep in mind, reach of 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 will you pay per engaged person, and this information is listed here.

On average, to cover 1 top-tier city, you shall work with a budget of 200 000 to 300 000 CNY or up to 45 000 USD per month. To cover a country, you shall run monthly campaign in 3-8 cities.

But on average, here are some numbers you want to start to build your budget upon:

chinese influencer marketing budget kol

Chinese micro influencer: is less really more?

When you are just starting out, working with Micro influencers might just be the solution you are looking for. The lesser budgets and higher ROI will definitely make your China marketing experience more pleasant.

But, in order to really drive traffic and convert to sales, you will have to work with more than 50 influencers at the same time. And that might cost you some time and manpower.

Read more about Micro Influencer marketing in this article.

7.How to measure your campaign result 

Depending on your goal, there are a few ways to measure your Chinese Influencer marketing campaign results. First thing to remember, 1M views does not mean 1M CTR.

Realistically, 1M followers on Weibo can bring you 100K organic views , 15% commercial CTR (i.e 1,5K clicks), and only 25 immediate sales. Whereas on WeChat, 100K organic views will bring 15K commercial clicks, and 225 immediate sales.

  1. Sales: if you want to convert the traffic into sales, you will want to make sure people have a buying journey in less than 4 clicks. The ROI will obviously depend on your profits and other aspects, such as time and resources spent on influencer marketing and other marketing channels.
  2. Brand awareness: Such campaign are usually less targeted, created for a long term execution and cover larger audiences. The measurement of ROI can be calculated by “media value”, new traffic and social mentions.

Why influencer marketing is effective in China? 

Most Chinese people are not so trusting of information given by official institutions, so they look for advice elsewhere. They go to friends or search for advice online. This is one of the reasons why word of mouth is the most trusted way of marketing in China. This applies to words that are coming from the mouths (or should we say pages) of KOL’s, and brands have arrived just in time to take advantage of that. Of course there are other factors that come to mind when choosing the right KOL – not only their main audience, but also their activity and the number of fake accounts following them. The optimum KOL in China is not the one who has the most followers, but one who has a high rate of interaction with their audience, while of course maintaining a fairly sizeable following.

In China when you start hearing about something new it often means you are probably already too late to the party, but when it comes to KOL marketing, this is not the case at all.

According to most brands who have used this marketing strategy – KOL marketing is one of the most effective ways to engage with an audience. Keep in mind that this is just part of a wider overall digital marketing strategy of a brand.

So it seems there is still time, and the possibilities are varied. If China is a potential market for your brand or service, KOL marketing could be a great way to support your digital marketing strategy, to educate and influence millions of potential buyers, and to make sure your story will be heard.

Want to learn more about Chinese Influencer marketing or need help with your first campaign? Shoot us a line! 

Kate CHERNAVINAInfluencer Marketing in China: Where to start in 2019

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