In China influencers are more often called KOL, acronym that stands for key opinion leader. As well as western ones, they can be bloggers, and in general people with a high influence and big audience within social media context.
The most important feature for an influencer/kol is not merely the number of followers, but how much these followers trust him/her due to the strong and, moreover, durable over time relationship that has been created.
In the articles we wrote previously we have highlighted over and over again how in China, purchases are MORE and MORE done through social platforms.
So, if here the KOLs are important, in China they really represent a sales support SYSTEM whose influence (in fact), is often considered FUNDAMENTAL for a digital marketing strategy.
The history of KOLs started together with the birth of Chinese social media, in the late 90’s with Tianya Club 天涯社区 and Netease Blog 网易博客. Most Tianya users had a great education and they use to write articles about various topics. It was used as we use social media today: sharing pictures, reviews and all kind of contents.
One of the examples of today bloggers prototype was Shi Hengxia, known as Sister Furong 芙蓉姐 姐. She was videos and photos of herself wearing skimpy clothes in sexy poses, she was very self-promotional, as we can define nowadays bloggers. This personality led to controversial discussions in forums and that’s the reason why people started following her, they were attracted to know more about her. Even though in 2013 Tianya still had 85 million users, the birth of Weibo took over and most of them abandoned Tianya.
A good Chinese social media KOL has to have certain qualities to be successful in his/her job.
First of all, he/she has to be specialized in a specific area of expertise that he/she is passionate about and, the majority of his/her contents, have to be related to this field. A good influencer doesn’t deal partnerships with brands that are not aligned with his/her main topics or values.
Second, it’s better if they have professional experience on the topic they talk about. For example, photographers, journalists, makeup artists tend to be more reliable if they set up a blog, based on the above topics.
Another core quality KOLs have to possess is uniqueness. Successful KOLs don’t follow any random trend, but stay consistent with their own personal style. This is becoming even more influential, because China’s Generation Z consumers, young people born among 2000-2009, developed strong individual personalities.
The fourth point is that KOLs have to address all their attention on their relation-ship with their followers, and spend, both time and efforts, in order to interact with them daily. Since young people spend many hours per day connected on social media, KOL have to do the same trying to answer to as many comments and messages as possible, building and strengthening their feeling day by day.
Fifth place is occupied by the concept that KOLs don’t have to move randomly from a social platform to another one, but they have to grow at a steady pace in a long term view and be present in multiple social media platforms that are in line with the topics they carry on. In this way, they can reach broader audience and mitigate the risk to fail. Usually they have a support team and, when they are on the top of their fame and success, sometimes they launch their own brands.
One of the most important characteristic of Chinese consumers is that they rely a lot on word of mouth recommendations. From a research of 2018 , conducted by Azoya Cosulting, it was found that 50% of cross-border consumers are influenced by in-person and online reviews, 32% by social media account contents and 25% by search engines results. This means that shoppers value the opinion of influenc-ers, as same as close friends’ ones.
Let's think of Mr. Kevin Chou, a Taiwanese stylist who is also well known in the main land. Chou is a regular guest of the “Wqueen” variety, and is now also known by indus-tries as the “king of make-up”. Kevin Chou has created his own brand and has around 55 million followers on the Weibo platform.
With over 5 million followers on Weibo, “包先生” (Mr. Bags in English), real name Tao Liang, mainly writes contents recommending various luxury brand handbags as well as posting reviews/critiques on the bags different celebrities wear. He also writes the posts from a reader’s perspective, which makes it more practical as it comes off with a more relaxing and friendlier tone.
KOLs are everywhere: from food and wine (top player the spicy noodle Master Mi Zijun 19.1 million), to travel (Mr. Shenwei 9.69 million), to sport (interesting in this case to note that the most popular KOL mr .JJ with 9.7 million with its JJYOGA platform a holistic discipline not Chinese but Indian, globalization does not stop).
KOL advices also surpassed product discounts, that held 65% in purchasing factor and e-commerce platform recommendations the 58%. It’s important for brands to understand the right strategy to adopt for influencer marketing in China, in order to avoid crisis periods that could occur as the pandemic in 2020.
GO BEYOND THE WALL
Luigi Pelissero & Matteo Buchta