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What is a KOL?

A KOL is a Key Opinion Leader. Also known as a thought leader, influencer or lifestyle guru, they can be powerful in influencing the buying behavior of their social media followers and others.

KOLs in China

The Chinese market currently has more noise and less trust than ever before so Chinese consumers seek direction from people they trust when making purchasing decisions. With the growth of social media platforms such as WeChat and Weibo, China’s influencers are becoming more numerous and increasingly diverse. Their popularity is undeniable.

They are:

  • columnists
  • socialites
  • bloggers
  • popular personalities

They continue to successfully grow audiences on:

  • Weibo
  • WeChat
  • Youku
  • Miaopai
  • Yizhibo
  • Douban
  • and other social media platforms

KOLs are:

  • travel professionals
  • magazine editors
  • journalists
  • hobbyists
  • business people
  • photographers
  • chefs…

The list goes on.

How influential are KOLs?

Engaging KOLs or influential bloggers is one of the most effective ways to promote a brand or industry. KOLs can assist through content creation, online campaigns, voting in contests or live streaming. They have their own follower bases and their opinions and suggestions are considered credible and informed. Sharing company information or launching campaigns with bloggers can raise awareness, attract new followers, and contribute to brand credibility.

Types of KOLs

There are three types of KOLs on Weibo: Celebrities, influential bloggers and Wanghong. In addition, KOLs are often active in Weibo Communities and on Weibo Interest Pages.

1. Celebrities

Celebrity KOLs are famous actors, singers, TV personalities, industry experts, entrepreneurs and others. Celebrity KOLs are responsible for the most effective KOL marketing in China as they usually have the largest and most dedicated follower bases. They rarely engage in promotions, but when they do, they have a potent effect. However, it can be challenging to find the most suitable spokesperson to represent your brand and then negotiate terms with them.
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Eddie Peng, one of the most famous actors in China, has over 23,330,000 followers on Weibo.


2.  Bloggers

Bloggers usually create and post original content. They share life stories or inspiring moments. Their aim is to connect with followers on a personal level. Most bloggers will carefully check and verify their content before posting it and rarely agree to advertise a product if it doesn’t fit their style and audience. Most of the time, they prefer to write reviews of products or services based on their personal experience.
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San Zi No_Fan_No_Fan, a famous beauty blogger, has 510,000 fans on Weibo.


3.  Wanghong

Wanghong, which literally means “Web Celebrity” in Chinese, is a type of KOL that has sprung up in recent years. Different from bloggers, most Wanghong are famous for their appearance. They’re fashionistas or beauty gurus who frequently post selfies to attract followers. However, many have started to focus on creating original content. Wanghong have huge fan bases, yet the cost of advertising with them is far lower than the price of engaging traditional celebrities. Sometimes, the promotional effect of Wanghong goes well beyond that of mainstream celebrities.
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↑ Chong chong, a fashion Wanghong, posts about fashion and cosmetics.


4. Communities and Interest Pages

These types of accounts are usually managed by agencies and are geared for product promotion. These accounts primarily focus on collecting and sharing news from different brands. Users tend to follow these pages to learn the latest information from brands and learn about events in different regions. Some of these accounts focus on narrow topics or get all their content from platforms outside of China.
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↑ Bo wu za zhi is the official account of Natural History Magazine. It’s a popular Communities Pages. Followers like to ask question about math, biology, physics and geography then tag Bo wu za zhi to answer it.

Four Ways to Work with KOLs

KOL marketing formats are diverse. In this section we’ll discuss the most common and effective ways to cooperate with KOLs.

1.  Sponsored Posts

A sponsored post is when a KOL is paid to publish content about the brand in his or her own voice. The content outline and other materials are usually provided by the brand and each blogger styles the content in a way that makes it unique. A brand can also draft a WeChat article in its own style and ask selected KOLs to publish it on their accounts. The KOL may adjust the content a bit before publishing.
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↑ Blogger英国报姐 / UKTIMES reposted a tweet about discounted airfares on British Airways. She encouraged her fans to seize the opportunity and spend Christmas in the UK.

Sponsored articles can be used to promote brands, products, services, campaigns and more. Note that current regulations on social media in China don’t require these kinds of posts to be tagged as sponsored.

2. Giveaways through KOLs

Promoting giveaways, for gift cards or exclusive gifts, through a blogger is a good way to raise public interest and create excitement about your brand. You can ask them to launch giveaway campaigns on their social media page and encourage their followers to participate. Note that the KOLs usually charge for sponsored posts and giveaways separately. This is because giveaway campaigns require extra time to set up, promote and select winners.
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↑ KOL小野妹子学吐槽 reposts entertaining content from Twitter Japan and has one billion fans. He launched a giveaway campaign encouraging his fans to repost this tweet to win a MEIZU phone.


3. Product Reviews

Product reviews are a powerful form of KOL marketing that can add credibility to your brand and convince potential customers to buy your products. While most bloggers accept free sponsored products they may not necessarily give editorial coverage as a result. In China, KOLs expect compensation if you want to receive high quality feedback from them. As the popularity of live streaming has spread across China, live product trials have become an effective way to attract customers.
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↑ Ryiii, a famous Vogue blogger, shared a step-by-step tutorial of her full makeup routine, which included some key Shu Uemura products.


4. KOL Competitions

One way of generating buzz is to invite several KOLs to participate in a competition. Brands can ask bloggers to create videos, comics or other material to enter the contest. KOLs may need their followers to vote for them in the competition and it’s a great way for brands to connect with their existing followers while attracting new ones. 

KOL competitions are usually large scale and require bigger budgets. Prizes must be unique and desirable to KOLs.
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↑ In 2014, KFC leveraged two Chinese celebrities, Chen Kun and Ke Zhendong, in a national campaign to promote Original Recipe and Extra Crispy chicken by asking consumers to vote for their favorite product online. The campaign generated more than 20 million votes, with Original Recipe coming out on top and solidifying its permanent spot on the menu.

It’s clear that KOL marketing is a must for your Chinese social media strategy. This type of approach effectively reaches a large targeted audience via a source that they already trust.

To get deeper insights into Chinese social media marketing and utilizing it to serve your business, join ChoZan, a training and resources platform for Chinese social media marketers. Please follow our official WeChat account to get more updates about the latest news, feature updates and case studies.

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