China’s KOL economy has been one of the fastest-growing and most durable economic phenomenon in recent years. In the second half of 2019, multiple Chinese e-commerce platforms launched KOL strategies, while many companies win consumers and positive reputation through partnerships with key opinion leaders.

Brands choose appropriate KOLs to launch campaigns based on the brands’ images and goals. For brands who wish to enter the Chinese market,  KOL marketing has proved to become indispensable.

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.


Who are the influencers 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 in China?

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.


How to have a successful KOL campaign in China

Before you start, make sure you have a strategic plan with a clear vision for each phase and an actionable plan with clear objectives.

For instance, “cooperate with 3 KOLs to have a monthly campaign. Each campaign expected to drive 10,000 people to e-commerce platforms and increase 50,0000 RMB sales transactions.” Once your plan is outlined, partner with trusted KOLs who will contribute to said goals.

Brands need clear ideas of their targeted consumers in order to find the best-fitted influencers to help win businesses. Besides, brand companies should formulate a complete content strategy as KOL marketing is still a part of content marketing.

Keep in mind that Chinese consumers are increasingly sensitive to overly promoting or sponsored content. The subtler the sell and the more authentic the content, the better the reactions from the audience. At the end of each campaign, follow up on the performance, analyze the data, and adjust your upcoming strategy based on the findings.


Types of KOLs in Mainland China

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.
Eddie Peng KOL China 1   Eddie Peng KOL China 2

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.
San Zi No_Fan_No_Fan Beauty Influencer China 1   San Zi No_Fan_No_Fan Beauty Influencer China 2

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.
Chong chong fashion Wanghong 1 Chong chong fashion Wanghong 2    

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.
Communities Pages 1     Communities Pages 2

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.
Sponsored post KOL China 1

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.
Sponsored post KOL China 2

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.
Product Reviews KOL China

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.
KOL Competitions China 1

KOL Competitions China 2

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.


How to avoid fake KOLS in China?

Researching on different platforms will be helpful.

Normally, real KOLs are active on more than one platform. If you are tempted to work with a KOL who is found only on one platform, do reconsider your decision. On top of that, consider your targeted campaign results as the effect of multi-platforms is more powerful.

To identify KOLs’ authenticity, you may also check their follower’s profiles and go through the comments under various posts to verify if the activities are related to the KOLs’ accounts.

Analytical tools would also be helpful to understand the data on post views, likes, shares, and follower growth. You should also avoid KOLs with clickbait contents as successful KOLs have developed their audience overtime and are in no rush to grow a massive following overnight.


FAQ about KOL marketing in China

What Are the KOL Trends for 2020?

Many brands are building their own in-house KOCs, who usually share one social media account. They review and promote new products, as well as manage customer relationship.

Is KOL marketing worthy in China?

Yes, KOL marketing is the largely adopted trend in China. Successful KOLs listen to and engage with fans, who trust and look up to the KOLs.

This type of relationship can convert the traffic into sales results. At the same time, KOLs have the power to designate trends through their influences, which is exactly what brands are looking for.  

Are KOLs and influencers the same in China?

No, KOLs are active on different platforms for diverse categories, while there are the vertical category influencers. Major influencer industries include fashion, beauty, travel, lifestyle, entertainment, fitness, business and more.


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.

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