Micro-Influencers, KOCs And Private Pools


We all know that influencers, key opinion leaders (KOLs) and social media personalities of all kinds serve important roles in marketing on digital platforms. However, the crucial role that micro-KOLs and key opinion consumers play in China’s complex social media world is sometimes forgotten.


This book is about marketing, communication, branding in China and how to be smart about it. The game is the same. It’s still about grabbing the right eyeballs but the playing field and your toolbox have changed dramatically.

This book takes a deep look at some of today’s most powerful communication partners – small key opinion leaders and key opinion consumers. That’s micro-KOLs and KOCs for short. Once you understand who these influencers are and what they do, you’ll be able to leverage their talents to elevate your marketing game. You’ll also be able to create a significant splash without the high costs.


Here’s an excerpt to give you a taste.

Social Media is at the Heart of China’s Daily Life

Social media, especially WeChat and Weibo, play a huge role in daily life. In China, people can do everything from buying groceries and arranging for them to be delivered to paying their monthly bills through social media.

The coronavirus crisis in China put social media and e-commerce in an even more central position in everyone’s life as people had to spend so much time indoors. Social media became their primary connection to friends, the best way to get necessities and a way to work with colleagues they couldn’t see in person.

Everything in China is connected to social media and everything is social commerce in one way or another. This is where influencers and micro-KOLs live. You need to be there with them.

You Need to Make Your Marketing Money Count

Brands everywhere need to be smarter about how they use their marketing money. Some estimate that 30% or more of marketing budgets are wasted. That’s time and effort that isn’t yielding any tangible results. Spending money well and following a sound strategy are the cure.

With small influencers, like micro and nano-KOLs and KOCs, their small fan bases makes it less likely that they’re hugely inflating their follower numbers by using bots and fake followers. KOLs that are in a rush to get recognition and bigger brand deals often pad their fan bases with shuijun (literally “water army”, fake followers) and game the system in other ways. Navigating through this minefield of artificial numbers to find legitimate influencers requires experience and technical tools.

This is also why money spent on bloggers and livestreamers known for sales isn’t always the wisest investment. Stories of consistent, huge retail figures can be misleading. Influencers often sign agreements guaranteeing brands a certain amount of sales. Their service fee often matches this amount. On top of this, they receive a commission of around 20% on all sales. This seems like a great deal for brands as they have guaranteed sales to big audiences and are introduced to lots of new customers.

What often happens in reality, however, is that bot accounts are used to create the “huge audience”, the blogger’s service fee is used to purchase the guaranteed sales amount and they later return a large portion of the purchases. The remaining products usually find their way to group buying or flash sales platforms. Unfortunately, these buyers aren’t likely to make repeat purchases and in the end there are losses in terms of sales, brand image and labor and there’s little exposure to real human customers.

We predict that China will soon move toward a cost per engagement (CPE) model and leave behind the CPM model, which only measures views and can be easily manipulated.

Brands also have to keep in mind that the costs for advertising and customer acquisition on China’s social media and digital platforms are high. They’re so high that even big international brands with deep pockets use KOLs and private pools in China.

KOLs and Micro-KOLs Are a Direct Line to Your Target Audience

Micro-KOLs are creative resources. Collaborate with them to come up with promotional concepts. Few people know the industry as well as they do and nobody knows better what will engage customers and fans.

KOLs and micro-KOLs with real influence in China gain fans and followers because of their expertise, knowledge, skills, personality and content. There’s a shared interest that has brought their fans and followers on board. Cooking, fitness, being a parent, pet care, comedic musings on daily life, smartphones, organic food, sneakers, anime, beauty, fashion and cars are just some examples of the kinds of content that KOLs have created followings and communities around. Some micro-KOLs have built their small, dedicated followings around even more niche subtopics.

This means that no matter what your product or service is, there’s an audience out there for it and there are influencers who are in touch with that audience. With the amount of spam and constant ads, these KOLs can help your brand cut through the noise and reach your audience.

With advances in big data and AI and some social media marketing know-how, finding and selecting influencers who have the right audiences for you is achievable.


“Ashley is a great connaisseuse of the newest and latest digital trends in Greater China. Her passion for the China market is contagious and she combines that passion with professionalism and on-the-ground knowledge in an unprecedented way.”
Tiziana Tini, Professor at Glion Institute

“Folke’s passionate entrepreneurial drive, unrestricted customer focus and personal commitment to his clients‘ missions are unique. His support in marketing and any other kind of business-related issues has not only pushed our successful start in the Chinese eCommerce business, but rather was a key enabler.” 
Falk Haarig, Paul Hewitt GmbH


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Private traffic are customers that brands communicate with directly or through KOCs in private forums. These can be group chats for brand fans only, message boards for Vip members etc.

Private Traffic Marketing is cost-effective, allows for a closer and different relationship with customers, and improves brand image and conversion rates.

To build private traffic, you must open accounts on China’s major social media and e-commerce platforms, establish a customer acquisition model for the private traffic, design promotion campaigns and incentive systems specifically for private traffic, set up a long-term maintenance system for your private domain pools and traffic, and set up a specific sales channel or a streamlined sales process for those in your private traffic.

While a KOL (Key Opinion Leader) is typically a major influencer with a large following, a KOC (Key Opinion Consumer) is generally either a consumer or a brand’s employee.

KOLs are great to work with if you want your brand to reach more people as they attract large fan bases ranging in size from hundreds of thousands to millions. KOL fans are more interested in them as a personality and therefore are more eager to know more about their interests and opinions.

KOCs are considerably cheaper to work with than KOLs and are seen as a more authentic voice to consumers. Brands should also work with KOCs if they want to see a high engagement ratio.

When building your own roster of KOCs, it is important to look for high relatability and great trustworthiness. Chinese consumers tend to look for reviews and posts that they can relate to, making it essential for KOCs to not only be relatable, but also honest in order to appear more trustworthy.

One can evaluate performance results from a collaboration with KOCs by looking at the conversion rate. One great way to do this is by providing KOCs with unique links that they can provide to potential consumers. Brands can then see how many engagement the links get.