Social Networks in China & Key Opinion Leaders in 2022

Key opinion leaders in China

Although there are many different angles to take while preparing a marketing strategy for a brand in China, results from many campaigns carried on varied Chinese social media platforms show that a good influencer marketing strategy can bring better results than all the other promotional actions altogether.

Because of many scandals with products from different industries, along with the fact that the Chinese market is very saturated and it’s hard for Chinese consumers to make purchasing decisions, word-of-mouth marketing is the most efficient way to promote brands in the Chinese culture. Therefore, influencer marketing, the new form of word-of-mouth marketing tactics, has been very popular in recent years and the trend is not stopping.

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In this blog post, we will introduce you to influencer marketing in China, we will also check how Chinese influencers are different from Western influencers while digging into the Chinese social media marketing landscape.

China’s social network landscape in 2021

China is the world’s largest social network market. The Chinese government’s Internet censorship project, commonly called the Great Firewall of China, blocks foreign social networks like Google, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

According to Statista, around half of the total population is connected by social media, and the number of social network users is expected to reach 1.1bn by 2023. When it comes to China, almost one billion users are registered on at least one social media platform.

chinese social media and their western counterpart
Chinese social media platforms and their Western counterparts

In recent years, the Chinese are strongly attracted by live streams on social platforms and we have been witnessing the rise of the Chinese Key Opinion Leaders, so-called KOLs, which are internet celebrities and influencers known all over China.

Due to this trend, a lot of social platforms have launched live-streams e-commerce. In fact, if we talk about sectors that haven’t been affected by the pandemic in China, selling products live must be one of them. Internet users follow influencers on various channels for fashion and beauty products, lifestyle content, live streaming sessions, and their daily life content.

Who are Chinese Key Opinion Leaders?

Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) are Chinese influencers, who gained huge popularity on Chinese social media platforms like WeChat, Weibo, Little Red Book, Douyin, or video platforms like Bilibili or Youku. They usually have thousands to even millions of followers, which makes them a very powerful group of people that are important when it comes to purchasing decisions of young Chinese consumers.

As of 2022, there are more than 10 million Chinese KOLs and the numbers are growing every day. According to research done by Daxue Consulting, key opinion leaders influenced 48% of Gen Z shoppers in 2021, and thanks to that, the influencer marketing market size is expected to reach 180 billion yuan in 2022.

China’s key opinion leaders are between 18 and 35 years old and are followed by an audience usually made of Millenials and Gen Z, that are waiting for their lifestyle content, daily posts, and product or service recommendations. Like everywhere else, Chinese teenagers nowadays also dream about becoming influencers, as they look up to these people, and admire their work.

Different types of Chinese influencers

When it comes to Chinese influencers, there are four main groups that you need to be aware of, as all of them will require a different approach to your influencer marketing strategy.

Stars & Celebrities

Those are usually the influencers also in other countries, as they are the most popular people among Millenials and Gen Z consumers. This group consists of famous actors, singers, models, athletes, etc. Celebrities usually promote just one brand in each category, becoming brand ambassadors of companies like L’Oréal, Dior, Chanel, etc. and they are bonded by contracts.

In recent years because of those contracts, people started losing trust in the recommendations of those Key opinion leaders, as they started believing that they promote specific products for profit, and not because they are good.

Celebrities and stars are also subject to many scandals in China, and that’s why many companies are afraid to risk promoting their products to such famous people. But they indeed have a huge follower base and can easily make sales of any brand rocket.

Recently, because of Winter Olympics in Beijing, many sports athletes became very known on Chinese social media channels, arousing the attention of top brands. People like Eileen Gu became stars, promoting many brands to ordinary buyers, that look up to those athletes and believe their purchasing decisions.

Key Opinion Leaders

These are big social media influencers that became famous because of their social media accounts on different platforms in China. Those are top KOLs that are known only because of being influencers. They are usually specialized in one industry (like beauty, fashion, travel, cooking, interior design, etc.) and promote many different brands and luxury products on their accounts. Big Key Opinion Leaders are usually hired by well-known brands, as they are expensive to work with.

Li Jiaqi is a very popular key opinion leader with millions of followers on multiple platforms

Micro-KOLs

Although in Western countries, these smaller KOLs would be already treated as the most popular KOLs, in China they belong to the micro-KOLs category. These influencers have around 250 thousand followers. Because of their smaller fan base (in comparison to famous influencers and celebrities), they are able to engage with their audience more.

Micro-KOLs in China

Working with micro key opinion leaders can help you increase brand awareness and these Chinese KOLs are more trustworthy in the eyes of Chinese consumers, which is helpful in terms of sales revenue.

Key Opinion Customers (KOCs)

With a crisis of Key Opinion Leaders and influencer marketing based on expensive Chinese KOLs and celebrities, a new group gained popularity, as Chinese consumers lost trust in all those Internet stars.

Key Opinion Customers (or Key Opinion Consumers) are different than all the other influencers, as they are ordinary buyers that gain popularity thanks to their genuine opinions and recommendations of products that they use on daily basis.

They engage with their fan base and promote only products that they like, which makes them very trustworthy and worth mentioning, as this is the direction where influencer marketing is going in China. Many brands, such as Perfect Diary, decide to work with KOCs instead of Chinese KOLs instead, as they have higher engagement rates and are cheaper (really offer they don’t require any payments, just the products for promotion).

How are Chinese influencers different than Western ones?

People in the West still have rather a bad opinion of influencer marketing and don’t respect the work of influencers. Additionally, in the West, influencers having hundreds of thousands of followers are already considered Internet celebrities.

Western influencers stick to one or a maximum of two platforms (like Instagram and Twitter or Tik Tok). Finally, live-streaming is still out of the picture in the Western world.

In China, people look up to influencers and are highly influenced by their recommendations. Consumers don’t mind advertising and professional content preparations, hence Chinese KOLs are able to do things more professionally and on a way bigger scale than in the Western world.

KOL campaigns in China are often carried across different platforms, as Chinese KOLs understand, that their target audience likes to check other platforms to have a bigger perspective.

douyin marketing KOl

Additionally, Chinese KOL marketing is easier both for marketers and consumers, because the social media ecosystem in China is designed in a way that provides more integration between content and sales. Most Chinese social media platforms already have an integrated e-commerce function, which helps Chinese KOLs bring the brand’s target audience to a designated store.

How a good influencer marketing strategy can help your brand

Today, any brand wanting to sell its products on the market in China should consider working with at least one Key Opinion Leader. As we said earlier, Chinese consumers rely heavily on word-of-mouth marketing, so traditional promotion is not enough anymore.

A company won’t be able to encourage people to buy its products only by promoting them alone, as Chinese shoppers will need to see the opinions and recommendations of people they trust before making a purchase.

Additionally, Chinese KOLs are professionals in the promotion and they have means of promoting products that brands are unable to use. They have huge followers bases on several platforms, targeting different consumer groups with a variety of content types, from normal posts to videos, live-streaming, articles, and many more.

Live-streaming on WeChat

How to find Chinese KOLs suitable for your brand

Entering the Chinese market without efforts on China’s social media is impossible. Why? If the target audience has never heard of your brand name, they will not buy your products. Chinese people are very suspicious due to the many scandals that happened on the Chinese market. Therefore, finding the right KOL for your brand is an important step in your marketing strategy.

Working with the right KOLs can be one of the best methods for promoting a new product or service in China. But the choice of the KOL is very important because if you don’t know well the market, you will probably make wrong decisions, leading to loss of capital and time.

Before choosing the right KOLs, you need to be sure, which platforms would you like to use to promote your brand, what is your target audience and what’s your demographics.

There are many ways to find the right KOLs. One of the ways is looking on websites such as Yourank.cn, Wemedia.cn or Newrank.cn. You can also check social medial platforms you want to enter, check your sector and see who are the most popular people there. But the task is very hard and we advise you to rely on an agency, when it comes to finding influencers for your KOL marketing.

GMA is a China digital agency that has many experience with working with Chinese key opinion leaders on multiple projects from different fields and we can help you find the best influencers for your brand.

Check our case study for Ice Berry:

We hired Jin Ze, a famous Chinese actor, to post photos with Ice Berry products with his fans and we used different formats to post content on multiple platforms, which helped build awareness around the brand. We can help you carry on the campaign for your brand with celebrities, top KOLs or smaller KOCs, depending on your budget and brand profile.

The rules of the game generally work as described below:
  • Implement an omnichannel digital marketing strategy on social media to boost brand awareness and create e-reputation. In this way, it is possible to persuade viewers to buy your products.
  • Launch a successful KOL campaign to promote sales. For example, during the only 5-minute live stream of Li Jiaqi (as the following picture shows), 150 000 lipsticks were sold.

What are the most popular social media platforms for influencer marketing?

WeChat

WeChat, with more than 1.26 billion users as of 2022, is undoubtedly the most popular social network in China. It was originally an instant messaging app, but now it is much more. It is much the same as a mix of WhatsApp and Facebook with the expansion of various capacities (QR Codes, mobile payment, hotel & flight booking, and so on).

As the most used platform in China, WeChat attracts many influencers and all of the biggest ones have official accounts there, promoting products through different formats available on WeChat, such as: short videos, newsletter and articles, short texts with photos shared on WeChat Moments, mini games and so on. They can share links to your WeChat store, if you have one and make the whole process very smooth.

Weibo

Unlike WeChat, Sina Weibo is an open social media platform, ideal for mass marketing. That’s why it is also one of the most important platforms for KOL marketing. Almost all the celebrities and KOLs that target the Chinese market have their official account on Weibo.

Weibo now has a mini-program on WeChat to facilitate users’ experience. It prevents users from downloading the Weibo app so that users can directly use Weibo via WeChat.

Weibo is a great platform for engagement. Challenges, contests, and games are the best way to increase the engagement rate of this platform and KOL marketing is the perfect strategy for that. Any well-known key opinion leader on Weibo puts high focus on keeping his/her engagement rates high.

Xiaohongshu

Little Red Book Agency

Xiaohongshu, also known as RED, literally Little Red Book in Chinese, is a social media and e-commerce platform that is one of the most popular and with a very modern approach, attracting millions of users. It was created as a user-generated content community where users share their experiences and give suggestions about which product to buy, especially for fashion and cosmetic products.

Most of its users are females living mainly in first- and second-tier cities. Thus, the platform has a high CR, and users are loyal to their communities gathered by certain key opinion leader on the platform. As there are more and more users on the platform, RED started to integrate e-commerce within social media.

This is the go-to platform for Millenials and Gen Z consumers looking for genuine recommendations and reviews of products, especially when it comes to fashion, beauty, travel and lifestyle. Unlike other platforms, RED is centred on user-generated content and all top brands already have accounts there, leveraging KOL marketing benefits of the platform.

Douyin

Douyin in the mother app of Tik Tok, the most famous short-video platform in the world. In China, the platform is bigger and has more features than in the West. The most important for brands are e-commerce features and live-streaming options, which are the perfect tools for key opinion leaders when it comes to influencer marketing.

Live streaming sessions are becoming more and more popular on the platform, with thousands of key opinion leaders promoting products and increasing sales everyday.

Chinese KOL marketing

It’s the perfect social media platform for all brands wanting to speak to younger consumers, as they prefer it over all the other options available on the market. If you’re ready for rather humorous and daily KOL marketing, Douyin is the platform to chose.

How to work with a key opinion leader in China

Indeed, as the Chinese are highly connected by social networks in China, KOL marketing is a powerful tool for a successful marketing campaign. It is also due to this reason, there are too many choices and not every initiative can lead to success. Here are some key takeaways for your cooperation with a Chinese KOL on social media in China:

  • Choose a KOL or celebrity suitable for your product.
  • Better to work with more little KOLs than one big star for an SME
  • Be careful with fake KOL traffic data
  • If you are not sure, let professional marketing groups help you
Several endorsements on Weibo by DIlireba 迪丽热巴 (Celebrity in China)

Hire professionals to find the best influencers for you

We know you must be wondering which KOLs and celebrities are the most favored in China. How to combine China’s social platforms with KOL marketing? What are the e-commerce trends that are taking place in China right now?

Those questions are not easy, but our rich experiences, with numerous customers just like your company who want to enter the Chinese market, can help you work out an efficient marketing plan.

We are a China digital agency that specialises in creating marketing strategies for foreign brands interested in entering China. We’ve worked with many Chinese influencers on several marketing campaigns and we can help you find the most suitable partners for your brand.

gma marketing agency china

If you have any questions, we are here to assist you to find out the best solution. We are experts in Chinese marketing.

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