In today’s world, you can’t get around marketing with Chinese influencers when using digital marketing in China to reach your target audience. Having a presence in the Middle Kingdom, the largest economy in the world is a smart move for your business if you haven’t made the move already.
Due to the censorship restrictions in China, Facebook, the largest social media platform in the world with 2.5 billion monthly active users, is not available in the Middle Kingdom. Yet, there are many pathways to digital marketing success by using Chinese influencers on Chinese social media platforms with this extensive guide by Tenba Group.
The largest influencer marketing platforms in China currently are Chinese social media channels such as WeChat and Weibo, among many others. If you want to learn more about the Chinese online media ecosystem, take a look at these 3 trends in social media this year.
In this Tenba Group article, we explore opportunities for adopting marketing strategies using Chinese influencers and reveal the biggest trends around influencer marketing in China. By the end, your business will have the tools needed to implement this smart marketing strategy to conquer the Chinese market.
Table of contents
- How Did Marketing Begin to Use Chinese Influencers
- Modern Influencers
- How Do Chinese Influencers Work?
- Who Should Work with Chinese Influencers?
- Differentiating Influencers in China
- Benefits of Chinese Influencer Marketing
- How Do China Influencers Make Money?
- How Much Does Chinese Influencer Marketing Cost?
- Top Chinese Influencers at the Top of the KOL Marketing Charts
- Which Chinese Influencer is Right for Me?
- Biggest Trends in China Influencer Marketing
- The Takeaway: Working with Chinese Influencers
How Did Marketing Begin to Use Chinese Influencers
Chinese influencers have pushed this specific marketing industry nearly three to five years ahead of the rest of the world. This is thanks to the advanced functionality and integration of social media, e-commerce, and digital payment in the Middle Kingdom. But how did it all start, you may wonder?
Influencers are as old as mankind. In the early days, they were spiritual or community leaders, and later on kings, queens, and popes. Of course, back then they didn’t sell products and services to their followers to the extent that this happens today.
In the early 20th century, there were only a few brands on the market. Besides, marketing was still in its infancy. A well-known example during this era is Coco Chanel and the iconic black dresses, which she made famously. At the time, some brands created personas to trigger the purchase decisions of consumers emotionally. Famous examples of global brands are the Santa Claus figure, which was invented by Coca-Cola, and Tony the Tiger by Kellogg’s.
In 1984, Michael Jordan famously signed the first celebrity endorsement with Nike to promote their sports sneakers. A few years later, in 1991, the internet became publicly available. In the early 2000s, social networks started to rise, with MySpace, YouTube, Reddit, and, of course, Facebook.
From this point forward, we all pretty much know the story. It was only in May 2019 that the word “influencer” with today’s meaning was officially added to the English dictionary. In summary, according to influencer marketers, building trust and an emotional connection between the influencer and consumer is key in this industry. This trend took hold in Asia and Chinese influencers are some of the most powerful digital marketing tools online anywhere in the world, catering to one of the largest collections of netizens.
How Do Chinese Influencers Work?
Chinese Influencers invite their audience to try the same goods and services that they use in their everyday life. As a result, this gives credibility to a brand’s qualities. Thus, approaching your prospective customers via influencers is an effective marketing strategy to gain trust, build up your brand in a new market, or expand it.
Besides, consumers are also more receptive to this type of marketing as influencers are more approachable and relatable when compared to faceless corporate brands. This is especially true given influencers provide content that users have deemed valuable and represent their interests.
There are many options when selecting influencers for Chinese social media platforms. This allows for a great deal of flexibility in the choosing process. Here, marketers decide which price points they can afford and their intended target fan base. A little research can help them identify an influencer who best suits their requirements for the job.
Who Should Work with Chinese Influencers?
Marketing with Chinese influencers can be used by both small businesses and large corporations. Smaller brands can use it to create awareness and get attention from their target audience.
E-commerce businesses especially benefit from collaborating with influencers as platforms such as WeChat shop often get little traffic. Having an influencer direct customers to your page can greatly increase the visibility and sales of your products.
Finally, established brands can use this type of marketing to promote the launch of new products or expand their reach. As the markets are getting more saturated, Xiachen (marketing to lower-tiers) has recently become the latest trend. So, consider this for your strategy, if it makes sense for your brand.
Differentiating Influencers in China
In the context of influencers in China, these words are always mentioned. You may ask yourself, if there is a difference or if they all simply are modern-day word-of-mouth marketers? They are all influencers. But there is some differentiation from their Western counterparts.
Let’s take a look at some of the unique layers of influencer marketing in the Chinese market:
- Wanghong means “internet celebrity”, often with a very stunning appearance. For about 5 years, they have been presenting mostly fashion, accessories, and cosmetic beauty brands to their fans. The Wanghong economy is estimated to reach 15 billion USD in 2022!
- Whereas Wanghong are influencers by profession, Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) often also have other jobs. This can range from journalists and entrepreneurs to writers and politicians.
- Key Opinion Consumers (KOCs) are real and actual consumers. They are experts in their field and give their honest opinion and recommendations. After their research, consumers, who are ready to buy, turn to their trusted KOC for advice.
Continue reading about each of the types of Chinese Influencers and how they reach Chinese customers in more depth.
Wǎnghóng or 网红 translates to “internet celebrity” in Mandarin Chinese. Since 2015, Wanghong apply their fame and fandom to promote products and services. They do so by publishing photos, videos, and other online content for their fans. With their eye-catching appearances, Wanghong are predestined to present fashion, accessories, and cosmetics. This economy is estimated to reach 15 billion USD in 2022.
Since having a community of loyal followers drives these influencers, this is often the reason that they only recommend high-quality products and services to their followers. Read more about the Wanghong phenomenon in this Tenba Group article.
2. Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs)
First of all, what does KOL stand for? KOL refers to the phrase “Key Opinion Leader”. These are Chinese influencers who work with brands on marketing campaigns. They may have social media channels or write as fashion bloggers with their own elevated digital presence. Of course, digital marketing is constantly evolving. Thus, businesses must ensure that they are up-to-date with every new development to stay competitive.
KOL marketing is the use of social media influencers for an advertisement for products and services. This concept is common on mainstream social media platforms. Users (influencers) with many followers receive compensation to market brand products and services on their accounts or channels, such as Chinese influencers on Instagram promoting Chinese fashion.
While the Wanghong influencers tend to be native to social media platforms, KOLs often also have parallel professions – such as journalists, entrepreneurs, or writers – while working as influencers at the same time.
Chinese KOLs typically don’t recommend products related to their professions and often regard voicing their opinion as complementary to their day-to-day activities. They have high credibility and are well respected, which makes incorporating them into your marketing strategy very beneficial.
As you know, in the Middle Kingdom, most international social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram are blocked. Therefore, local social media platforms like WeChat and Weibo have emerged.
Brands looking to reach a Chinese customer base can advertise their business on Chinese social media platforms through KOL marketing. KOLs in the Chinese market are well-known people with large audiences. They have the power to influence the decision of other people online.
However, they do not necessarily have to be celebrities. KOLs can also be social media, savvy individuals. This includes bloggers, fashionistas, socialites, and columnists who have built up a large community of online followers interested in the types of products recommended by these beauty and fashion influencers.
KOLs post promotional content on any kind of niche, for example, sports, cosmetics, food, fashion, and luxury brands. Values such as loyalty, sincerity, and trust are characteristics that attract followers to Key Opinion Leaders.
If you are advertising your products and services in the Chinese market, you basically can’t get around KOL marketing.
3. Key Opinion Consumers (KOCs)
Now, this latest type of influencer consists of real and actual consumers. They are experts in their field when it comes to testing products and services, and giving their honest opinion and recommendations. Including KOCs in your marketing strategy is a great way to reach your specific target audience in a more private environment, rather than the large public spaces.
The advantage, in this case, is that typically consumers have already done their research and made the decision to buy a specific fashion brand or a range of beauty brands. Therefore, you don’t have to convince them anymore that they need the product but can focus on helping them to find and choose your brand.
Benefits of Chinese Influencer Marketing
Working with Chinese influencers in combination with conventional marketing has many benefits for businesses. The specific benefits of working with influencers are:
To give you an idea of the reach of Chinese Influencers, we have selected three of them for you.
Fashion blogger Chrison has 5 million followers on Weibo, and 300,000 on WeChat. All this without even appearing on social media herself.
Mr. Bags, Tao Liang, promotes luxury bag brands. He has 3.7 million followers on Sina Weibo, and 850,000 on WeChat. He even launched his own signature mini-brand.
Becky Li is famous for selling 100 Mini Cooper cars on her WeChat account in just 5 minutes. She has 3.2 million followers on Weibo and 2 million followers on WeChat.
Chinese consumers trust their peers more for real and authentic information compared to corporate advertisements. Consumers know that the goal of brands is to advertise their goods and services.
KOL marketing campaigns are very effective in China where consumers hold these influencers as trustworthy sources of knowledge.
The Little RED Book aka Xiaohongshu is a great example of the benefits of KOL marketing. The social media platform surged to popularity in China by maintaining quality and trustworthy reviews with an engaged community. The platform became so popular that now the app has transformed into a shopping experience platform by sourcing its products for customers who want to buy directly.
The app does not allow anonymous reviews or one-click ratings. Besides, a user has a certain amount of time to provide the rating. This has kept its community faithful in the quality of its reviews and more engaged over a longer period.
Leads & Sales
KOL marketing creates ready-to-buy leads and sales for businesses. The KOL receives compensation (money, merchandise, trips, etc.) for posting the agreed-upon content on his/her social media platforms.
How Do China Influencers Make Money?
Chinese influencers receive compensation for their promotional posts in three different ways. Either as a flat fee, as a product giveaway, or a result-based fee in which the influencer is paid based on the results of the advertisement.
In the case of a flat fee, there is no fixed pricing structure for influencer marketing on platforms such as WeChat, so each influencer has to set the price themselves. The influencers can either propose the price or have the social media agency do it on their behalf. Recently, some platforms like WeChat are beginning to adopt rules on a giveaway or competition-style posts.
How Much Does Chinese Influencer Marketing Cost?
Now, influencer marketing can cost from a few bucks (or just the reviewed product or service) to thousands of dollars. The amount a marketer pays for marketing depends on several aspects.
These include the influencer’s duties (marketers may need KOLs to create text or branded visual content), their online reputation, as well as their network of followers. The more demanding your requirements and the more effort the influencer needs to put into the creation of branded content, the more it will cost.
Finally, most social media platforms require that an influencer give a disclaimer that their content has affiliated or marketing promotions. However, this does not seem to discourage the consumers’ faith in the credibility and authenticity of the influencers they follow.
Top Chinese Influencers at the Top of the KOL Marketing Charts
The top KOLs influence all areas of digital commerce and trends, from top designers such as Tom Ford and Louis Vuitton to cosmetics like Estée Lauder. Check out the most famous Chinese influencers in 2021 that guarantee products fly off the shelf in a matter of minutes.
- Austin Li: With over 29 million Weibo followers and 44 million Douyin followers, Austin Li is at the top of the list. His niche is lipstick products and often breaks world records or tops the sales chart during his famous live broadcast specials.
- Viya: Holding the number 1 spot on Taobao, Viya also has a reach of 17 million followers on Weibo, more than 16 million on Douyin, 1.5 million on Xiaohongshu, and more than 12 million on Taoboa’s Weitao. She offers collaboration with a number of brands and is one of the most trusted Chinese influencers in China.
- Becky LI: Beyond being a well-known fashion blogger, Becky Li has over 7.6 million followers on Weibo, 75,000 on WeChat, and 650 thousand on Douyin. She is best known for working on philanthropic projects alongside organizations or brands such as UNICEF and Louis Vuitton as well as setting a record when MINI cooperated with her the sale of limited edition models.
Other notable fast-selling KOLs include:
- Zola Zhang: Fashion influencer who has expanded her areas into lifestyles surrounding fashion, beauty, and more.
- Zin Youzhi: Livestreaming entrepreneur with a team of collaborators and a range of products across all industries.
- Hasi Food: Chinese food and beauty influencer that goes beyond recipes to share hot body and beauty products.
Which Chinese Influencer is Right for Me?
In influencer marketing, consumers see the influencer engaging with a brand. In other words, Chinese influencers act as middlemen between the brand and the Chinese customers. When choosing an influencer for this marketing strategy, you should go with someone who will represent your brand perfectly.
The influencer is your face on social media. It is up to you to ensure that your influencer matches your brand in interests, style, and value. Sometimes it might be better to go with a KOL or KOC that has fewer followers but a stronger community niche that represents your brand. Since some influencers have large followings, but many of these may be not suitable for your brand.
However, you should thoroughly research your chosen Chinese influencer before you approach them. Do not just look at the number of followers they have. Account followers are often artificially built up with bots. Instead, check for the engagement value in their posts. A small active fan base is better than a larger inactive one.
How to Find Chinese Influencers
To find influencers, take a look at the Alibaba-backed e commerce platform for influencers Ruhnn Holding, for example. An agency has also been listed on the Nasdaq since April 2019. It is the largest KOL facilitator in China with over 100 KOLs and has around 150 million fans on its social media platforms.
Alternatively, a Chinese marketing or KOL marketing agency can help you to find the right Wanghong, KOL, or KOC for your business. Chinese social media platforms include WeChat, Weibo, Douyin, Xiaohongshu, and Taobao, whereas Western platforms usually include Facebook and Instagram. We at Tenba Group are excited to find Chinese influencers for you!
Biggest Trends in China Influencer Marketing
The times of a global Coronavirus pandemic together with the social media revolution of the last years have ushered in a new era. It’s time to reveal the 4 hottest trends in influencer marketing in China:
1. Real Benefit & Use of Chinese Influencers
As the worldwide economy is shaken by the Coronavirus pandemic, sales are plummeting across industries and nations.
This means that whatever product or service you are selling, you need to have a real benefit and use for consumers. Only then, influencers can genuinely transport this message. In the face of this current economic crisis, many traditional influencers have lost their cooperation contracts. Only serious influencers with real products and added value can remain on the market.
2. KOCs Gain Relevance
We have seen that literally, everybody can become an internet sensation with a viral photo or short video. Filters and a high level of staging across many production aspects of content have nourished the desire for authenticity.
During this time of “influencer fatigue”, Chinese consumers particularly value the relatability and trustworthiness of the KOCs, which they see as their peers. KOCs are quickly becoming the most important influencers in China. Especially those who have high authority and a large number of followers on their Chinese social media platforms.
3. Live Chat
Just like sending live streams has become an online marketing trend, live chatting is a huge sales booster among influencers. Alibaba is ahead of the game in live chat for marketing, together with upgraded customer-service chatbots.
4. Social Search Optimization (SSO)
Similar to SEO (search engine optimization), SSO improves a personal profile or brand shop to appeal to the sophisticated search algorithms on Chinese social media apps. For example, WeChat allows users to search not only the web, but also social media posts, private conversations, and mini-programs.
Moreover, WeChat search is becoming more and more sophisticated and complex. Therefore, it is imperative to continue working on content optimization for this channel.
So much for the theory. In case you don’t know where to start, a social marketing agency in China can help you. Find the most suitable word-of-mouth replicator for your business with ease!
The Takeaway: Working with Chinese Influencers
Chinese influencers have become a fundamental component of social media marketing. From its humble marketing beginnings to the difference between Wanghong, KOLs, and KOCs, and on which social media platforms they are active – you are now an expert on digital word-of-mouth marketing.
Working with influencers is particularly smart in closed social media ecosystems like WeChat as advertising space there is very expensive. The Chinese influencers industry is thriving within the Chinese market.
Primarily as Chinese consumers feel better connected to their peers, whom they engage with on social media. They find authenticity and credibility among the individuals who they have carefully chosen to follow, often sharing similar tastes and values.
We are here for you!
So, China’s marketing with influencers is very flexible and targeted. It is a great strategy for businesses that want to get visibility and credibility in Chinese markets, grow the brand, and drive sales. It can push the image and sales of established brands, keeping them competitive. Find out more about connecting with Chinese distributors to launch your brand in China here.
If you are planning on entering the Chinese market, a Chinese digital marketing agency can help you! Contact Tenba Group to develop a tailormade Chinese marketing strategy for your business. We have the best marketing advice for China for your SME and can help you find the right Chinese influencers that match the values of your brand!