What are Chinese KOLs? Chinese KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders) usually have millions of followers on social networking sites, such as Weibo (which boasts an impressive 600 million accounts), and therefore have a lot of influence. Since China has a collectivist culture, followers’ buying decisions are heavily influenced by KOLs. Chinese people are more likely to trust reviews from KOLs as they have already established a reputation and specialise in a certain field.
KOLs fall into four categories. The first category, stars and celebrities, have the most public awareness. The second group consists of professionals in popular fields like photography. Another group is verified organisations, and the final group consists of grassroots celebrities (those who have built their celebrity through strong online personal branding).
Over the past couple of years, an ordinary Weibo user named xiaomajia (回忆专用小马甲) gained 10 million followers, surpassing internationally recognized Chinese actor Jet Li and rising Korean star Lee Min-Ho. Different to other KOLs, who are mostly celebrities and professionals, xiaomajia is simply a proud pet owner. However, he quickly gained popularity through daily sharing of cute animal moments, such as GIFs of his dog NiuNiu and cat Duanwu.
KOLs and Brands
Due to his popularity, advertisers have reached out to xiaomajia to post for their brand. Recently, xiaomajia used a picture of his pets to advertise an umbrella brand. Although it was obviously an advertisement, it was retweeted 1,637 times, and received an impressive 5,036 comments and 14,483 likes. However, a KOL having a large number of followers does not necessary guarantee a successful marketing campaign. The number of retweets and interactions with other KOLs are essential.
With the rise of niche markets and changing consumer behaviours, the quality of followers is more important than the quantity when it comes to long-term success. Active followers engage in retweets and comments, creating the word of mouth that is fundamental to elevating a brand’s profile. In contrast, “zombie” or fake fans are paid by the blogger to increase their number of followers. These followers usually disappear during brand promotions, as most of them are generated by hacking software. Research shows some KOLs pay for zombie fans to make them look influential so that they could earn more for commercial activities. Nevertheless, many KOLs that have naturally gained an organic following due to their content and expertise, advice and opinions.
For organisations that wish to use KOLs as part of their social media marketing, it is critical to choose the right KOL. In general, Weibo accounts that are marked with a capital “V” for verification next to their names can be regarded as KOLs. This is because it requires the user to have a certain amount of retweets and followers, as well as organization identification to apply for verification. The “V”s can be either yellow or blue, which represents individuals and organisations, respectively. Overall, the most important takeaway for brands is that they need to build relationships with KOLs that have quality followers. Together with the involvement of KOLs, the volume of posts can push the topic to the weekly Top 10 list and successfully promote the brand.