Bloggers, Commentators, and KOLs – Harnessing the Power of Chinese Influencers

  |  January 22, 2014   |  Comments   |  

Consider these top tips for approaching and working with bloggers and key opinion leaders in China.

Over the last few years, the ease with which individuals can share their opinions via social networks, blogging, and microblogging sites has led to the emergence of a new generation of Chinese influencers and opinion-formers. Establishing a relationship with those whose followers fit your target audience is invaluable for promoting brand messages.

But, similar to traditional media, brands need to develop a strategy for managing and nurturing bloggers and KOLs (key opinion leaders) -- based on our agency’s experience in delivering outreach campaigns for a number of global brands, here are some key insights into how to harness their power.

Bloggers can be grouped into tiers based on their level of activity and sphere of influence:

Tier One

These are the Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs). They’ve made it to the top of the tree when it comes to influencing and blogging is often their main source of income.

Bloggers such as Han Han (“voice of his generation” and possibly the most popular and controversial commentator in China), Han Huohuo (fashion), and De Day (finance) fall into tier one. They’re usually much in demand to be the "front" of or the "face" of a campaign, and competition for their attention is tough.

Because of this, any approach to tier one bloggers/KOLs should be made in the same way as you would secure endorsement from a celebrity spokesperson or "talent" within your industry. As they’re conspicuously courted by marketers, PRs, and media personnel on a regular basis, they’re in a position to pick and choose which initiatives they will endorse. Because of this, they're unlikely to enter into a long-term relationship, unless the brand or idea is particularly relevant to them.

Characteristics Specific to Chinese KOLs:

  • They’re used to a fast-paced life and they curate more than they create.
  • They tend to be generalists, knowing a small amount about many subjects rather than having in-depth knowledge of just one.
  • They’re typically happy to divide their loyalty between several brands and tend not to be wedded to one single marque.
  • Chinese KOLs are very business minded and they charge for posts as well as expect to receive products.
  • Some KOLs are entirely focused on follower/fan numbers rather than their quality, resulting in a false inflation of their sphere of influence as a result of fake followers. Brands need to take this into account and choose carefully when you’re developing their engagement campaigns.

These characteristics and behaviors can be unfamiliar for Western brands at first, especially if they’re used to working in a different way with bloggers in other territories. But, if they want to secure content endorsements, they’ll have to adjust their strategy (and budget) to accommodate this.

Tiers Two and Three

Emerging bloggers in tier two (recognized within their area of expertise with a growing number of followers) and three (established with a solid core of followers and on the verge of recognition) are generally not full time writers and are often hobbyists or moonlighters trying to develop and expand their passion.

They’re focused on developing their brands and curating their images -- elebrity, luxury, and lifestyle are central to attracting attention in this market. To make a positive impression on an emerging Chinese blogger, it’s key to show empathy and try to offer them a fair value exchange --access to content which will raise their profile and increase their following in return for coverage of an event, launch or initiative. However, as with KOLs, Chinese bloggers in tiers two and three will still require some kind of payment for their services, so it’s vital to factor this into the campaign budget.

Top Tips for Approaching and Working with Bloggers and KOLs in China

  • Know who you’re talking to. Do your homework and find out about their work.
  • Adapt your style to fit theirs. Fashion bloggers have an entirely different way of communicating to those who write about cookery, for example.
  • Focus on the visuals. Good-quality images and quirky videos are more likely to get attention than text, particularly for luxury and fashion brands.
  • Be flexible. Bloggers are their own editors, so it pays to let them put their own stamp on your content.
  • Provide access. Invite bloggers to attend events or give them password access to exclusive content – anything they couldn’t have obtained on their own.

Tailoring Your Message for the Territory

  • Develop a "celebrity" angle, if appropriate.
  • Provide unique, high-quality images.
  • Focus on personal benefits -- what your announcement means to the blogger, and by extension the man or woman in the street.

Building relationships with bloggers in China can be time consuming and requires a degree of commitment, but provided it’s done with integrity and gives them something tangible in return, it can bring fantastic success to a brand in the way of genuine advocacy and provide the local "breakthrough" endorsement which is essential for traction in China.


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Elisa Harca

Elisa Harca is a digital retail and engagement expert with more than 13 years' experience working with some of the world's leading brands, including Swatch, MAC Cosmetics, Samsung, and Ericsson. She has worked with clients extensively in North America, Europe, and most recently Asia, and at Red Ant she is responsible for leading teams of digital specialists in Hong Kong and China in bringing its award-winning mobile retail technology to businesses across the territory. Recommended as an expert digital and mobile consultant by market leaders, she is a regular speaker at industry events including The HUB and UKTI's GREAT Weeks, and also hosts workshops for high-profile industry executives. Elisa is recognized worldwide for her professionalism, integrity, and her ability to help retailers navigate the increasingly complex global digital landscape.

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