Engaging KOLs, which stands for Key Opinion Leaders, for product promotion in China is, almost always, one of the critical components in marketing strategy by big brands. The fact is that Chinese tend to trust information delivered via social media and, especially, by trustworthy people, much more than the one promoted via traditional channels. KOLs are, essentially, individuals or sometimes companies, who are active in social media and enjoy high degree of public trust and credibility. They could be very effective not only in delivering marketing messages to their audience but also make them feel more genuine.

In addition, numerous studies how that word of mouth is, many times, more effective than advertising. Hence, leveraging KOLs for brand marketing is becoming a way to harness that power.

Almost every big brand marketing in China involves, to some degree, using KOLs in their marketing campaigns. Most often those are celebrities, but, depending on the type of product being promoted, could also be influential bloggers and intellectuals.

In this post I’m going to list the main ways big brands choose the right KOL for their marketing campaigns. Since some of the methods require hiring agencies and extensive research, not to mention considerable costs, they may not be suitable for smaller brands. In the next post coming up next week, I’ll make another list of down-to-earth methods that can be used by smaller companies, those without multimillion marketing budgets, to engage KOLs.

Methods of selecting KOLs by big brands


Determining most suitable KOL type

First off, companies should decide which type of KOLs best fits the product being marketed. Celebrities can be an obvious choice for high fashion and cosmetics but may not be suitable for other types of brands. Often, the best way to go is to engage a subject matter expert who specializes in a specific area and has recognized authority in the field. Such experts may not be a household name but can often be many times more effective than a celebrity;


Focus on authentic experience

Authenticity is quickly becoming a new buzz word in marketing and it basically means that in order to be effective, a marketing message has to carry high degree of credibility. Increasingly sophisticated consumers tend to distrust standard product endorsements putting more value into trustworthy opinion. One way to achieve that is to encourage KOLs to actually use the product and honestly express their experience;


Quality of fan base

One of the key definitions of social media KOLs, such as those on Weibo or WeChat, is the size of their fan base, or number of people following them. Numbers, however, do not tell the whole story. With the proliferation of fake accounts in social media as well as notorious services that claim to boost one’s number of followers, marketers are forced to look more deeply into the quality of one’s followers. There are some companies who develop complex mathematical models to measure KOL’s influence. Also, Weibo itself has a scoring system that takes into accounts various parameters;



Virality and engagement

The key component in KOL’s efficiency is their ability to generate “viral effect” with their messages, as well as keeping followers engaged. Clearly, tweeting a particular message to a large audience without it going further beyond the immediate followers would indicate that the message, or its delivery, wasn’t effective. In such cases, engaging a KOL would unlikely to deliver the expected value. As with the quality of fan base, there are tools and methods to judge the effectiveness of specific KOLs.



Covering events

One of the best ways to engage KOLs is to have them cover high profile events, such as product launches. Companies would often invite them to such events providing front raw seats and other incentives. In addition, KOLs would have valuable opportunities to network and meet celebrities. They would be expected to write an account of their experience with some engaging content such as pictures and video;


Engaging KOLs outside of social media

Big brands tend to build long lasting relationships with the most effective KOLs which go beyond social media presence. If there is a good fit between KOL’s personality and the brand, such relationship can become brand’s key marketing asset in the long run and can be employed with whatever future online or offline platforms we are going to see in the future;

Obviously, most of those methods are only suitable for big brands and companies with deep pockets. There are still opportunities for small businesses in engaging this promising route in their marketing efforts. I’m going to discuss those in my next post, stay tuned.


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