If you’re a B2B KOL, you’ve probably jazzed out your LinkedIn profile, built-up a sizable email list, and recorded a podcast or two. In the West, these are your screws and hammers as a B2B influencer – the essentials in your toolbox. B2B KOLs in China have their own platforms to nurture and monetize thought leadership that are no less important.
Of course, there are official WeChat and Weibo accounts, but, in this article, we want to go deeper into several niche platforms. The three most important platforms for B2B KOLs in China are Zhihu, Ximalaya FM and Zhishi Xingqiu.
Each platform has its own distinct features and serves a different purpose, from sharing educational content with the masses, to building tight communities of super-fans.
This article will share the unique ways these platforms enable thought leaders to monetize their expertise through digital products. In China, this trend even has its own name: Pay-for-Knowledge (知识付费).
3 Key Platforms for B2B KOLs in China
Zhihu is a Chinese question-and-answer platform similar to Quora. Its motto is “Share your knowledge, experiences, and thoughts with the world.”
In addition to its basic question-and-answer feature, Zhihu has also developed other functions. Users can write articles, participate in discussions, read e-magazines, or give online presentations about specific topics while interacting with an audience in real-time.
Many professionals use Zhihu to build their thought leadership the way professionals in the West use LinkedIn.
But, unlike LinkedIn or Quora, Zhihu provides B2B KOLs with a direct means of turning knowledge into money through pay-per-view live-streamed talks, podcasts, and e-books. And, given Zhihu’s well-educated, white-collar user base, content published on Zhihu will see more user engagement than the same if published on WeChat or Weibo. This is because the general public may find this kind of niche content boring, or may lack the kind of professional background necessary to appreciate it.
Podcasts are a big in China too, but nobody uses iTunes to listen to them. Just like with most things, Chinese consumers prefer homegrown platforms, and Ximalaya FM is one of the most popular.
Ximalaya FM has 40 million registered users and 6 million daily active users. When it comes to features, it is very similar to iTunes or any other podcast platform you’d see in the West. The big difference is the prevalence of paid content. Unlike podcasters in the West, who rely on brand sponsored in-podcast ads for revenue, podcasters in China rely on their listeners for revenue. Ximalaya FM allows content creators to set up a paywall charging anywhere from 50 to 300 RMB for a podcast series. Oftentimes, podcasters will publish about 50% free content and 50% paid content. The paid content tends to be more structured and comprehensive than the free material.
And, Chinese users seem happy to pay for content that they think will improve their lives or careers. In August, Technode reported that Ximalaya FM’s ARPU (average revenue per user) was over RMB 90 in the first three quarters of 2017. Since the second half of 2016, the firm’s paid content income has surpassed the revenue coming from ads, community, and hardware combined.
While Zhihu and Ximalaya FM may be familiar to some, Zhishi Xingqiu has received little to no mention in Western media.
For those unfamiliar with the concept, Kelly said that to be a successful creator, all you need is 1,000 true fans, or super-fans. These fans are customers that will buy anything you produce, and if you can just make $100 from each fan each year, you’ll make a pretty decent income of $100,000. It is an extremely simple and practical concept that has been applied by hundreds of creatives and business owners around the world.
There’s now an app for it. Zhishi Xingqiu is a community management platform that makes it easy for B2B KOLs in China to share content, build communities, and monetize their super-fans.
If you’re wondering, they’re not hiding where their product idea came from. The app’s slogan is “Connect with your 1,000 true fans.”
Here’s how it works. B2B KOLs in China can create a group on the app, and fans pay a fee (typically a couple hundred yuan) for a year-long membership. The group’s page looks similar to a news feed or a forum. Group leaders will share content on a daily basis and provide prompts to encourage interaction and discussion between members of the community. Members are also allowed to share posts, as long as they follow group guidelines.
For example, Doris Ke, Head of Growth, Marketing & PR at Ycloset, the Chinese version of Rent the Runway, is a popular B2B KOL sharing her insights on social media marketing and brand building. Her group on Zhishi Xingqiu has over 2,000 members and costs 298 RMB ($43 USD) per year to join. While it’s unclear how much of a commission the platform takes, that’s $86,000 USD per year directly from her followers in exchange for sharing her knowledge and providing a valuable community.
While it may seem a bit pricey, there are many benefits to joining one of these groups. For example, there’s exclusive content. Doris’ group shares a curated newsletter of marketing news and articles every morning at 10:30 am. Another is the opportunity for direct communication with a thought leader you admire. As a member of Doris’ group, you can submit a question to her directly, or interact with her in the comments. A huge benefit is the opportunity to network and develop relationships with like-minded people who are interested in the same content as yourself.