KOL marketing is hot in China, and it’s only getting hotter. Local consultancy Analysys International projected that the China influencer economy will be worth over $15.5 billion this year. From frequently talked-about Weibo and WeChat KOLs, to those on other smaller Chinese social media platforms such as Meipai, RED, and Douyin, KOLs have become a necessary part of a brand’s China marketing mix.
Yet, while KOLs are hands-down the best method out there for brands to succeed in China, Chinese social media platforms are not making it easy for brands to work with them. KOL marketing costs are a total enigma, platforms provide very little data, organic reach is declining, and now, on top of that, Chinese social media platforms are starting to monetize off of the success of KOL marketing by charging brands a fee to run a sponsored post with a KOL.
In the past, Chinese social media platforms had very few requirements when it came to sponsored content. Brands merely needed to connect with the KOL, or the KOL’s agent, to arrange the campaign and set pricing (a process which is confusing enough in and of itself). However, now platforms are inserting themselves in the middle of that process, creating their own KOL agency-type channels which brands and KOLs are required to navigate to publish sponsored content.
The two main platforms where this is taking place are Weibo and Meipai, and we will probably see more platforms follow suit.
These sponsored content rules and restrictions are relatively new and have come into effect gradually over the past six months. This has created a situation where many brands still don’t know about them and are running into issues with their campaigns. Sponsored content is now commonly taken down if it has not gone through official channels with the required fees.
So what exactly are the new rules?
Weibo and Weirenwu
Weirenwu (微任务) is Weibo’s official KOL marketing platform. KOLs and brands can access Weirenwu through its website or app which are separate from Weibo itself. When a KOL wants to post sponsored content, instead of posting the content directly on Weibo, they must log into Weirenwu and upload the content there and schedule the content to go out.
Before the branded content can be posted on Weibo, a Weirenwu employee must first examine and approve the content, and a fee must be paid to Weirenwu. Once that’s done, the Weirenwu system will send out the post on the KOL’s account at the scheduled time.
Although Weibo claims that Weirenwu will help bring more business to KOLs, similar to a KOL marketplace where brands can search for and hire KOLs, not many brands seem to be using it this way. Right now, Weirenwu is a one-way street — KOLs are bringing income to Weibo, but Weibo seems to be offering very little in return.
KOLs and brands are not using Weirenwu because they want to, but because they have to in order to prevent Weibo from throttling the reach of a post or possibly taking the post down entirely.
Weirenwu KOL Account
There are numerous downsides to the platform. KOLs have shared that they feel the process of uploading a post to Weirenwu is complicated and takes a lot of time. What’s more, Weirenwu compresses image size so that posts sent out through Weirenwu have poorer image quality than regular Weibo posts, which is extremely frustrating for KOLs who strive to produce high-quality content. Worst of all, Weirenwu charges an exorbitant fee, asking for 100% the price the brand is paying the KOL.
Of course, there are ways to get around paying 100%. KOLs can set their Weirenwu pricing below what they actually charge brands. However, this can create a catch 22 because if brands use Weirenwu to contact KOLs, the KOLs will often decline the proposal because of the artificially low pricing they set. Also, Weibo isn’t stupid — they will see through this tactic if the price listed is too much lower than the standard industry asking price. That means brands still need to pay a significant fee.
It doesn’t matter how big (or small) you are, the rules still apply. A couple months ago, one of China’s top KOLs and an international brand (both of which prefer to remain unnamed) where unaware of the new rules