There is a misperception all over the world that influencers have easy, glamorous lives filled with parties, gifts, and fans. Kids in the US aspire to be YouTubers when they grow up and college-educated Generation Z Chinese want to leave low-paying, entry-level jobs to become live-streamers. Would they feel the same if they knew how much effort goes into becoming a KOL and then running a mini influencer marketing agency?
And many brands want to work with influencers, but complain about high prices for nothing more than sharing posts. They fail to recognize all the work that has gone into getting them that ROI.
It’s true, being an influencer is an amazing career. No one can deny that.
But it’s also a tough, lonely one. To become a full-time, top-tier influencer requires dedication and persistence, creativity and business savvy, and a core desire to bring value to your audience, even if it means turning down lucrative brand deals.
We only see the highlight reel of an influencer’s life, but that’s not their day-to-day reality. We interviewed six Chinese influencers in various stages of their career about their daily lives, and here’s what we learned.
A KOL wears all the hats at their mini influencer marketing agency.
Influencers are essentially running their own mini influencer marketing agency and media outlets. They are responsible for the development and production of high-quality content as well as distributing that content and growing their audience.
“I put my day-to-day work into two categories, one is producing content, the other is operations. Producing content includes the creative work of planning, shooting the photos or video, then editing them, writing post text or writing articles. Operations includes publishing content, responding to fans, staying up to date on industry trends, and communicating with brands. Being an influencer definitely gives me more freedom that a regular day-job would, but I also have to be extremely self-disciplined. I plan my days out ahead of time to ensure I get everything done.” @豆腐525
Top influencers take their mini influencer marketing agency businesses seriously, spending endless hours creating content. They are creative directors, photographers, videographers, Photoshop and video editing experts and models. They learn to do it all and do it well.
“The majority of my content is related to fitness, and occasionally I’ll work with beauty and fashion brands. Because I’m trying to teach fitness, my fans prefer video content. The video takes a long time to make because the content needs to be very detailed so that they can understand it clearly.” @Miniie嚒小妮
Like any entrepreneur, they are always on.
“A KOL’s most essential tool is his or her phone, I’m on mine all the time. Even on my ‘days off’ I’m still working.” @Bonnie
I still have a full-time job, so a lot of my free time is spent making content, I turn my life into content! Afternoon tea with friends, visiting an exhibition, I will be shooting and sharing it all.” @Miniie嚒小妮
A lot of work goes into brand collaborations.
Influencers want to provide brands with excellent results, but they also need to please their audience. It’s a fine line, and making everyone happy requires a great deal of planning and effort. Think you’re merely paying for one post? Think again:
“When I work with a brand I first have several discussions with them to learn all the details of the campaign and identify all of their requirements. Once I have a clear understanding I will do research, find reference photos and inspiration, then plan what I want to do. I’ll then set a time with the photographer and we will do the shoot, then either they or I will edit the photos, I’ll write the text, and send it over to the brand to review. Hopefully I won’t have to make too many edits. Once its approved, the final steps are to post the content and respond to all of the comments.” @方小叶
Next time you’re negotiating fees with the influencer, think about the number of hours they will need to get the job done plus the results they will get. Their price might not seem so outrageous then.
It’s easy to see why their audience trusts them.
One of the main reasons influencers are such an effective marketing tool is their close relationship with an audience that knows, likes, and trusts them. But have you ever taken a moment to ponder how they formed this close relationship with their fans in the first place? Or how they know what content their fans will love?
It’s because they put a lot of effort into it.
“Every day I spend time running my fan groups. It’s also really important for me to read and respond to all of the comments on my posts, not only to develop a relationship with my audience but to understand what they are interested in. I also spend time researching my favorite brands, seeing what other top bloggers are doing, and keeping up on the latest social and industry trends.” – @eve老师
“Every day I check trending topics on Weibo and I look at the newest posts from the bloggers I follow on Instagram. I also make sure I leave some time to chat with my followers.” @方小叶
Most of them run their mini influencer marketing agency solo.
Especially in the early stages, most influencers handle the majority of the work themselves, hiring contractors if they need an extra hand.
“I work with a photographer on specific projects and I have an assistant to help me with researching and posting content.” @方小叶
But many also recognise the need for a team.
“I have a small team. My workload is large and I want to deliver professional results so I can’t do it on my own. If I want this to be a viable and growing business I need to treat it like a business.” @eve老师
There’s no such thing as an overnight success.
“I’ve been a makeup artist since the age of 16 and it’s only within the past 2 years that I have transitioned into becoming a KOL. I became a top beauty KOL more quickly than someone else might partly because I had over 8 years of skills and experience in the cosmetics industry working on projects for big brands. I had a unique style and was considered a representative of the post-90s generation and became kind of a KOL within the makeup artist industry before I became a beauty KOL for regular consumers.” @傅沛MelilimFu
“Now I’m a full-time KOL, but I also run my own T-shirt brand. Before I became I KOL a worked for three years. I did sourcing and helped run an e-commerce fashion store. At the end of 2016, I started my own WeChat public account where I shared my outfits and the products I like and was interested in, and that has now become my full-time job. But it wasn’t easy getting here. When I first started, no matter how busy I was at work, I would come home every night and write articles, often going to bed at 2 or 3 am then waking up at 6 or 7 am to go to work. But I persisted and that has gotten me where I am today.” @豆腐525
“Once I decided to go all in, it took me about a year before I could make a full-time living as a KOL. During that time, not only did I have to learn how to do a new job, but I had to change my attitude and be really committed. I also focused hard on putting out the best work possible. Even though being a KOL is a full-time job, I still do other things, I’m what we call “slash youth” (meaning I do this/this/this). I manage a youth hostel, I’m a yoga teacher, I’m an event host. But these are all part of my identity as a KOL, they’re not conflicting.“ @eve老师
“A year ago, I was a full-time R&D centre staff. I had worked for a medical software company for six years and during three of those years I was growing my audience and developing my brand in my spare time. In fact, I never really want to become full-time KOL, but something happened that I had to make a choice between staying at my job or becoming a full-time KOL. I’m glad I did, it’s better than I thought.” @Bonnie
They get frustrated when people think their job is easy.
“I don’t think it’s easy being an influencer. I think all occupations have their good sides and bad sides. If you feel that being a KOL is easy, it’s because we strive hard for you to see the good side! We try to make our work and our lives look bright and beautiful. We want our fans to like us, to like our work.
However, what you don’t see is a characteristic of every successful KOL, our tenacity! We are constantly studying our industry so that we can continue to be experts. We work long hours in front of the computer and it takes a toll on our health. If you want to be a real opinion leader, not just an internet celebrity, it is a lot of work!” @eve老师
“KOLs need to spend a lot of time and energy understanding trends in their industry and in the types of content people like to consume. We also have to create a lot of original content, and we need to be constantly interacting with our followers, seeking to understand their interests. I’m often up late writing articles, planning content and editing photos.” @方小叶
“Every industry is the same, you have to put a lot of work in in order to become successful. Results are important, and in order to get good results you have to put a lot of energy into creating high-quality content. As an influencer, you also need to understand the industry and all the newest developments and hot topics. You also need to develop your own style, discover what makes you unique. And it’s important to talk to followers so that you can create content that appeals to them.” @Miniie嚒小妮
“It looks really exciting and fun to be a KOL, but in reality, a lot of the work we do isn’t very glamorous. Also, people see some unprofessional KOLs and think we are all like that. Unfortunately, the barrier to entry is very low, and there are a wide variety of KOLs, some produce really high-quality work and others do not. It’s important to distinguish between the two.” @Bonnie
“I think a lot of people would actually find my job difficult, but I don’t because I love it. It’s not just the work that is hard when you have a unique style like I do, it’s also tough to put yourself out there and face all of the criticism, but I’m ok with that. I can walk around with different color hair and lots of makeup on and people’s reactions don’t bother me. Being a makeup artist and a KOL is my identity, it’s who I am.” @傅沛MelilimFu