When the words “KOL marketing in China” are mentioned, what pops into people’s minds are KOLs with millions of followers and campaigns with extremely high budgets. Yet, in reality, micro KOL marketing in China is just as popular and can be just as effective.
As their name implies, micro KOLs typically have a smaller following. In western countries, a micro KOL might be anyone with 100,000 followers, whereas in China, due to the country’s large online population, that number might be significantly higher, say 250,000.
Micro KOLs are a key component of a comprehensive China KOL marketing strategy, and many experts would argue they are becoming more important as young post-90s and 00s Chinese consumers seek to form independent identities and crave the niche expertise a micro KOL can deliver.
Does this mean brands should ditch the large KOLs and only engage with micro KOLs? No.
If you’re going to exclusively employ micro KOL marketing in China, you’re going to need hundreds of KOLs to have a real impact. Working with a couple dozen isn’t going to move the needle. No matter how good the content is, KOL marketing won’t work if you use the wrong type of KOLs, or not enough of them.
In this article, we’ll outline the pros and cons of micro KOL marketing in China and explain how to work with micro KOLs depending on your budget and brand awareness.
Who can be considered a micro KOL in China?
As mentioned above, the benchmarks for KOLs in China can vary greatly in comparison with the West. However, micro KOLs in China can be larger or smaller than their western counterparts depending on the social network they are active on.
For example, on Weibo, which is one of China’s largest social media platforms, it is common for top KOLs to have several million followers, meaning someone with as much as 300,000 followers is often still considered a micro KOL. However, on Xiaohongshu, which has around 100 million users total, the average follower numbers for micro KOLs are significantly lower and more comparable to Instagram at around 20,000 – 80,000 followers.
Whether or not someone is a micro KOL also needs to be taken into the context of the size of the industry they are in. In China, there are unending amounts of fashion KOLs, but sommeliers and skateboarders, not so much.
Brands are attracted to micro KOL marketing in China for a number of reasons.
ONE: Unlike the big celebrities or KOLs, micro KOLs are typically experts on a specific subject and because of that tend to have a very uniform audience. They’re great for when you’re going after consumers in a specific niche.
TWO: While the CPM of a micro KOL’s post is actually higher than a top-tier KOL, the barrier to entry is lower. As an example, the price of a Weibo post by a top-tier KOL runs an average of 30,000 RMB, whereas a micro KOL’s post will only cost 6,000 RMB.
*Note: Although Micro KOL costs are more accessible, we will explain later why it’s still crucial to include mid and top-tier KOLs in your campaign.
Here are some average rates for micro KOLs across these platforms:
Check out our KOL Budget calculator for more information.
THREE: They come off as more authentic. They’re not promoting brands as often as larger KOLs and they’re not going to promote something they don’t believe in because their audience will immediately call them out on it. This is the logic behind the success of the popular Chinese social recommendation platform Xiaohongshu.
FOUR: Greater engagement with their audience
It’s easier for micro-KOLs to respond to 100 comments on their posts than to 10,000 comments. So, they respond to them, they have a real relationship with them, and their audience really believes in them. On top of that, their audience feels that the KOL is within reach, instead of this idol/fan relationship of “I want to be like him or her”, it’s a bit more peer to peer, “I like that he or she is one of us.”
As we mentioned above, if you’re going to go the grassroots-KOL-route, you’re going to need hundreds of KOLs to have any real impact. Why?
ONE: Simply put, smaller reach. China is a huge market and a micro KOL is just a drop in the ocean.
TWO: Micro-KOLs have less authority. Top KOLs are the trendsetters who can instantly bring credibility and awareness to your brand, both among consumers and other smaller KOLs.
THREE: While the overall cost is lower when broken down, micro KOLs’ CPMs are actually significantly higher.
Our suggestion for successful micro KOL marketing in China
To determine the size of Influencers you should work with (in terms of follower count), you must gauge your brand’s reputation in China currently. For example, are you just entering the market, or have you already been available in China for a while? Is your brand new, or are you well-established?
Contrary to general belief, new China market entrants should initially spend a large portion of their marketing budgets to collaborate with top-tier KOLs. As mentioned above, top-tier KOLs can help you lay the foundation and establish a positive reputation for your brand. Once they’ve done that, it will be easier to engage with mid-tier and micro-KOLs who may have been hesitant to work with a small unknown brand. Furthermore, the stronger your reputation, the more effective product seeding with micro-KOLs will be.
Sometimes the cost of working with a large KOL can seem prohibitive. However, if done correctly, a campaign with a top KOL will spark a chain reaction. Many smaller KOLs will start creating content based on the trend your initial campaign started.
They’ll end up promoting your brand or product without compensation because they want to be on-trend. We’ve seen this happen time and time again.
For larger, more established brands, your decision to work with micro KOLs should be based on your KPIs. If your KPIs are tied to awareness, then generally the bigger the KOLs are, the fewer you will need. If your goals are tied to sales, then the numbers don’t matter so much as the KOL’s influence and ability to sell.
Micro KOLs can also be an effective way to niche down and form a closer relationship with key demographics of your brand’s audience, or a demographic that you are trying to expand into.
No matter what size the brand, we recommend an always-on KOL marketing strategy that engages a minimum of 10 KOLs of various sizes every month.