Optimization is a word that gets tossed around a lot in the business world. Brands strive to optimize nearly every part of their business. However, the following key opinion leaders (KOL) tactics are rarely used to optimize China marketing campaigns.
There are a few reasons for this.
Often, brands silo KOL marketing efforts instead of integrating them into the business’s overall strategy. Another reason, in China, is that foreign brands are unaware of the nuanced rules and regulations of Chinese social media channels and, therefore, are unable to take advantage of these KOL tactics. And sometimes, brands have too much going on and are inexperienced with KOL marketing, causing details to be overlooked or fall through the cracks.
To get the optimization ball rolling, we’re sharing some of our top tactics to help you achieve greater results, maximize your budget, and generate better results from your KOL marketing campaigns.
1. Repurpose KOL Creative
Many brands pay KOLs enormous amounts of money to create high-quality branded content and distribute it to their audiences. Then, they move on to the next campaign – never using that content again. This is a huge waste.
Whenever brands work with KOLs, they should always negotiate for the rights to republish KOL creative.
- All brands need a continuous flow of content for their own social media channels. What’s better than excellent creative produced by a popular KOL? (Not much).
- If your brand is new to the China market, posting material from a top-tier KOL on your brand’s social channels and e-commerce pages will automatically boost your credibility and authority.
Note: Smaller KOLs will probably approve you repurposing their content for free with attribution since that will generate awareness for them. Larger KOLs, however, will usually charge an additional fee for the rights to repurpose their content.
Some brands may balk at this idea, but hear me out: If you have already paid a large sum to a KOL to create content, doesn’t it make sense to pay a bit more to maximize what you’ve already spent?
Be sure to outline how and where you plan on using the content to avoid issues down the road. There’s a big difference between posting the material on your small Weibo account and using them in your global marketing materials.
2. Hire KOLs to Create Content, Not to Distribute It
This may require a shift in mindset because it’s a reversal of traditional KOL relations. However, here are a couple of reasons to hire KOLs as solely content creatives.
- The cost of hiring a KOL to create content but not distribute it is much lower than the normal creation-plus-distribution model. Therefore, brands who don’t have the budget for distribution can still get some of the recognition from a well-known and respected KOL.
- If your brand is going to be working with a creative agency to produce branded content, you may way to consider working with a KOL instead. There has been a mass exodus of talent from industries like print media, with many of the professional writers and photographers joining KOL-led creative studios or becoming KOLs themselves.
Nowadays, many KOL teams are creating content at the level of most production studios and China ad agencies. They are competing with Chinese ad agencies directly for content creation projects. Working with a KOL is usually more affordable, and social media is in their DNA. KOLs have gone through the grind of developing audiences in a mobile-first social media world, whereas professionals at traditional agencies might have little-to-no hands-on experience with how content will be engaged with, or received, online.
3. Engage with the Comments
While this may seem like common sense, you’d be surprised how few brands actually take the time to interact with the audience. This is a wasted opportunity to engage with consumers, answer their questions, and get feedback.
Of course, a good KOL will be diligent about responding to as many comments as possible, but the brand should not rely on the KOL to speak on their behalf.
Brands should have a member of their team monitoring the KOL’s post and responding to relevant comments and inquiries. This is especially important on video channels such as Douyin where both the content and post description lengths are short, significantly limiting the amount of information that can be included in the post and typically results in more questions in the comments section.
4. Optimize the Post for SEO
Search engines in China are indexing many social media networks’ posts. Not properly optimizing the posts from KOL collaborations is a huge missed opportunity and one of the most important long-term KOL tactics in our list in.
SEO (Search Engine Optimization), SSO (Social Search Optimization), and ESO (E-commerce Search Optimization) maximize the effect of KOL campaigns and improve general search rankings. In turn, brands with robust search engine optimization in China can gain authority, increase consumer confidence, and receive more traffic.
The rules for optimizing a social media post for search are essentially the same as other SEO rules. Brands must determine the keywords they want to target and ensure the KOL uses them in the title and throughout the content. Post copy should be 500 characters or more. Backlink-building to the post’s original URL will increase its search rankings. And so on.
These search optimization KOL tactics are especially relevant for content on Weibo and Xiaohongshu.
5. Soft Sell to Avoid Platform Fees and Throttled Reach
In the past, Chinese social media platforms had very few requirements when it came to sponsored content. However, now platforms such as Weibo, Maipai, and Douyin are trying to cash in on the popularity of KOL marketing, creating their own KOL agency-type channels which brands and KOLs are required to navigate to publish sponsored content.
Although these rules and fees have been in place for almost one year, 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.
One of the best KOL tactics for avoiding additional fees and Weibo’s complicated Weirenwu channel is to not require KOLs to include links in their posts’ content or ‘@’ the brand’s account.
While Xiaohongshu currently doesn’t take a fee for sponsored posts, they do explicitly state that they will take down posts that are obviously sponsored and do not provide value to the Xiaohongshu community.
Brands should avoid getting hung up on needing to include a link in the post. In general, Chinese consumers rarely purchase products directly from links in posts unless there’s an incentive. Many customers might be interested in a product but are not in buying mode when first exposed to it. Chinese consumers usually need to see a product numerous times before they will take action, and they tend to shop around and do research prior to purchasing the item from their preferred retailer.
6. Use Paid Post Promotion
Weibo has become a pay-to-play platform, and even KOLs with large audiences and high engagement can only reach a fraction of their audience without using paid promotion. Currently, a regular Weibo post will appear in the news feed of about 10 percent of an account’s followers.
While it may seem ridiculous to pay additional fees for promotion, paid KOL media post promotion is a must to maximize campaigns. You don’t want to waste the powerful content a KOL creates for your brand by curtailing its potential reach. This is one of the must use KOL tactics for Weibo.
If done strategically, paid promotion can cause the post to “go viral” and reach an even larger audience. Weibo posts that receive high engagement within the first 24 hours will trigger Weibo’s algorithm to think the post is popular and share it with more people.
7. Treat KOLs as Community Liaisons and Brand Development Partners
Successful KOLs spend a great deal of time interacting with and understanding their audience. Besides creating content, they are expert community builders who bring netizens together according to their interests and work tirelessly to keep these circles active, fun, and useful.
Because of this, KOLs hold massive potential as community liaisons and brand development partners, yet it’s rare to see a brand take KOL insights and utilize them as strategies for selling in China.
A simple way to do this is to have KOLs survey their audience and obtain product feedback. Taking it a step further, brands can invite KOLs to take part in the product design process.
Once again, brands need to start looking at KOLs through a different lens than before and realize that there are many more ways to work with them besides classic content creation and distribution.
8. Employ Effective KOL Tactics for Product Seeding
Of all the KOL tactics practiced in the KOL marketing industry, sending products to KOLs hoping for free publicity is the most popular. We call this tactic “product seeding”. When done correctly, gifting is a great relationship-building tool and can lead to free marketing for your brand.
On average, in China, about 10 to 20 percent of the KOLs you send products to will share it with their audience. In many cases, the excitement of receiving gifts is not enough to make an influencer post about it. However, there are several things that brands can do to improve this conversion rate and get KOLs interested in their products.
Packaging is very important, so brands should design unique packaging that fits the KOL’s aesthetic and creates excitement and intrigue. Personalization and customization are also great ways to impress a KOL when product seeding. Taking the time and effort to embellish products with names or choosing colors to suit individual KOLs’ styles goes a long way in creating loyalty.