Niche Influencer Categories on the Rise in China

This post originally appeared on Parklu, our content partner.

There’s no doubt that people both in China and all around the world have been spending far more time at home than usual recently. Inevitably, that means people are spending more time with their phones. During this year’s Spring Festival celebrations in China, screentime was up by 26 percent compared with the figure for 2019, according to mobile big data platform Aurora Mobile Limited, we can also see from the DAU increase of top 10 apps in China. at the same time, there are some niche influencer categories that are on the rise.

No surprise, perhaps. But the circumstances of coronavirus-enforced quarantine is such that people have been spending their time at home—including screen time—very differently from normal. There have been improvised at-home substitutes for regular activities, and people have been learning new skills and streaming more entertainment to fill the long hours, days and weeks indoors.

Chinese people have been searching for mobile content that responds to the impulses of life under quarantine, and they’ve flocked to short video platforms like Douyin and Bilibili to find it. These explorations are fueling the meteoric rise of KOLs in a range of niche categories, including some that brands might have thought of as unlikely vehicles for reaching their target consumers. Let’s take a look at some of those niche influencer categories that are on the rise from China’s experience with coronavirus quarantine.

Education and learning
One of the biggest quarantine booms has been in the consumption of educational content, which makes it one of the niche influencer categories that are on the rise. Chinese people have been throwing themselves into self-improvement videos on Douyin and Bilibili, brushing up on skills ranging from Photoshop and Excel to foreign languages, and video editing. As on YouTube, in each of these categories, there are opportunities for charismatic, authoritative and funny communicators to claim the niche for themselves.

Living under quarantine forced many younger Chinese people into the kitchen to cook for themselves. This was something many found themselves ill-prepared for, so they sought help from cooking influencers like @曼食慢语 on Douyin. Through clear, friendly and encouraging videos walking the viewer step by step through recipes, a generation reliant on eating out and deliveries were soon proudly posting photos of their latest creations on recipe-sharing and social platforms, which blew up with cooking content through February.

Interior design and DIY
Getting more acquainted with your home seems to inspire an urge to make it look more beautiful, comfortable, and clean. Over the past two months, the popularity of interior design videos on Douyin and Kuaishou has skyrocketed as people look for tips on home décor and DIY projects. On Douyin, home improvement expert @家居严选师 has been one of the breakout stars in the category, with almost three million followers on the short video platform.

Film/TV shows commentary
Inevitably, everyone has been watching more TV and movie. The free time has also lead people to reflect on what they’ve been watching, leading to a spike in interest in review-based influencer content. Bilibili, in particular, has been home to a number of KOLs who dissect all kinds of movies and shows. @谷阿莫 is a great example. His content usually goes through a movie in 3-5 mins with his own funny style. Sometimes he will softly promote a brand by product placement in the movie, which not only makes the content fun but also shows the product’s traits.

“Vertical +1” reaching new audiences
“Vertical +1” is a new niche influencer category popular on Douyin. Many of 2019’s fastest-growing influencers epitomized the phenomenon. The basic idea is that these KOLs create content that involves a crossover of categories. The content will fit clearly into one of the major content verticals, such as fashion, beauty, entertainment, food or travel. However, the content is also tailored to be tagged with additional sub-tags (but only one or two). These might include tags for more abstract concepts such as “knowledge” or “feelings,” but there could be a thematic crossover too.

The logic of this is informed by an understanding of how an algorithm-based feed like Douyin’s works. The algorithm uses content tags to try to characterize a user’s content and figure out which users will appreciate that type of content. While KOLs who “own” a particular niche—beauty, for example—will attract a large number of fans, the narrowness of the fan base can be a drag on the viral potential of the content. Niche KOLs often command higher prices for collaborating with brands.

A “vertical + 1” beauty KOL can use additional sub-tags to signal to the algorithm that the content has more depth than the average beauty KOL’s posts and thus a potentially has a wider audience. If the tactic works, the algorithm will distribute the content to a larger, broader spread of users, amplifying the possibility of the content going viral. Too many category tags, however, and the algorithm finds it hard to define who the content is for, and as a result, the content is likely to sink without trace. This tactic allows KOLs to grow their following faster by embracing overlapping content categories, and it allows brands to choose to work with influencers who may be less pricey than those KOLs who dominate their categories – while still achieving KPI-beating results.

One of the most effective sub-tags KOLs are using is “剧情” (“narrative” or “storytelling”), according to one online research agency. KOLs like @叶公子, @柚子cici酱, and @你的小宇 have all found success over the past year with beauty content that has a strong narrative thread.

Brand takeaways

Short-video content in China is diversifying and splitting into countless niche influencer categories, covering every hobby and discipline imaginable. This atomization didn’t happen because of coronavirus and quarantines either. That abrupt shift to life indoors stimulated a hungry to explore a diversity of content, speeding up a change that was already underway – and much needed – in China’s short-video marketing ecosystem.

Within these niche influencer categories, followers are extremely “sticky” and trusting of the leading KOLs – and that’s great news for brands. Brands should learn to think niche, recognizing that the top KOLs in these categories can be efficient in driving sales. Unfashionable as fishing may seem, angling KOL @科学钓鱼 hit RMB 1 million in sales last year, with 83 percent of revenue being generated from his fans on Douyin and other social platforms. Not every niche will suit every brand, but brands should think creatively and look to experiment with KOL partners in a broader range of categories. The future of short-video and social media is likely to involve even deeper segmentation, as niche influencer categories emerge within existing categories, each with their own KOLs and loyal fanbases.

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