Celebrity Strategies: 7 KOL Marketing Tactics to Know in 2019

    Don’t rule out the grassroots KOLs, get smart about product seeding, pay attention to e-commerce KOLs and more.
    Screenshots from the Instagram accounts of some of China's most widely-known KOLs (Clockwise from upper left: Kris Wu, Gogoboi, Boy Nam, Boy Nam, Mr. Bags, Gogoboi.)
    Jessica RappAuthor
      Published   in Retail

    This post originally appeared on ParkLu Blog, our content partner site.

    The content may be great, the key opinion leader (KOL) is an effective communicator, and the brand has considered its target audience across multiple apps. But in China’s current social media environment where platforms and KOL marketing rules are constantly evolving, these efforts alone, unfortunately, may not always cut it.

    It helps brands to have a playbook of go-to strategies they can use to really ensure that their KOL marketing tactics provide maximum potential.

    Below, ParkLu presented top KOL marketing tactics that brands should refer to in the coming year for creating effective campaigns.

    Brands should approach Little Red Book as a search engine and write blog posts with the same SEO strategy in mind one would have for the internet. Photo: ParkLu illustration
    Brands should approach Little Red Book as a search engine and write blog posts with the same SEO strategy in mind one would have for the internet. Photo: ParkLu illustration

    1. Search Engine Optimization on Little Red Book#

    Little Red Book (Xiaohongshu) is no doubt an app to watch in 2019, but how can brands get the most out of its reach? For one, it helps to think about the platform as a search engine and to write blog posts with the same SEO strategy in mind one would have for the internet.

    “Little Red Book has really cool benefits—profiles on the app are more like websites and posts are more like web pages, making Little Red Book more similar to the traditional internet than any social platform we’ve seen before,” says Elijah Whaley, chief marketing officer of PARKLU. “And it’s being used as a social search engine by a user base that’s 85 percent female to research products.”

    This means brands need to deeply consider the keywords they want to use in tandem with other KOL marketing tactics. Brands should make sure these keywords are in the title and first paragraph of KOL posts, and appear at least five times in a 1,000-word article. Little Red Book’s reach is going to be determined by an algorithm that takes into account comments, favorites, and reposts.

    “You have to optimize for search, just like you would a blog post,” Whaley explains. “Even if you’re doing product seeding to KOLs and you’re not paying them to post, you should feed them the keywords you want them to use.”

    Brands shouldn’t ignore the opportunity to collaborate with KOLs that work directly on Taobao and Tmall. Photo: ParkLu
    Brands shouldn’t ignore the opportunity to collaborate with KOLs that work directly on Taobao and Tmall. Photo: ParkLu

    2. Pay attention to e-commerce KOLs#

    While platforms like Little Red Book and WeChat are no doubt crucial parts of the consumer journey, brands shouldn’t ignore the opportunity to collaborate with KOLs that work directly on Taobao and Tmall.

    “Brands can and should be focusing on the e-commerce KOLs,” Whaley says. “The KOL marketing tactics behind this is when you engage with a KOL that’s producing content for an app like Tmall and Taobao, it works better because of ‘user intentionality.’”

    Think of it this way: When a consumer is logging into social media on WeChat, their plan is usually to engage with family, friends, and coworkers or to pay for a product or service offline. When they check out Douyin, it’s to engage with a few funny videos in their downtime. But when a consumer logs onto Taobao or Tmall, their intention is to shop.

    “The user intentionality is important,” Whaley says. “If you want to just reach people and create brand awareness, build affinity and create community, then it’s awesome to work with KOLs on those social media platforms, but you shouldn’t expect those people to convert at high rates.“ Whereas the opposite is true on an e-commerce platform.

    It’s important not to confuse traditional e-commerce platforms that have added social network and entertainment features (like Weitao) with social media platforms that include an e-commerce element, like Little Red Book and Douyin. Despite some industry experts’ optimistic predictions, Little Red Book only holds approximately 4 percent of China’s cross-border e-commerce market, meaning KOLs on the platform aren’t likely going to move too much product. ParkLu estimates that conversion rates on non-e-commerce platforms like Weibo are generally about 1.5 percent click-through rate, and 1.5 percent of those users are making a purchase.

    For example, Douyin both provides direct links to e-commerce in addition to hosting their own e-commerce platforms, but achieving sales through Douyin presents a number of challenges. First, Douyin is not a search engine, so brands and KOLs that post content on the platform have to rely on an algorithm for their content to be exposed to the target audience. Only about 10 percent of the poster’s audience is going to organically see their content, Whaley says.

    “You have to get lucky to present your direct conversion content to commerce,” he says.

    3. Location, location, location#

    But there are still KOL marketing tactics for brands to stack the decks in their favor on Douyin and Little Red Book.

    Brands should consider Douyin as a video storefront for commerce—both online as well as offline, thanks to searchable location tags users can add to their videos. “So if a brand was really smart, they would be working with KOLs offline to create content in their stores,” Whaley said.

    Douyin users can click on the location tag and find other videos taken in the same location. This means that if a brand can get KOLs to do video reviews, document their offline events, and show off exclusive in-store products through Douyin videos tagged with the same location, the brand essentially creates an online entertainment and experiential channel for consumers that’s linked to their brick and mortar shop.

    Little Red Book is also bolstering its location-based content discovery engine. One of the main search functions is called “Nearby”, which allows users to search only for content that has been tagged with a location in the proximity. So say you live in Beijing, Little Red Books’ search engine will display location-based content for restaurants, shops, and more. This is a great opportunity for restaurants with positive reviews to enhance there online to offline conversion. Little Red Books’ evolving Recommendation Engine can enhance smart brands’ integrated customer experiences.

    4. Get smart about product seeding#

    It’s not uncommon for brands to give products away as gifts to KOLs to either thank them for their work or as a basic marketing strategy. But brands should be thinking one step ahead when it comes to their product seeding strategy—in other words, how exactly might that gift create brand awareness in the long run?

    Maybelline has sent beauty KOLs like Melilim (Maggie) Fu a number of products that created longterm marketing opportunities for the brand. In one instance, Maybelline delivered a suitcase full of makeup. While the makeup was ultimately the products that the brand hoped Fu would review, the piece of luggage itself was a good quality item with a large visible logo. The suitcase would be perfect for a trip to the airport, where both bystanders and social media followers would have the chance to engage with the brand in an unexpected way.

    Maybelline sent out a quality branded mahjong set for Chinese New Year. Photo: Maybelline
    Maybelline sent out a quality branded mahjong set for Chinese New Year. Photo: Maybelline

    In another campaign, Maybelline sent out a quality branded mahjong set for Chinese New Year, with the traditional symbols on the tiles replaced with beauty ones like lipstick. In this case, the KOL and their friends can continue to engage with the brand in a way that adds value aside from simply using the cosmetics products.

    “The consideration, thought and value of these items were high, and so it really makes the KOL feel respected and provides the brand with an opportunity outside of that initial engagement that has all sorts of really cool benefits,” Whaley explains.

    5. Consider the experience#

    With strategic product seeding as just one example, brands now more than ever need to consider KOL marketing tactics that include physical experiences.

    “This really means creating products and packaging and offline popup shops and in-store experiences that people who engage with that environment are compelled to create their own content and share that experience with others,” Whaley said.

    Experiential marketing is hot right now with millennials and Gen-Zers, and one brand that knows this well is YSL Beauty, which opened its traveling beauty hotel in Shanghai last month. With multiple interactive selfie-friendly rooms, the “hotel” was a mecca of content for KOLs who could “check-in” as a “guest” with a room key and enjoy exclusive makeup tutorials, performances, and photo ops. On Weibo alone, the hashtag #YSLBEAUTYHOTEL# has 150 million views and 300,000 comments.

    6. Make sure KOLs get personal#

    There are fans—and then there are super fans. And brands should make sure that their KOLs have direct access to both for optimum engagement.

    “If I ask a KOL and they don’t have a standalone WeChat account just for superfans, then they’re probably not that savvy in the business,” Whaley said.

    Creating individual fan group(s) on platforms like WeChat are a way KOLs ensure that followers actually see content. It’s not easy for brands to monitor this activity, but if brands actively work with KOLs to post in these groups and on their WeChat Moments means that the brand and product is getting exposed to the consumers with the highest conversion rates.

    7. Don’t rule out the grassroots KOLs#

    Working with big KOLs on sponsored posts can be lucrative, but brands should be aware of their limitations. “KOLs are starting to bifurcate into a really elite class and to a kind of grassroots group. At the high end, quality is very very high and they’re able to move product, but what’s interesting is that platforms like Little Red Book don’t reward these elite KOLs, they reward grassroots KOLs.”

    Consider this when choosing which KOLs to work with and on what platforms. For example, “Douyin doesn’t really care if you’re a big KOL,” Whaley says, “it cares about viral content, which is difficult to make on a consistent basis.”

    Little Red Book, meanwhile, prefers to foster communities with organic content that’s going to add value to its users, discouraging sponsored posts that don’t take place through the app’s own system. On Weibo and WeChat, however, a large percentage of the major KOLs on the platform are going to be pushing sponsored content quite often.

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