Gone are the days when brands hire online influencers that have amassed thousands of Weibo and WeChat followers—only to find out later that these supposedly loyal fans were actually all purchased. At least this is the world that newly launched influencer marketplace ParkLU aims to offer companies looking to attain long-term brand loyalty in China. Founded by Shanghai-based former fashion retail strategist and marketer Kim Leitzes, ParkLU is an online tool that matches thousands of China's key opinion leaders (KOLs) with companies, giving marketers access to both well-known influencers and social media mavens with fewer followers, but potentially more real-world impact.
China has been rife with KOL growth partly thanks to a surge in digital platforms that have integrated incentives for those willing to share their lives in front of the camera. Many live-streaming and photo sharing platforms give users the opportunity to send “virtual gifts”—namely money—to friends giving live-streamed “performances,” encouraging more participation and interaction among users. Then there are Chinese web apps like Lawo, which gives aspiring fashionistas a platform to prove their style skills and gain followers through a credit voting system. So where brands may have flocked to mainstream celebrities in China before, now everyday social media users are getting their chance to shine or becoming overnight sensations.
Leitzes says her influencer tool gives companies a chance to step even further into this realm of non-celebrity influencers. Hiring influencers at the top of the chain is quickly becoming more expensive, and brands without a large marketing budget—or those who simply seek a broader reach—can use ParkLU to access “mid-influencers” and “micro-influencers,” who by definition, have smaller a social media following, but their followers are more likely to genuinely be interested in the products that they post.
“Brands that have a tiered strategy show the best conversion to sales,” Leitzes said in a press release. “Past campaigns have shown that making use of the full range of influencers—rather than just a few top KOLs—will move your customers through the sales funnel more successfully.”
But it's difficult to find out exactly who these influencers are and how big of a reach they actually have without a filter system, especially on platforms like WeChat which don't clearly reveal the number of “likes” a user has on a post or the user's number of followers.
That's where ParkLU comes in. ParkLU gives brands access to its platform for free and lets them sign up to post information on the website about the campaign they intend to do. They can browse profiles of more than 5,000 KOLs in China with a presence on six social media platforms, including WeChat, Weibo, Youku, Meipai, and Instagram. They can then narrow their search depending on what audience they're intending to target, and filters include occupation, location, interests, and price.
Based on all of this, they can “pinpoint which influencers have real sway over their potential customers, how to best collaborate, and streamline the entire process, including payments and ROI reporting,” according to ParkLU. ParkLU charges a 12 percent service fee once partnerships between brands and KOLs are settled.
So far, a range of brands from fast-fashion labels to luxury hotels have signed on with ParkLU, including H&M, Yoox, Macy's, Los Angeles independent fashion e-commerce site Revolve, and Swire Properties' five-star hotels throughout mainland China. While companies across industries have long been using brand tagging and hashtag campaigns on Weibo and WeChat and even expanding to more niche platforms like Nice and In, ParkLU's more streamlined system gives marketers access to a developing ecosystem of internet users across the country.