KOL vs. Influencer: Key Differences and Why It Matters

Nowadays, web-based marketing is the primary strategy to generate awareness among millennials and Gen Z. In lieu of the social media influencers and bloggers that are popular within the Western hemisphere, China has developed its very owncomunity of influencers—KOLs, or Key Opinion Leaders. For more information on what they are, check out this article. [link to first article]

KOLs emerged from consumers’ need for more reliable sources of information on the products they consume. These feelings of mistrust stems perhaps not only from their scepticism in corporations, but also in the system of consumerism in general. As our world becomes increasingly commercialized, our consumers become increasingly desperate for information that is unbiased.

Simultaneously, as our world becomes increasingly reliant and tangled thanks to the World Wide Web, our consumption habits become more tethered to technology the Internet. Our ways of consumption are changing, and KOLs are taking advantage of this, combining social media with e-commerce in order to maximise readership and profit.

To further elaborate on some unique aspects of KOLs:

  1. Viral content vs. KOL content

Although KOLs are sometimes also called “Wanghong 网红” (online celebrities), there is a fundamental difference between these two. Online celebrities are more similar to influencers in that their content is heavily based on viral trends, while KOLs focus on products and services that are relevant to their field of expertise.

For example, KOL Dipsy blogs about fashion on Weibo, focusing mainly on luxury brands. Perhaps due to his previous work experience as a graphic designer, his content and language is detail-oriented and highly descriptive, which contributes to his increased readership.

  • Engagement

As with social media influencers, KOLs have a high engagement rate. Perhaps this is unique to the nature of social media platforms, which allow for easy interaction. The high engagement rate is also what makes promotion particularly effective—not only does it allow KOLs to appear more approachable, but it enables a more loyal and dedicated fanbase.

The nature of KOLs also mean that their communities and fanbases are inherently niche. Often, niche markets produce more loyal and dedicated fanbases, which is also true for KOLs. A relatively smaller fanbase means that members are more close-knit and perhaps even more trusting of each other, creating a solid echo chamber that is optimal for promotion and branding.

The content is, moreover, not only limited to texts, images, or even videos. Many KOLs using livestreaming websites for a more personalised experience. Consumers can react and chat directly through a live chat while they stream, therefore enabling more immediate and authentic interaction.

  • Convenience

Sometimes, the attraction can be credited to sheer convenience—and that’s not a bad thing! KOLs post on social media platforms such as WeChat or Weibo. WeChat is a wildly convenient and multi-purposed platform—you can browse a product, read the reviews/blog posts, and even pay for the product all on the same app/website.

The rise of KOLs isn’t merely a localised phenomenon in China. In fact, it’s slowly becoming prominent in the Western market as well. Regardless, companies that are interested in expanding to China should definitely investigate collaborating with KOLs to ease their transition into a foreign market.