Editor’s note: This is the first post in a series on social commerce in China. Stay tuned for deeper dives into the leading trends shaping global ecommerce.
Influencers have played a major part in making sales this year’s Singles Day, China’s version of Black Friday. On this day, Alibaba broke its sales record for the 11th consecutive year; in fact, they’ve managed to record $35.8 billion in sales around the afternoon which already crushed the 2018’s figures of $30.8 billion.
Some of the world’s best-known influencers who appeared on this year’s Singles Day included Taylor Swift and Kim Kardashian.
Kim appeared as a guest in a live stream with a very popular local influencer, Vija Huang, to discuss and share information on their brand’s products. The result was overwhelming, as all 15,000 perfume bottles of Kardashian’s new collection were sold within 5 minutes into the stream (which was watched by more than 13 million viewers).
Another superstar influencer, Taylor Swift, kicked off the Singles’ Day with a colorful performance in Shanghai. She sang three songs, during which Alibaba amassed almost $9 billion in sales.
But influencer marketing isn’t just about selecting a popular celebrity to generate buzz. There has to be a good connection with the audience for all the right pieces to fall into place. Swift’s latest album, Lover, sold better in China than in the U.S., making her a great choice to generate a connection with Alibaba’s target audience. In addition to the American singer, the gala also featured a number of other well-known artists, including a singer Jackson Yeel and a boyband TFBoys.Compounding this were the thousands who attended and broadcasted the event for their followers, making the Singles’ Day a date to remember.
While brands have seen similar successes with influencer marketing in the west, understanding how this tactic has been successful in the east might lend some fundamental improvements to brands’ influencer marketing programs.
Why Influencer Marketing Works in China
While 11/11 might be like the Superbowl meets Black Friday in terms of scale and quality of talent, everyday influencer programs derive success similarly to western brands: with real, authentic people sharing information on products they love.
A few years ago, the Chinese equivalent of an influencer was called a Key Opinion Leader (KOL). But as their popularity grew, consumers found them harder to connect with. Thus grew a transition from KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders) to KOCs (Key Opinion Consumers).
A KOC is essentially a micro or nanoinfluencer, but Chinese brands have truly embraced the power of their voice as a catalyst for driving sales. The power of KOCs is in their friendly nature and relatable personality. Consumers know they’re not being paid thousands of dollars to advertise a product.
What’s more – brands are sending their products to numerous KOCs to test and review rather than paying them. With numerous KOCs talking about and mentioning the product, it’s popularity grows in a more authentic way.
Ecommerce and Social Media are Intertwined
China’s internet users have turned to mobile devices and spend most of their time online using their cell phones.
WeChat, China’s most prominent social media and messaging app, has been working on improving their search for information and feels a lot more like a search engine/social network app/personal assistant wrapped into one.
WeChat’s social search engine allows people to search not only the web but also the inside of the social media platform. People can learn about:
- follower counts
- public account posts
- chat history
To put it simply, China’s social media platforms are getting close to taking over the search engines and become a dominating tool in curating powerful content that reaches more people. WeChat serves as a one-stop-shop for many online activities for consumers in China, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only one.
One of the platforms on the rise is The Little Red Book (Xiaohongshu). This app is one of the many ecommerce options in China, but its a true up and comer because:
- users rely on each other for reviews and discussion on products
- they get to read about the products, exchange opinions, and experiences
- it has the full capacity of a social media platform
- it has the full capacity of an ecommerce store
Naturally, there are fashion bloggers, beauty enthusiasts and influential users who take the role of the typical Western influencer.
The emergence of e-commerce platforms with social media features led to the emergence of this new type of influencers.
Although Instagram has integrated some features of ecommerce, it’s still very basic and not remotely close to what China’s doing. There is still a long way to go, but many western brands are finding ways to make the most of the social power despite the limits in place.
Influencer Discovery and Creation
China is not only advancing in the way they represent their products using influencers and social media, but they’re making a move in the way influencers are made.
Their influencer incubator model is aiming at creating social media influencers by finding raw talent and turning it into a marketing machine.
The model is simple:
- they target young, appealing, and interesting social media users
- they go through various social media profiles
- they find potential talent and offer them a trial run
The candidate goes through social media presence training, learns how to use the camera best, tips to optimize their posts, and some lifestyle and posing guidelines.
If the trial period is a success, this person becomes an influencer, with the help and the sponsorship of those who discovered them. In the west, similar trends are growing as brands look to partner with niche talent to appeal to hyper-engaged communities.
Comparing, Contrasting, and the Future of Global Influencers
The social media and ecommerce ecosystem Chinese consumers live in makes for a stark contrast for how brands approach influencer and social media marketing. While the west is slowly integrating paid partnerships and micro or macro influencers through their social channels as ecommerce remains somewhat disparate, China has essentially bridged that chasm.
The innovation China brings can serve as inspiration, guidance or a lesson to be learned for western brands. But, ultimately, it should serve as a reminder that despite differences in platforms, we’re all encouraged by the same thing: each other.
Steven Mehler is a freelance writer, SEO specialist, and social psychologist. He is keen on exploring the latest digital trends and understanding how social media works. Steven is currently working for Rated by Students where he helps create great content and build trustworthy relationships with readers.