Guide to KOL Marketing in China: How to Get Started for 2024

Last Updated on March 27, 2024

Key opinion leaders serve as the major driving force behind successful brand endorsements on today’s top Chinese social media platforms. It’s an effective strategy that often guarantees increased brand recognition and potential revenue.

These influencers have become synonymous with authority and trust, allowing them to sway the purchasing opinion of their niche audience.

As the Chinese communication channels evolve, so do the KOL marketing strategies you must execute. Let’s explore this lucrative landscape and identify its importance in your next campaign.


What does KOL mean in marketing?

In marketing, KOL stands for Key Opinion Leader. It refers to influential individuals who have expert knowledge and credibility in a specific niche and hold a significant impact on the purchasing decisions and behaviors of their target audience. Through their massive influence, they are regarded as thought leaders and trendsetters within their niche.

Nowadays, KOLs play a crucial role in brand promotion and consumer engagement in marketing campaigns. Unlike traditional advertising mediums, these collaborations aim to gain their audience’s trust through genuine reviews and user-generated content.



KOLs may be categorized as academic professionals, social media influencers, industry experts, celebrities, or content creators with a solid online presence. Brands often collaborate with these digital personalities to increase brand awareness and sales.


What are the different tiers of KOLs?

Your quest to find Key Opinion Leaders (KOL) that align with your marketing strategy isn’t as simple as you think, especially because this market is continuously expanding. Because of this, it’s worth noting that not all influencers will have the same reach or target audience.

The easiest way to find the best Key Opinion Leaders for your campaign’s success is to categorize them based on their follower count:


Mega KOLs

If there’s a hierarchy of trusted and relevant KOLs, Mega Key Opinion Leaders (KOL) sit on top of that pyramid. These influencers have over 10 million followers in specific marketing channels, allowing them to cultivate a higher audience reach than other KOL types.

This category often includes celebrities and influential individuals. So while they can be instrumental in a successful KOL marketing campaign, it’s worth noting that some of these people are more popular than influential.



Mega KOLs often have audiences from mass interest niches, and their relationship with their followers isn’t as intimate as other KOLs in a particular industry. As they’re not necessarily subject matter experts, celebrity marketing will work well if your marketing efforts are focused on generating brand awareness.


Top-tier KOLs

Key Opinion Leaders under this category have a follower count ranging from one to ten million.  They are the most trusted and influential individuals in their perspective fields. And because they are experts in a specific niche, successful brands collaborate with them to generate authenticity and increase sales.



These KOLs have successfully established themselves as trendsetters and have the power to drive significant consumer behavior, including purchases. Since this Key Opinion Leader demographic possesses both massive followings and influence, their price range may not suit the budget of smaller brands.


Mid-tier KOLs

KOLs in the mid-tier category typically have a follower count of 500,000 to 1 million. While their following isn’t as massive as top-tier social channels, they still maintain a large and dedicated fan base. Their target audience is also more specific or granular, which means they can create content suitable for your brand image and generate more sales.



These KOLs often deeply understand their niche audience, allowing them to engage effectively and create meaningful connections. Collaborating with a mid-tier KOL can provide targeted exposure to a relevant customer base.


Micro KOLs

A Micro Key Opinion Leader has a follower count ranging from 100,000 to 500,000. Like mid-tier KOLs, they have a strong and loyal fan base, often concentrated within even more specific categories or niches.

Their smaller but dedicated target audience establishes higher trust and credibility due to their personalized approach. The KOL marketing campaign will yield better results if you find influencers that align with your brand values.


Nano KOLs

Nano KOLs, also known as Key Opinion Consumers (KOCs), typically have a follower count ranging from 20,000 to 50,000. While their follower numbers are relatively small, they can still be highly effective influencers.

It’s easy to identify KOLs under this category because they often specialize in hyper-specific niche categories and are recognized for their expertise and personalized product recommendations.

While they’re not the best key opinion leaders in terms of fanbase size, they do have an engaged audience. These individuals can significantly impact consumer behavior within their specific niche.

Nano KOLs are particularly well-suited for product seeding campaigns, where they can provide authentic and trusted opinions to a targeted audience.


KOLs types in China


Which Platforms Are KOLs Most Active On?

When working with KOLs for your marketing campaign, it’s worth noting that every social media influencer has the same reach on different platforms. So before you set your goals using this approach, you must determine the right channels to find Chinese KOLs.


Here are some examples that’ll help you avoid making KOL marketing mistakes:


1.   Douyin (TikTok)

Besides being a leading short-video social media app in China with over 746 million active monthly users, Douyin has a top-tier KOL penetration rate of 98.1%.

Among the KOLs in the platform, around 37% belong to the top-tier category, while the remaining 63% are divided among mega, mid, micro, and nano KOLs. With this diverse landscape, you won’t have difficulty finding the right influencer for your KOL campaigns.

Since Douyin has a younger and more engaged audience, your brand can expect a favorable campaign performance when targeting a hip and trendy demographic.


increase sales via Douyin


2.   XiaoHongShu (Little Red Book)

If your goal is to increase sales of a particular product, working with KOLs in XiaoHongShu (Little Red Book) is an excellent option. Around 88% of the platform’s demographic are women, so positive endorsement of beauty and wellness products is ingrained in its DNA.

The distribution of KOL tiers on XiaoHongShu is relatively even, but mega KOLs only account for 0.7% of active KOLs on the platform. It’s easy to find the right Key Opinion Leader for your brand in this app because it has a penetration rate of 94%.


Xiaohongshu KOLs collaborations


Like Douyin, most users in the app reside in tier-one cities. They also possess a higher level of education and have disposable income. XiaoHongShu’s algorithm favors in-depth and engaging content, making it a highly effective platform for influencer marketing to generate brand awareness and increase sales.


3.   Weibo

Weibo can be likened to China’s version of Twitter, a microblogging app fostering strong communities. While larger KOLs are less common on the platform, many of Weibo’s KOLs fall within the nano tier. It’s particularly suitable for product seeding campaigns, as its median user demographic consists of millennial, middle-class women residing in tier-one cities.

These users are known for their in-depth discussions about products, so a brand looking to attract Chinese consumers organically can undoubtedly find the right audience on this platform. With a KOL penetration rate of around 80%, Weibo is well-suited for seeding, outreach, and community-building initiatives.




4.   Kuaishou

Kuaishou is a live-streaming platform that boasts the highest saturation of popular KOLs under the top-tier category. Approximately 80% of the platform’s KOLs fall into the mega and top-tier class, making them perfect for a brand seeking broader geographical coverage.

On top of that, the platform enjoys a high KOL penetration rate of 98%. Only 10% of the app’s user base resides in tier-one cities.



5.   WeChat

Since WeChat has over 1 billion users in China, it’s no surprise that it’s one of the apps with the most Key Opinion Leaders in its ecosystem. The only problem is that WeChat’s content is only displayed to individuals’ friends and the accounts they follow.

Because of this, it has a lower penetration rate than other platforms at only 32%. Despite most WeChat Key Opinion Leaders falling into the nano tier, KOL marketing on WeChat remains crucial. This social media channel can effectively expand reach and gather an engaged audience.


KOL penetration rates on social media platforms China


How to find the right KOL for your business?

Working with KOLs isn’t the easiest venture, but brands should first worry about finding ones that’ll fit their marketing goals and budget. Here are some innovative techniques you can employ during the search:


1.    Define your goals

Before searching for a KOL, clearly define your marketing goals. Determine the specific objectives you want to achieve, such as increasing brand awareness, driving sales, or targeting a particular audience segment. A clear understanding of your goals will guide your search for the right KOL.


2.    Understand your target audience

You should also consider your potential audience’s demographics, interests, behaviors, and preferences. Marketers must understand the field they’re trying to enter to find a KOL whose followers align with their target market.


3.    Research popular platforms

Familiarize yourself with popular Chinese social media apps, such as Douyin, XiaoHongShu, Weibo, Kuaishou, and WeChat. Each social media channel has its unique characteristics and user base. Research their demographics, user engagement, and the types of content that perform well on each platform.


4.    Determine KOL categories

Decide which KOL category suits your campaign based on your goals and target audience. Consider factors like follower count, engagement rate, and the level of influence you require. Assess whether top-tier, mid-tier, micro, or nano KOLs best serve your campaign objectives and budget.


5.    Analyze KOL content

Review the content created by potential KOLs. Remember that not all KOLs are relevant to your brand or industry. Analyzing their content will help you assess their suitability for your campaign and determine if their style and tone align with your brand voice.


6.    Evaluate KOL’s authenticity and reputation

To forge long-term relationships with KOLs, you must look for indicators of genuine influence, such as organic engagement, loyal followers, and positive feedback from their audience. Research their past collaborations and partnerships to ensure they have maintained credibility with their followers.


7.    Consider budget and negotiation

Understand that KOL rates vary based on their influence and popularity. Determine your budget for marketing campaigns and negotiate rates that align with your brand goals and financial capabilities. Remember that top-tier KOLs may command higher fees, while micro or nano KOLs can provide cost-effective options.



How Much Does KOL Marketing in China Cost?

Determining the cost of KOL campaigns in China involves considering various factors, including your budget and your brand’s niche. It’s important to note that a KOL’s follower count alone does not guarantee high engagement. Selecting a KOL with a healthy follower-to-engagement rate is advisable to ensure a better return on investment (ROI).

Regarding budgeting for KOL campaigns, a good starting point for monthly expenses would be 200,000 to 300,000 RMB, which would provide coverage in a tier 1 city. The pricing for individual KOL posts can vary significantly depending on the KOL and its category. It’s common to expect per-post prices ranging from 4,000 RMB to over 100,000 RMB.

However, it’s essential to note that pricing can be highly diverse due to the KOL’s level of influence, audience size, engagement rate, and industry relevance.


Why Use KOL in Marketing: Pros & Cons

KOLs have organic reach and fan bases, extending content beyond organic means. Trust in these influential voices enables authentic brand engagement. Chinese consumers value authenticity and rely on KOLs as credible sources. Social media influences 68% of shopping choices, driven by KOLs’ originality and user engagement.

Yet, KOL marketing campaigns can be challenging. Brands must align with credible KOLs and navigate the presence of fake accounts. Assessing a KOL’s true reach can be difficult due to fake followers and comments.


Image by wayhomestudio on Freepik


Monitoring the correct data and KOL activity is crucial before partnering. Over-promotion dilutes a KOL’s influence, undermining the advantage of voicing a trusted brand message to potential buyers.


Most Effective Influencer Marketing Strategies

Influencer marketing has proven an effective strategy for brands to connect with their target audience and drive engagement. Here are three key influencer marketing strategies that have shown great effectiveness:


Sponsored Influencer Activations

Sponsored influencer activations involve collaborating with influencers to create content that promotes a brand or its products. This strategy typically includes sponsored posts, videos, or other forms of content that feature the influencer using or endorsing the brand’s offerings.

By leveraging the influencer’s reach and credibility, brands can effectively generate awareness, increase brand affinity, and drive conversions. According to a report from PJDAREN, 54% of the brands and digital agencies they surveyed chose this KOL campaign as the most effective strategy.


Product Seeding & Gifting

Product seeding and gifting strategies involve providing influencers with free samples or products to try and share their experiences with their audience. This approach aims to generate authentic, organic content showcasing the influencer’s genuine interest.

When influencers genuinely enjoy and endorse the products they receive, it can greatly influence their audience’s perception and generate positive brand associations.


Product Giveaways

Product giveaways are a popular strategy to generate buzz and engagement on social media platforms. Influencers collaborate with brands to host contests or giveaways where their followers can win products or experiences.

This strategy creates excitement, encourages user participation, and helps increase brand exposure. Giveaways often require participants to engage with the influencer’s content or share the brand’s message, resulting in increased visibility and potential new followers for both the influencer and the brand.



How to measure the success of your KOL campaign


Continuously monitor your marketing campaign from planning to post-launch. If possible, look for KOLs with a large network and high engagement to ensure effective reach. Compare sponsored post impressions to non-sponsored ones and assess their lasting effects, such as increased brand followers.



Track engagements as the second step in the marketing pipeline, following impressions. You should also measure likes, comments, shares, forwards, saves, and tags to gauge audience engagement and interaction.



Bottom-line conversions are crucial, so you must measure how many sales your campaign generates. Utilize platform tracking tools within apps like Douyin and XiaoHongShu to track sales within their ecosystems.


Your Trusted KOL Marketing Partner in the Chinese Market!

KOL marketing can significantly boost brand traction and drive product sales in China. Selecting the right KOL, platform, and strategy is vital, particularly for new market businesses. If you’re ready to elevate your KOL marketing strategy, contact us for assistance!


contact us SDG


Whether it’s crafting compelling paid WeChat advertising campaigns, harnessing the power of SEO and social media, or making waves with PR, we have the digital solutions you need. Let the world witness your brand’s remarkable growth in China’s thriving business landscape. The possibilities are endless – let’s make them a reality!


Sekkei Digital Group Services

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