The Chinese Social Media Landscape and the Attack of the KOLs

china kol
23 Apr 2019

KOLs, Key Opinion Leaders. Although now a familiar term, it’s often incorrectly associated with western style influencers. In the Chinese ecosystem though, their role and approach are notably different.

The Chinese ecosystem

Picture this: a rapidly growing economy, an ever-increasing use of internet, and smartphones becoming ubiquitous. This is precisely what has occurred in China in the last 10 years. And the result of this is the world’s biggest digital and social media ecosystem.

Such continuous and parallel growth has enabled China to develop a social media landscape, which for scale, uniqueness, and dynamism, is uncommon in the world. Starting with diffusion, just looking at the numbers gives an idea: more than 800 million internet users spending on average 2 hours per day on social media.

If instead we look at its uniqueness, think of the Great Firewall, a control system designed to filter, according to strict rules imposed by the government, the entrance and subsequent spread of western social media and content, thus allowing the birth of China’s ecosystem with its own characteristics.

Finally, its dynamism: keeping track of the number of new platforms, emerging in the recent years, and which have all reached more than 100mln users, is all but an easy task.Think of WeChat, Dianping, Xiaohongshu, Baidu, Alibaba and Ctrip just to name a few.

Each with an authentic value proposition and each with massive user bases, enough to make most western platforms dream of.

Then there is Douyin, known as TikTok in the west, a platform where users create, view and share short videos. It’s parent company, Beijing ByteDance, has recently shared that the app’s monthly active users now exceed 500mln.

A bigger role

Such widespread use of social media platforms is not just for the sake of it. As a matter of fact, in China they play a much greater role in society, daily life and even more importantly in marketing.

Chinese consumers, a category on its own, live on social media platforms. Social media posts are first and foremost a source of inspiration for lifestyle and shopping.

Journeys are carefully designed to allow hungry-for-more Chinese users to gain more information about products. The use of big data combined with artificial intelligence allows ever more personalized offerings and experiences to fit the tastes of all users.

The biggest revolution though is linked to the ocean of digital marketing opportunities born thanks to the ecosystem. To leverage such platforms to reach their massive basin of users is a boat the most innovative and forward-facing companies can’t miss.

How to do so, and in the right way, which maximizes the return on investment is the trickiest part.


One solution is offered by a wave of innovators which have recognized the power of social media and have decided to use it to their advantage: the KOLs. Their power in the Chinese ecosystem is substantial, while their role and approach much different, compared to western bloggers.

Overall, they exert a great deal of influence over their followers. And as a result, the most courageous Western companies have recognized them as crucial in their marketing strategies.

We are witnessing the Attack of the KOLs. It’s time to make the best of it.