KOL and Influencer culture… for what?

I’m sure we’ve all seen the ads on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube or Tiktok promoting a product. Even here in China, I have seen many women selling various products through their WeChat moments.

Apparently, I have sufficient following on Instagram to be considered an influencer of some sort. I’ve been offered various ambassadorial roles as a women’s fashion model (probably once every couple of months). More recently, I was asked to go to a car show in exchange for actual money.

I’ve ignored all the fashion opportunities, and I’m going to reject the car show offer. I also joked recently with a friend back in Australia who was offered the chance to be a hand model—we had a good laugh about that.

The Chinese perspective

However, earlier this month, Prada took over a tiny supermarket in the suburbs of Shanghai that attracted a bunch of 网红 – the Chinese term for key opinion leaders.

As expected, a cavalcade of established and aspiring influencers — the engines of the wanghong economy — flocked to the scene, turning my routine grocery run into a protracted obstacle relay.

Chang Che, above article

It raises the quite reasonable question – are influencers and key opinion leaders actually worth the investment? Chang Che makes this critical point when looking at China:

In the U.S., the army of influencers on YouTube and TikTok still seems primarily divorced from the mainstream, offline economy. By contrast, China’s wanghong — on platforms like Douyin (which spawned TikTok), Little Red Book, and WeChat — are so intertwined with the physical marketplace that it’s hard to tell where one begins and the other ends.

New businesses now rely on influencers to drive traffic to their stores; other influencers rely on those same stores to drive traffic to their accounts; influencers who have amassed enough followers then get tapped by new businesses — and the cycle repeats. This endless feedback loop between the physical and digital worlds constitutes the nuts and bolts of the wanghong economy. Its operating force, what propels it into motion, is that same quirk of psychology responsible for speculative bubbles, what the 19th-century historian of finance Charles MacKay called “the madness of crowds.” It’s hard to overstate the power behind this mechanism: If China’s internet, concerning politics, evolved to manage the flow of ideas, its consumer internet has grown to direct the flow of bodies.

The western perspective

The question then arises – what really is the role of the influencer. How much influence do these people really have on our purchases?

PwC estimated in a 2019 report that spending on influencers could reach $240 million in Australia that year. People increasingly feel a career can be made as an influencer, with marketers seeking out micro- and nano-influencers for targeted work.

Sometimes, when I look at a post on Instagram and tap it, I’ll see some brands pop up on the image. It’s an attempt to notify the brands that you are using their products. Does it actually work? I’ve never been convinced of that… maybe because they’ve never given me anything for free for doing precisely that.

These smaller influencers are thought to cut through to their viewers better. Colorado is using micro- and nano-influencers to target specific groups to increase the vaccination rate across the state.

Colorado’s #PowertheComeback target audience is especially tailored to Latino, Black, Native American, Asian and other communities of color that historically have been underserved when it comes to health care and are the focus of agencies trying to raise vaccination rates.

James Anderson, ABC News

Such a targeted approach to health measures makes sense. When the intended audience has a specific community, it is much easier to market clear messages. This means that companies need to make sure that they understand their target market and the right influencer when selling products.

One of the most significant issues for influencers is getting paid by the brand or agency. FYPM is one such website seeking to be the Glassdoor for influencers, letting them know who does pay, offers free products, pays on time, and other issues. It takes positive and negative reviews from its verified accounts, providing a unique insight into the industry.

Further to this, brands need to be aware of how each social media platform works. Having every influencer repeat the same bland corporate message en-masse will be caught by viewers and derided instead of sponsored content.

What is my view of influencers?

I don’t tend to follow a lot of influencers in my social media timelines. On the other hand, I follow a lot of creators, which I view as a different group.

The whole culture of influencers and KOLs feels like a bad outcome of hustle culture. Hustle culture is something that I have come to dislike, particularly in Shenzhen and China. I have friends that work 3 or 4 jobs and are always working. The immense pressure on people is taking over the world, and I worry that people don’t have the chance to relax.

Now, if they enjoy it – more power to them.

However, if it is not working for them (and I think it may not be worthwhile for the vast majority), they need to rethink their approach.

Take care of yourselves.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.


4 thoughts on “KOL and Influencer culture… for what?

  1. Creators = influencers

    The attempt the separate yourself from people through ambiguous definitions gives off serious grandpa energy.


    1. I can go with that – sometimes I totally feel the grandpa vibe.
      In all seriousness, that’s a reasonable call. While I didn’t think of it at the time, you’ve raised a very interesting point.
      Also… get off my lawn!! Wait… I’m in China, I don’t have a lawn.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.