When Bottega Veneta deleted its Instagram and Weibo accounts back in February 2021, the move made headlines, leading many to question whether it marked a new movement away from social media for luxury brands. Though no other label has followed suit yet, Bottega Veneta has still gotten a total of 2k organic mentions on Weibo over the past year, according to data sourced from social listening platform Digimind. That number is high compared to Marc Jacobs, which currently has 251k followers on Weibo and just 474 organic mentions since February 2021, or Moschino, with 173k followers and just 684 mentions.
That is just a handful of stats that prove official accounts are not vital for luxury brands in China. Jing Collabs & Drops’ first Insight report, The Drop: Understanding Successful Brand Collaborations, found that a significant majority of engagement on cross-branded launches on Chinese social media actually stems from key opinion leaders (KOLs).
How collaborations get marketed on social media during their pre and post-release periods can often be the same as singular-brand products, too. Beauty brands grant first access to Chinese beauty KOLs, allowing them to try out their products for their followers before official launch dates. For instance, Bobbi Brown gifted its collaboration with Monopoly in the Fall of 2021 to KOLs, who produced over 75 percent of its original promotional content on Weibo, as shown in graph one (alongside other examples that show how KOL content is always higher in quantity than branded posts).
Managing director of Archive Editions Karl Cyprien explained that gifting certain VIPs like friends or family is also a way of creating a “halo effect,” spurring the popularity of a product before it even comes out. “We typically open the channel and offer about 500 pieces to friends and family before a release, and that’s mainly just as a courtesy,” he said. “There are a lot of folks in our world who have been very helpful or have an influence.”
Many lesser-known brands rely entirely on KOLs to drive the advertising of their drops on social media in China. Chinese streetwear brand Peacebird collaborated with Toiletpaper magazine in November 2021, and the capsule’s five million reads and 14 organic discussions on Weibo came from influencers posting about it. In the same way, the Staple Pigeon x FUN collection had its hashtag gain almost 10 million reads — all of them thanks to Chinese idol Xu Jiaqi 许佳琪.
Despite its popularity among Chinese consumers, the leading Italian label Fendi banks on KOLs for its China strategy. As part of the promotion for Fendi x Skims in October 2021, the brand’s official Weibo posts only excelled when featuring Chinese idols. Graph two emphasizes how much Fendi depends on influencers for social media campaigns.
Beyond marketing benefits, social media campaigns that feature KOLs with accessible purchase options directly grow sales. For example, in the previously mentioned Esteé Lauder x Shushu/Tong collaboration, each KOL post on Weibo contained a link to the Esteé Lauder Tmall flagship store for purchase.
As fan bases continue to steer social success for brands in China, the strategy should ultimately focus on high-quality KOL campaigns rather than building brand accounts. So when it comes to China, maybe Bottega Veneta has the right idea after all.