Keith Weed may be right, but KOLs are still paramount in China

Players in the Chinese influencer-marketing scene put forth their arguments on why Keith Weed's reservations are not likely to sway brands. And how blockchain may help.

Chinese KOL Becky Li: The face that launched 100 Mini Coopers in five minutes during a WeChat campaign last year.
Chinese KOL Becky Li: The face that launched 100 Mini Coopers in five minutes during a WeChat campaign last year.

Unilever chief marketing officer Keith Weed's strong statement against influencers with fake followers, made during the recent Cannes Lions festival, is less likely to resonate in this part of the world, where KOL marketing is going from strength to strength.

This is not to say Weed was spewing hot air. Miranda Tan, CEO and founder of Robin8, doesn't deny that the struggle against fake followers is real. In fact, it is even more so in China, where ad fraud is most prevalent. But like anyone else who is knee-deep in China’s sizeable influencer-marketing scene, she buys into the mantra that “KOL is the only way in China”. 

“Brands don’t even care that they are targeting the wrong people, they just need to know that these are real people, not bots,” she told Campaign Asia-Pacific.

This certainly goes against the grain of influencer marketing, since its very intention is for brands to reach the right audience. Yet Tan stopped short of calling the followers ‘fake’, saying it is a matter of lower engagement on the influencer’s account. “Lower engagement means people are not active, and you axe them out,” Tan said.

Miranda Tan

Brands are lately more inclined to mix up their budgets and spend more on mid-tier and microinfluencers, she added. It’s a solution that may compromise on reach but will potentially lead to higher engagement in return.

“KOL spending is going up every year," she said. "A lot of people are pulling money from social into KOL. When people say 'KOL', they think social, and then when they say 'microinfluencers', it’s kind of like media buying."

Getting the right mix of mega- and microinfluencers is also a worthwhile activity for brands because, as Brian Buchwald, CEO of consumer intelligence firm Bomoda, points out, some influencers have been overexposed. “The KOL must bring the right audience demographically and behaviorally," he said. "The same influencer will likely not provide value for a brand looking to reach millennial moms to buy diapers and a brand looking to sell performance oil lubricant for a car to truckers. This sounds obvious. But different brands will use the same KOLs for these opportunities.”

Robin8, along with other technology proprietors such as Parklu, believes that algorithms can help to filter out influencers with fake followers. Robin8 has recently launched a blockchain-based profile-management system to address the issue, for example. Tan explained that the system aims to make influencers more accountable for their accounts and followers.

“We want the influencers to invite their fans to register on the blockchain," she said. "The influencers are pretty savvy. A lot of them are getting their own tokens to reward their followers. It’s a way for them to build their loyalty and get real fans. If you think about the credit score, we know these are their real fans, it’s hard to fake it. Basically it’s one central database in many copies.” Tan added that Robin8 is planning to pay infuencers with tokens as well.

Few brands and agencies put much thought into how blockchain can prevent fraud, Tan said. But a basic understanding would give them some confidence in this approach.

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