Weibo and WeChat KOL Marketing Costs

Launchmetrics Content Team

It's hard to deny that Weibo and WeChat Key Opinion Leader (KOL) marketing is red hot when it comes to Chinese Social Media apps, because for any brand hoping to succeed in China, KOL marketing is simply the best method out there.

A good example is the Chinese unicorn beauty brand Perfect Diary, which was founded in 2017, and yet the brand only took three years to become number one on Tmall’s beauty ranking board. A key reason for its success is its DTC marketing or KOL marketing strategy. In its prospectus, by September 2020, Perfect Diary has worked with over 15,000 KOLs across different Social Media platforms. The DTC channel contributed 86.7% of its revenue in 2020.

KOL marketing is an effective and efficient way for brands to target key audiences, yet many don’t work with KOLs because of the costs, especially on Weibo and WeChat.

Weibo’s statistics, including likes, comments, and reposts, can be faked, and this makes it difficult for brands to monitor KOLs’ performance before working with them. On the other hand, WeChat is essentially a black box with the social data of China’s entire population inside (with 1.2 billion MAU and 400 million DAU). All of that data is included goes in, but very little is useful data for marketers.

This article aims to uncover Weibo and WeChat KOL marketing, revealing their benefits and downsides, and most importantly, their costs. With a more transparent KOL marketing landscape, brands can make better marketing decisions and have clearer expectations when working with KOLs on these two Chinese Social Media apps.

Weibo and WeChat Advertising

Weibo advertising

Weibo has more or less become a platform for fans to follow their idols and KOLs, which means when its users come to the platform, they already expect to see advertisements from accounts that they’ve followed because they understand that advertisements and sponsorships support their idols.

However, Weibo advertising is also every KOL’s frenemy, as it has become extremely expensive to operate a KOL account on Weibo, yet it is most agencies’ go-to when their clients expect big numbers. There are 2 main advertising options:

  • Landing page ads
  • Hot Topic Ranking Board promotion

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Weibo’s landing page ad and its Hot Topic Ranking Board promotion.

Landing page ads show up when users open the app and often last around 3-5 seconds, short but efficient. With 190 million DAU, one landing page ad can reach at least 20 million Weibo users in a single rotation. The ad can either be still or interactive, guiding users to another platform. It is also up to users’ choice to continue watching the ad or skip it.

The other main format for Weibo advertising is the Hot Topic Ranking Board. This is most users’ go-to when they are visiting the Chinese Social Media apps. It is like a news feed, except that most of the topics are celebrity-related. Promotion on it is often displayed between the third and the fourth hot topics, and it has a bright blue Chinese character beside it, notifying users that this is a sponsored topic.

WeChat advertising

With 1.2 billion monthly active users, WeChat is one of the most-visited Chinese Social Media apps. It is such a big stage for brands to present their products and service. The main options for WeChat advertising are:

  • Moments advertising
  • Banner advertising
  • Mini Program advertising

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Moments Advertising, Banner Advertising and Mini Program Advertising

Moments advertising are ads that appear when users are browsing their Moments. Compared with other types of advertising, this format is more interactive because users can either like an ad or comment below it. There is not much arguing that advertising on WeChat Moments is the best form of pure digital advertising. It has a respectable range of targeting perimeters and some vital spread mechanisms. Chinese companies have a minimum ad spend of about 50,000 RMB and companies based abroad can start at around 10,000 RMB to get in the door.

Banner advertising, on the other hand, has poor targeting ability. Those ads are displayed either in the middle or at the bottom of a WeChat article and most of the time, those articles come from KOLs’ accounts. The format is only open to companies that are registered in China with valid Chinese business licences.

The newest format of WeChat advertising is its Mini Program. According to NetEase, the DAU of Mini Programs reached 400 million in 2020. The good news is that the format is not only open to companies registered in mainland China but also to overseas companies. The downside is, advertisers are not allowed to choose which Mini Program their ads will be displayed, instead, it is decided by WeChat based on the target audience set by brands.

WeChat Moment Advertising CPM (cost per 1,000 impressions):

WeChat Moment AdvertisingText & Pictures Ads CPMVideo Ads CPM
Core city150 RMB/CPM180 RMB/CPM
Large city100 RMB/CPM120 RMB/CPM
Others50 RMB/CPM60 RMB/CPM

*Core city = 1st tier city, Large city = 2nd tier city, Others = 3rd, 4th and other smaller cities

WeChat Banner Advertising CPM (cost per 1,000 impressions):

WeChat Banner AdvertisingFixed Rate CPMBidding System CPM
Core city25 RMB/CPM  Min bid 0.5 RMB
Large city20 RMB/CPM
Others15 RMB/CPM

* Note that the pricing for banner ads are only for accounts with 500k followers or less. These accounts have set prices and marketers can use WeChat’s ad-buying system to buy banners that target these specific accounts. If an account is larger than that, it is considered by WeChat to be a KOL account, to buy banner ads on these accounts, marketers must directly contact WeChat and the pricing will be set by the KOL account.  

WeChat Mini Program Advertising CPM (cost per 1,000 impressions):

Advertisers can purchase Mini Program ads through the bidding system
Minimum CPC (Cost per click)0.5 RMB
Minimum cost per day50 RMB

Weibo and WeChat KOL Marketing

Added Benefits of Collaborating with A KOL

  1. KOLs produce original and high-quality content

When you work with a KOL, you are paying for exposure and content creation. That means working with a KOL saves your budget on additional CPM costs since KOLs’ influence will fix this.

There is also another added bonus of KOL marketing through Chinese Social Media apps. Brands are allowed to repurpose KOL content on other channels if the content resonates well with brands’ target customers.

  • Followers are prepared to see sponsored content on KOLs’ accounts

As mentioned, fans see advertisements as a way to feed KOLs. Some followers cheer under a sponsored post saying that they finally see their favorite KOL getting noticed by brands.

Pure advertising, on the other hand, can be disruptive for users. People visit social media to engage with friends, family and KOLs, and those ads affect their user experience. In this way, the impression value of a pure ad is much less than the impression value of a KOL’s post.

  • A brand will never be a person

KOLs grow trust and loyal followings through the personal relationships they develop with their fans. Besides generating content, KOLs regularly spend time connecting with followers, answering questions, chatting with them live, and even inviting fans to attend brands’ events or sending top fans gifts on their birthday.

With the popularity of private traffic, many KOLs also open personal WeChat accounts and staying in the same WeChat groups with their followers, such as Ximen Dasao (原来是西门大嫂) and CKverymuch. They share detailed things on Moments, such as having a drink with friends on Friday night, how nervous they are before live stream, and conversations between them and their teams talking about work. Those clips shape KOLs’ images and make them closer to their followers.

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The Weibo and personal WeChat accounts of KOL Ckverymuch.

It’s unsurprising the quality of engagement with a KOL post is much different than that of an ad. A WeChat Moment ad conveys a brand’s message after all, while users’ engagement with a KOL article on WeChat requires a high level of intentionality ––– the act of accessing the content is itself a four-step process:

#1 Open WeChat

#2 Open the blue subscription folder

#3 Find and then open KOL’s subscription account

#4 Open the desired post

And moving to Weibo, this platform demands an even higher level of engagement from brands if they want to grab followers’ attention. Take the recent ten posts from a KOL account and a brand account on Weibo. This KOL account is @小邓不自律 (Followers: 35,899), which is the sub-account from the KOL mentioned before Ckverymuch. For the brand account the example is @lululemon (Followers: 40,051), as they have similar amount of followers and are therefore more comparable. 

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Statistics retrieved on June 5.

It turns out the average likes of @小邓不自律 in the recent ten posts are 42.7, while @lululemon only has 5 likes. This is the difference between users’ engagement with posts from a KOL and from a brand. To be successful on Weibo and match the influence of KOLs, brands must contribute constantly and provide a high level of fan engagement. But even then, a brand will never be a person.

  • You’re not just paying for a post

When you work with a KOL, you’re not just paying for one post ––– you’re paying for years of blood, sweat and tears, as those Social Media accounts are their passion projects.

Another hidden bonus which is often missed by brands is that KOLs are Social Media marketing experts and know their following very well. If brands want to achieve the best results from a KOL campaign, then treat the KOL like a consultant, instead of telling them what to do. KOLs understand Chinese Social Media apps and their audience personally, and they know what type of content and distribution methods will achieve the best results.

If a campaign is done correctly, it will spark a chain reaction and the product featured in the campaign might become a viral one that people are flocking to. KOLs will end up promoting your brand or product without compensation because they want to be on-trend. This happens frequently on fashion KOLs as they often post “monthly favorites” or unboxing content, and these are chances that products being mentioned again by them.

chinese social media apps

Teacher Xu (Weibo@深夜徐老师) posts her monthly favorites

Downsides of Weibo and WeChat KOL Marketing

  1. Weibo and WeChat’s traffic is being taken away by short video platforms

People’s attention is limited and since short videos have a lower threshold and can be more entertaining, people are abandoning formats with words and images. If you look at what people are doing while on a bus or subway, you will notice that they used to read WeChat articles but now their ears are plugged with earphones and they are watching videos.

  • KOLs’ content becomes similar gradually

This is unavoidable as the majority of KOLs are incubated by Multi Channel Networks (MCNs), and MCNs apply the same coaching mindset for these KOLs. Unless the personal character of a KOL is very outstanding or the KOL has a recognizable face, they won’t be remembered by people easily.

Beauty KOLs for example, their content is either trying out different shades of lipsticks, vlogging their lives with advertisement placement, or directly recommending products. These similar types of content somehow can prevent KOLs from growing a larger fan base and products recommended in a post might not even leave an impression on users.

  • WeChat specific: Users can’t reach KOLs’ content at an easy click

As mentioned, it takes four steps to view a KOL’s content. The process is daunting for followers and is subject to drop-off rates at each stage. This is why most KOL’s WeChat subscription accounts have a 5% to 10% read rate compared to their total follower amount.

  • Weibo specific: KOLs’ posts fail to reach the majority of followers

Only about 10% of a Weibo KOL’s total followers are able to organically see a new post in their Home Feed. The other 90% of followers will need to access the KOL’s account to see a new post, or the KOL will have to pay Weibo for distribution (this is one reason why operating a Weibo KOL account is so expensive).

  • Limitations that prevent us from knowing true CPM

On WeChat, only viewers up to one hundred thousand, the number of likes can be retrieved. All other forms of engagement, including total follower count are not calculable or viewable by anyone but the account holder.

On Weibo, the only fair but not at all accurate way to calculate post reach (without getting the information from KOLs themselves) is to take the number of followers and reduce it by 90% (since the organic reach is only 10%). And brands must also be aware of the existence of zombie accounts or fake accounts. Weibo is plagued with them. They are controlled by hackers selling followers, likes, comments and reposts on Taobao. Because of this, it can be tough to tell if a post has truly gone viral or not.

The Truth of Weibo & WeChat KOL Marketing Costs

If there was a calculator that could help you determine how much you would have to spend on KOLs on Weibo and WeChat, that would make things easier for brands. Recently acquired by Launchmetrics, PARKLU, has designed a KOL Budget Calculator to help brands do the math, and not only Weibo and WeChat, it also covers other eight other Social Media platforms.

Brands can select the KOL type and the amount of KOLs that they want to work with on the calculator, revealing how much you will have to pay for a campaign.

what is weibo

PARKLU Calculator: KOL campaign price

When it comes to specific KOLs, brands can simply put a KOLs’ name in the search column and their information will pop up.  

wechat china

Final Thoughts on Weibo and WeChat KOL Marketing Costs on Chinese Social Media Apps

What a brand receives from working with a KOL is more than simply buying impressions, it is also real attention. Brands pay for relationships and the reputation that KOLs have painstakingly built, as well as the vast amount of knowledge and expertise that KOLs have accumulated while growing their accounts.

The key thing that brands should bear in mind is that they need to fully leverage the influence of KOLs that they work with. This can be done in two main ways. One is to repurpose the content created by a KOL and post it on other Chinese Social Media apps. The second, which can be challenging, is to turn KOLs’ followers into brand customers. In this way, the campaign actually has a long tail effect by converting KOL’s followers that now know the products from the KOL, into loyal brand supporters.

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