We Three Kings: Understanding China’s Online Influencers

By Doris Li

“How much will it cost to engage a Chinese influencer to promote my products or services?” This is a question I am often asked, and my answer is always the same. It’s a scary amount. 

Like Western online influencers, the cost of engaging Chinese online influencers is dependant on their area of interest and audience size. It generally ranges from $500 to over $10,000 for a single WeChat or Weibo post. Inviting an influencer to take part in a photoshoot or specific curated content or to live stream an event will cost even more with a starting price of around $50,000. 
Before we start talking money, it might be helpful to understand China’s three key categories of online influencers.
Wang Hong
Wang hong (网红) is another new Chinese word that means ‘Internet Celebrity’ that is coined by bringing together 网 (internet) 红 (popular) and refers to Chinese internet personalities who gain viral popularity, usually due to their good looks or sense of humour.
There are different levels of Wang Hong, from real-life celebrities including movie stars, singers and Olympic winners, to someone who is more approachable, such as a Taobao store owner or a live streamer with a pretty face. One thing to be aware of is that Wang Hong are not the same as online influencers. Despite the huge number of followers, not all of Wang Hong have what the Chinese netizen calls ‘the trait to get searched’ (热搜体质); meaning the ability to get onto the daily top search list on China’s social media. So don’t be surprised that an attractive e-commerce store owner may get your brand more attention than a two-time Grand Slam winner.
Differing from traditional online influencers (or bloggers as we once called them) who usually have expertise in certain areas and produce content for specific topics, such as fashion, beauty, F&B or travel, Wang Hong don’t necessarily need to produce specialised content. For the ones known for their looks, well-polished selfies are the main content they need to generate to draw followers; while those that are popular for their humour work on their content. 

Self-media, or zi mei ti (自媒体) in Chinese, is a term popularised in the WeChat era. This group is similar to the traditional bloggers that we are familiar with, except that WeChat is their key channel to generate content. This group of influencers usually has specific knowledge in certain areas and spend time creating quality content.
Self-media operators sometimes can cross over and also become Wang Hong, which often happens among those specialising in fashion, beauty and entertainment industries. It is less likely for those who are good at writing on business and political issues, unless they are extremely good looking or funny.
Marketing account
A marketing account, known as ying xiao hao (营销号), refers to influential WeChat or Weibo accounts who have significant follower base. A marketing account is similar to self-media from the content production perspective,  the key difference being that they are usually managed by a professional team rather than an individual.
The Australia-based Chinese online influencers we usually talk about fall into this category. While marketing accounts in China usually specialise in different industries and areas, the ones in Australia tend to cover more general topics as the Chinese community here is relatively small. However, with the the growing number and spending power of Australian Chinese, we definitely see the potential for more specialised marketing accounts to be established in Australia.
The power of China’s online influencers is phenomenal. Brands are fascinated by the stories of those who have achieved enormous sales in China through influencer engagement. But meanwhile, everyone is worried about the amount of money they need to spend to build their brands and get a return. My suggestion is simple – start with a lower level influencer or use ones at your doorstep, right here in Australia. 


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