Let’s start by unpacking what KOLs and KOCs are all about. KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders) often come with a large fan base and solid credibility on major social media platforms. Their output of knowledge and advice is often considered as professional and credible guidance by consumers, which in turn stimulates their spending. While KOCs (Key Opinion Consumers) might have a smaller fan base and less influence, their opinions can be crucial to buying decisions of potential consumers, as they are viewed as part of the consumer community and come across as authentic.
Now, let’s break down the differences into 4 aspects that brands are most concerned about.
KOLs typically adopt a top-down approach in communication. They promote their lifestyle and share shopping habits, calling on fans to take the same actions. So fundamentally, KOLs leverage their influence to achieve conversion. KOLs are also inherently tied to commercial promotions and many of them post branded or partnership content on their social media accounts. KOCs, on the other hand, communicate in parallel as they themselves are one of the consumers. Therefore, they often display a more approachable identity that empathizes with their audience, spawning spontaneous purchases.
Generally, KOLs are affiliated with influencer agencies who manage their content production. With the help from their agencies, KOLs own a wide range of media touchpoints across almost all mainstream social media in China market - say WeChat, Weibo, TikTok, Xiaohongshu, Zhihu, BiliBili and more. KOLs can also be found in some vertical platforms offering expert advice in a specific field, some examples include AutoHome汽车之家 (car-lover community) and Xbiao腕表之家 (luxury goods community). Unlike KOLs, KOCs are most active on Xiaohongshu and TikTok, as well as some e-commerce platforms such as Taobao's “Guangguang 逛逛” and Taobao Live. They share not as experts but as core consumers.
Collaborating with KOLs and KOCs can lead to very different results. Products promoted by KOLs can reach an awareness peak in a short period of time. Note that KOLs often come in different categories such as “lifestyle KOLs” or“fashion KOLs”. That means KOLs typically have their own fields of expertise and a large following in that area. They monetize off their popularity, specialty, and topicality, in the meantime sticking to the brand tonality faithfully. KOCs, on the other hand, are more likely to have a deeper reach. Although their fan base and influence are comparatively smaller, their ability to spread word-of-mouth can leave a long-lasting brand impression on the consumers.
Content-wise, the content posted by KOLs is of high quality. The agencies behind them pose strict quality control by hiring professional writers and photographers for content production. Their content is mostly tailored to the needs of the brands, so it stays true to the brand DNA and brand experience. But the audience is aware it is essentially a commercial partnership and that it lacks authenticity in comparison to the content of KOCs. Generally, the content created by KOC is more spontaneous and less commercialized. Even though the quality of the content is less controllable, they are perceived as more authentic and convincing by the consumers.
We know, cost control is the eternal pain for all brands that want to do influencer marketing. Surely, KOLs can be a hefty cost. But they are a powerful brand endorsement and attract a very accurate fan base, making them a cost-effective option if you’re targeting at customers in a certain field. Plus, most KOLs have a dedicated team that helps manage their schedules, saving the brands tons of time. KOCs come at a lower unit cost and cover a broader audience, but they’re relatively hard to manage in terms of both content quality and scheduling.
Overall, there are pros and cons to both KOLs and KOCs. KOLs can help strengthen brand image by leveraging their powerful personal influence and high-quality content, while KOCs are an effective approach to large scale product promotion and demand stimulation. Brands need to determine which option to take based on their needs and objections.
At MADJOR, we always keep brand performance and optimal brand experience in mind. We look carefully at each brand's positioning and consumer needs to create the most effective influencer marketing solutions tailored to the brand. Drop us a message to consult one of our influencer marketing & brand experience expert if you’re considering launching a collab with a KOL or KOC!