As luxury brands search for new and cost-efficient ways to connect with Chinese luxury consumers, Instagram influencers remain largely untapped as stakeholders for brand building. To be sure, working with Instagram influencers presents some apparent hurdles, from a lack of awareness among Chinese luxury consumers, to geopolitics that can be tricky to navigate, to the on-going ban on Instagram in China.
For all these hurdles, however, we know that millions of Chinese-speakers continue to follow the latest snaps of their favorite Chinese celebrities and influencers on the platform. For many who live abroad or have returned from education abroad since 2012, Instagram has opened up a window to a global world of fashion influencers and trendsetters that do not have accounts on Chinese social media. What’s more, numbers by social analytics firm Napoleoncat point to 2.6 to 3.7 million mainland China-based Instagram users in any given month.
This begs the question: when it comes to marketing to Chinese luxury consumers, could Instagram influencers give Weibo KOLs a run for their money?
Instagram Influencers are Visible on Chinese Social Media
Together with analytics firm Influenpedia, an ROI-driven influencer platform, we analyzed Weibo conversations over a period of three months of ten fashion influencers with Instagram followings over 200,000, but no official presence on any Chinese social media. While mentions ranged from 1 to 30 per week, the audience engaging in discussions was highly targeted, with 80 percent of Weibo posts made by women under the age of 30. This is an audience actively following international fashion influencers, and therefore likely to have an opinion of luxury brands based on their collaborations around the world. More significantly, in many cases, the mentions come from top-tier media accounts and Chinese KOLs, who regularly feature the influencers across their social platforms.
Two such popular Instagram icons are U.S. reality-star turned fashion icon Olivia Palermo — six million followers on Instagram — who has her latest fashion snaps featured daily on Olivia PalmeroDaily, a fan-made account on Weibo, with 125k followers. Ever-present in media articles and social posts Weibo and WeChat, over the past three months her style has been featured in Elle China, Harper’s Bazaar, and referenced by top fashion KOLs Mr. Bags and Shiliupo. And then there’s Chiara Ferragni, the Italian fashion businesswoman and Instagram royalty, with over 16.3 million followers, who has herself been the object of 140M+views and 47K+ discussions on Weibo under the hashtag #Chiara Ferragni#.
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The Opportunity for Luxury Brands
Without actively engaging on Chinese platforms, top fashion Instagram influencers already have an always-on visibility that has largely fallen under the radar of luxury brands in China. This does not mean that luxury brands should start featuring Instagram influencers in all their China campaigns, and, as with Chinese KOLs, any collaboration has to be authentic and culturally sensitive. The content has to be relevant to the brand, the influencer, and the target audience.
These influencers are highly experienced with luxury brands, yet unknown to a vast portion of Chinese luxury consumers waiting to expand their fashion — and social — horizon. When it comes to introducing the influencers to Chinese netizens, brands have an opportunity to become part of the global window on the fashion world and grow their own social media loyalty in China.
Through Chinese media, KOLs and fan clubs, Instagram influencers represent a channel to a niche, globally minded Chinese audience that is tuned-in the latest happenings outside of China’s fashion ecosystem. Equally, marketing teams in China may find in Instagram influencers both a source of quality content, as well as an opportunity to shake-up the current social marketing environment with new but credible stakeholders.
Gregory Cole and Chen Liang are Co-Founders and Directors of strategic communications consultancy CDGL. Based across London and Hong Kong, the team consults for global and Chinese luxury brands looking to engage Chinese consumers around the world.