USC Annenberg School For Communication and Journalism

Discovering the Chinese Influencer Industry

In China, the boom of the influencer economy is now one of the most eye-catching phenomena which has attracted people from all across the business industry to study and get involved. According to market research firm, Emarketer, 68% of consumers in China say opinion leaders on social media influence their shopping choices. The 2017 Digital Commerce Trends Report says 72% of brands indicated their focus on social media marketing, and 63% brands were trying to collaborate with influencers more for the ROI (Return on Investment) of influencer marketing. To further explore the influencer industry, Dr. Ben Lee, an Annenberg professor and the associate director of the Communication Management program, brought his research team to Beijing. Dr. Lee’s team visited several companies including a short video platform Kwai, and an influencer agency named Erka.

Kwai is one of the most popular social media platforms in China. With the slogan “Capture the world, share your story,” Kwai wants to provide its user a way to record their daily life. With 2,000 million average active users per day, Kwai has a large and growing user base, which makes brands think of it as the most valuable new social media platform in China. The interview between Dr. Lee and Kwai’s executive Mike Xu was informative and meaningful. Mike talked about the company’s commercial and marketing strategies. They also introduced interesting cases about how influencers and brands leverage the platform.

Influencer: Car Evaluation from a Bro 

Car Evaluation from a Bro is the Kwai account of an influencer who calls himself Er Bro (Er means the number 2 in Chinese). In the beginning, Er Bro was just an ordinary person who had enthusiastically shared opinions about cars. He loved cars and did research on car functions. Over time, his video gained so many viewers that he decided to organize his followers to buy cars together for discounts. His behavior drew the attention of car dealers, and they started to cooperate with Er Bro to sell cars. Now, Er Bro sells hundreds of vehicles each month. Because Er bro’s advertisements are always accompanied by objective reviews and knowledgeable information about cars, his audiences trust him and are incredibly loyal. Compared to traditional celebrities, influencers like Er Bro are more like friends to audiences. Their comments on productions tend to be more authentic and believable in the audiences’ eyes.

Brand: Sany Heavy Industry

Sany Heavy Industry is a Chinese heavy equipment manufacturing company headquartered in Hunan Province. Founded in 1989, Sany is the sixth-largest heavy equipment manufacturer in the world and the first in its industry in China. Sany also has an account on Kwai, through which they sell excavators and road rollers. By purchasing excavators during Sany’s live promotions, consumers can save up to 1,500 USD on each machine. The live video streaming promotion on Kwai helped Sany sell 32 machines in February.

Unlike social media platforms, the influencer agency Erka is not that well-known to the public. Erka Media is an LA-based MCN (Multi-Channel Network) that delivers the creators’ content directly into the Chinese market. With the business expanding, they set up an office in Beijing. Dr. Lee’s team talked to Erka’s CEO and one account manager during the visit. While surprised by these young creative entrepreneurs and their profound insight into the influencer ecosystem, Dr. Lee’s team learned a great deal about the operations and networks of these influential content creators in China.

 The Unicorn, one of the most popular influencers from Erka

The Unicorn was an international student in the US. He speaks fluent English and has a distinctive voice. However, his appearance is flat. To make everyone remember him, he decided to wear unique headgear when shooting videos. The Unicorn and Erka’s CEO had been friends before they started the business. With the hope of becoming a unicorn company (a startup company valued at over $ 1 billion), they picked the unicorn headgear. Erka provides the unicorn SHOW a business coordinator, a camera operator, and a video editor to help create the shows. This five-people team has attracted 50 thousand subscribers on YouTube and 6.71 million followers on Weibo. As stated in its official website, Erka Media was formed to offer Chinese brands the opportunity to capitalize on the power of American social media, and in turn, give creators in the US the chance to commercialize their brand in China’s ever-growing social media market. Based in both LA and Beijing, Erka has a deep understanding of the industry and has made amazing achievements.