Attracting sponsorship deals from an impressive lineup of international luxury and beauty brands including Chanel, Dior, Burberry, Gucci, and Hermès, Chinese fashion and shopping blogger Becky Li has reached the upper echelons of China’s massive influencer economy.
Known more commonly as key opinion leaders (KOLs), these bloggers’ posts about what designers they’re wearing and what products they’re using can influence both the taste and shopping habits of millions of upper-middle class fans. They produce on average four times more views and close to eight times more engagement than the brands’ own accounts on WeChat, according to L2’s China: KOLs Insight Report.
Becky Li (黎贝卡) is known in China for an almost supernatural ability to compel more than four million fans across Chinese social channels to buy the products she recommends, earning her the nickname mai shen (买神), or “buying goddess” in Chinese media. For one recent brand collaboration in which she designed a special-edition handbag with New York fashion label Rebecca Minkoff, the entire collection sold out online in two days. A former political and film journalist whose real name is Fang Yimin, she focuses mainly on WeChat for her sponsored posts, which feature not only fashion and cosmetics but also household goods, travel packages, and most recently, a special-edition bright turquoise MINI Cooper.
We met with her in New York to ask her more about China’s top social platforms, strategies for successful brand collaborations, and the major differences between Chinese and Western influencers.
Out of Weibo and WeChat, which platform is best for connecting with fans?
Because I’m based on WeChat and started out on WeChat, I prioritize WeChat. I’m actually not posting as much of my original content on Weibo right now as I am on WeChat; I just opened my Weibo account as an extra.
In my personal view, it is easier to interact with fans on WeChat. WeChat and Weibo are actually two very different ecosystems. Weibo is more of a public platform, while WeChat is a big circle of friends. WeChat followers are more valuable than Weibo followers. They are able to leave comments and I can answer them as much as possible, so they feel like I am their friend.
On Weibo, you can see people’s content even if you don’t follow them. The number of followers is higher, but it is a different form of communication. You can’t respond to all of them. On Weibo, when I post photos of outfits, the followers are constantly asking me, “what is this brand, what is that brand?” They might not be interested in me as an individual, but my WeChat followers are.
How many followers did you have when brands started contacting you to work with them?
It was not long after my first post. It was so strange—I only published one post, and sent it out to six friends, asking them if they thought the content was visually appealing and interesting. They shared it, and suddenly, I received thousands of new followers. As we think back about how this grew so quickly, we realized it’s because my friends all worked in media and shared it to media circles to those with a high level of influence.
Many people said I was starting my WeChat account too late and passed the best time to gain followers quickly. I still think it’s a good time to go on WeChat; even though it’s harder to get fans, brands now pay attention to WeChat.
What do you think sets your content apart from other bloggers and why do you think your content is so influential over such a high number of followers?
It’s hard to answer this question without sounding like I’m bragging! In the era of WeChat in China, many Chinese bloggers use articles to connect with consumers as readers. In my case, my fans like me because I’m a regular girl. I’m not a model; I’m not a professional media figure. People can get in touch with me; I can recommend what I have personally found. It is useful to them because they don’t need to embark on a complicated search.
Another reason is the feeling of personal trust they have. When other bloggers work with brands, they don’t always make it clear that they’re posting an advertisement. I don’t do this because mutual trust is very important. I also post advertisements, but I make it clear which posts are promotional. I feel that if I don’t trust someone, I don’t follow them.
You recently collaborated with Rebecca Minkoff for a special-edition handbag—do you plan to work with more brands on product collaborations in the future?
In addition to Rebecca Minkoff, we also collaborated with the Forbidden City twice last year. For the bags sold with Rebecca Minkoff, we made 1,200, and they sold out in two days. It was pretty successful, so many brands contacted me after that to work with them. But I’m not going to do others because the main reason for the collaboration wasn’t so I could make money; it was so I could see how the items were made by others so I can pursue my own ideas in the future. The process for deciding if I’m going to add my name to an item is not very easy. I have to make sure I can support the design and concept. There’s actually not much freedom to influence the process; this is why I am making my own line.
Of course, in the future, if there is a brand that gives me more free space to participate in the design process, I would hope to participate in this type of collaboration with an appropriate brand.
What have been some of your most successful collaborations with luxury or beauty brands? What do you think made them successful?
My readers have actually been asking why I make so many ads for the same brand. For example, I collaborated with Dior lipstick five or six times in one year. I actually don’t know the sales numbers. This is because after the promotion was finished, the company did not tell me. I went to a promotion for Dior in Los Angeles and the PR told me that my help with the lipstick sales was very good and they were very happy with it, but they couldn’t tell me the exact number.
I also promoted a very expensive cruise trip. The cheapest rate was RMB20,000 (USD2,960). I’m a fashion blogger so I wasn’t initially confident about working with fields other than fashion. Several days after I posted the promotion, 60 beds were booked. Many people were asking whether they would get a discount if they booked through me. I was trying out a new area and was very happy with how it turned out.
Do you think foreign fashion brands are doing well at finding the most influential Chinese KOLs to work with and do you have advice for the brands?
I think this is also hard to answer. I feel all the brands are making average efforts with KOL collaborations. They choose different bloggers based on different desired results. Their requirements are also different. The best way is to let the KOL understand the brand’s culture first. For example, I did a promotion with Guerlain where I did a photo shoot with them in Paris. The theme was Chinese bloggers going to Paris on a business trip and then later going into their store. The Guerlain promotion wasn’t actually about getting consumers to come all the way to Paris to buy things. It was rather about seeing the brand culture through my eyes and perspective, and passing that to Chinese customers.
The best partners for brands are KOLs who actually use the products, and influence more people through their consumption—not just ones that are being used as a traffic tool for sales one time or two. So I think a foundation of collaboration is over the longer term. Brands usually come back to me after previous cooperation. Relatively speaking, a long-term cooperation will make the brand communication more consistent.
What do you think are the major differences between Chinese and Western influencers?
Foreign bloggers are just expected to take pictures. Chinese bloggers have to meet sales targets and are under much more pressure to generate sales. It seems that sales are a very important index to measure the value of China KOL, while it’s not the case for Western KOLs. The foreign bloggers just have to post a photo on Instagram wearing an item. I wonder why there is such a difference, and I think it’s because my fans can really buy.
For example, I once visited the boutique The Way We Wore in LA and posted about it. They noticed many more Chinese customers were coming in and asked why there were so many, and couldn’t believe that my blog had such an influence over its readers.
Can you provide details on your upcoming fashion line? What platforms will you sell through and why?
I am planning to establish my own brand, but it won’t be focused mainly on design. The style will be similar to that of my articles—basic items for everyday life in a girl’s wardrobe that she can wear all the time. The items will be high-quality material and can be purchased through my own platform.
I’m selling through WeChat because that’s where I’m based. I have more Weibo fans than WeChat fans, but I personally think my WeChat readers feel closer to me and there is a greater feeling of trust. WeChat is the most important tool for social interaction; everything is shifting to WeChat. All of life is on WeChat; it’s always at your side. It is the most convenient marketing platform and will create a smooth experience for customers.
I thought about making a WeChat mini-app store, but am planning to build my own platform because I prefer the experience. It will be unveiled in September or October.
This interview was translated from Chinese and condensed. Wenyan Liu contributed to this interview.