Influencers And Key Opinion Leaders The Biggest Differences

Whether you’re an entrepreneur looking to grow your sales in China or you’re interested in applying Chinese marketing techniques to your UK-based business, the chances are that you have heard of key opinion leaders. Easily confused with influencers, there are some significant differences between the two, with each offering a unique set of benefits. Below, we offer an explanation and guidance on choosing the right one for your next campaign…

What is their background?

Perhaps the easiest way to differentiate between an influencer and a key opinion leader is in their background. Though both partner with businesses to promote products and services in exchange for a freebie or a fee, the former has built their business around doing exactly that, whereas the latter has built up a reputation within their niche for being an expert or “thought leader”. Key opinion leaders typically work within the industry whose products they promote, and so a beauty KOL might run their own makeup academy or write for a beauty magazine, whereas an influencer creates beauty content for their own channel, partnering with brands.

That’s not to say that key opinion leaders don’t have a large presence on social media, or that influencers don’t have experience or knowledge in their sector. However, it’s generally recognised that influencers are famous because of their audience, whereas key opinion leaders have risen to prominence because of their knowledge, expertise, and reputation.

How do they work with brands?

The way in which businesses work with influencers and key opinion leaders can also differ greatly. Think of it in the same way as paid advertising versus organic public relations. Whilst a brand may pay an influencer directly for a post on WeChat promoting their product, they’d instead try to impress a key opinion leader with free products, invitations to launch events and personalised merchandise in hopes that the opinion leader will recognise them and give them a mention on social media or in their next blog post. Weigh up the opportunity costs of both of these models. Though influencers offer a direct route to visibility and sales, an “organic” mention from a key opinion leader can be worth its weight in gold and have a more lasting impact on your brand, so it’s worth investing in both if your marketing budget allows.

An added benefit to working with an influencer is that you can choose who talks about your business, when they talk about it and control the tone of the content being published. When you rely on word of mouth from opinion leaders, there’s no guarantee that it’ll be positive or fall in line with your overall marketing objectives. Good PR is essential before reaching out to KOLs.

Why do people follow them?

One good question to ask before working with an influencer or key opinion leader is why their audience follows them in the first place. It’s easy to see an influencer with 500,000 followers and immediately assume that they’re more influential than someone with 5,000 followers, but that’s not always the case. Are they famous for being famous? The more engaged and active their audience is, and the more closely your brand aligns with their shared values, the more likely your partnership will work. The frequency and quality of influencer campaigns should also be monitored; if your campaign is one of 20 being published by an influencer in a week, does it offer value for money and will it be seen?

Key opinion leaders, on the other hand, build their following around knowledge and trust. It might be that their follower count is smaller, but one post from them recommending your new Scottish whisky brand could be all it takes to be featured by top publications, boosting sales.

Who follows them?

Consider influencers fans of your industry and KOLs experts in your industry. Though you’ll find that influencers have large, broad audiences, their demographics won’t always align to your brand’s. Instead, you might want to consider the benefits of micro-influencers. Such accounts have highly-concentrated audiences in a particular niche, and a plug from them could drive more sales and traffic than one from a much larger, more established influencer.

Use analytics tools to determine engagement rates on posts, find out how many of their followers also follow your competitors’ accounts, and make a list of the most valuable targets from there. For KOLs, on the other hand, you should look at the bigger picture; where could you be mentioned? How would a recommendation from an expert help build your brand?

The truth is that both influencers and key opinion leaders can offer significant value and help to put your business in front of potential buyers. Depending on your timescale, budget, and objectives, you might find that one option works better than the other, but keep an open mind and feel free to experiment as your business grows. If you’re looking for help identifying the right KOLs and influencers for your next marketing campaign, call Zudu on 01382 690080.


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