Daily Insights

Interview: Chinese KOL Vanessa Wang of Influencer Incubator Ruhnn

By: Wilson Zhao | Aug 30, 2019

Vanessa (Wanchen) Wang is a Chinese beauty and fashion key opinion leader (KOL) on Weibo, Bilibili, Douyin, Kuaishou and RED. She got her start as an influencer on Weibo in 2015, and has worked with brands including Estée Lauder, Lancôme, Clarins and Maybelline. In this year’s Weibo Influencer Festival (basically the Oscars for KOLs), she won the Weibo 2019 Trending Fashion and Beauty Influencer award. Last year, she joined Ruhnn, a top influencer company that raised $125M after listed on the Nasdaq in 2019. The Alibaba-backed firm has built a line of services that grooms an army of KOLs to connect brands with their fans. We asked her about shifts in China’s KOL industry, including which platforms and content formats are rising in popularity and the effect of recent controversies ensnaring foreign brands.

What do you think of the recent incidents involving foreign brands’ websites and t-shirts? How do you think the Chinese consumer will respond to these brands?

In my memory, brand site problems like this occurred more than once before. I believe foreign brands do not pay enough attention to this matter because every time, they apologize after the problems are exposed. In fact, we (Chinese) hold a very strong stand in the matter of national sovereignty. Consumers will remember these kinds of incidents; some might never forgive and blacklist the brands forever; some might forgive the brand but will always remember the incident.

How has the incident affected the KOL industry? Did Ruhnn give out any guidelines in terms of partnerships with luxury brands in the future?

The company did not give out any specific guidelines, but one thing for sure is that in the matter of national sovereignty, we definitely stand by the country’s side. There is no room to compromise. For KOLs in China, we definitely will become much more cautious in picking which foreign brands to work with in the future.

What is your suggestion for foreign brands in terms of their operations in China going forward?

I think foreign brands could conduct more market research in China, mainly to look at what the latest trends are, and what the new generation likes and cares about. It is important to keep track of the trending topics across social media platforms so that brands can leverage them to create content that bridges the gap with Chinese consumers.

Of all the major social media platforms in China, which one is the most popular from your experience?

I use multiple platforms to work and connect with my fans, and I think the most popular are Weibo and Bilibili. In my company (Ruhnn), we use Weibo a lot because of all the platforms, the users’ connection with their followers is the strongest, and it’s also very strong on Kuaishou. When we post on Weibo and Kuaishou, the content will be shown in followers’ feeds once they open the app, which enables them to create a stronger connection with us. But on Douyin, the opening screen is trending videos on the platform instead of the user’s own newsfeed. So most users view random videos that are pushed to them on the platform. As KOLs, we don’t know who will receive the content and the connection with the audience is much weaker. So far, our company is focusing its energy on Weibo, Kuaishou, and Bilibili.

Douyin is catching up, but still much less compared to Weibo. Douyin has a limitation in that you can only post videos, but with Weibo, we have a lot of picture ads every month. RED is also increasing its user base, but again, the most popular are still Bilibili and Weibo. RED has limits; although picture content is pretty well-received, not many people are looking at its videos compared to Weibo, Bilibili, and Douyin.

In terms of emerging platforms like Douyin and RED, what are some of the challenges for influencers?

When entering any new platform, traffic will come slowly, and your own content is still most important. As long as your content resonates well with users, and your followers like your content, no matter which platform you enter, you’ll slowly receive more followers. In my case, when I first started, I didn’t use Douyin and didn’t have followers on Douyin. But later, after the company started to prioritize Douyin and Kuaishou, now we KOLs have also started putting out our own content on Douyin and Kuaishou. So far, I’ve been on Douyin for two or three months and I have about 110,000 followers.

From your experience, what type of content drives the most engagement?

It depends on each KOL’s style. The style of videos I’m best at is vlogging or “shopping share” content like unboxing videos. My followers like to see me buy stuff, so this kind of video has significant commercial potential. It’s because my career path isn’t that focused on professional product reviews. My path is more unorthodox, relaxing and amusing. I like more fun stuff.

As far as progressing in your career as a KOL, do you know what your plans will look like in 3 to 5 years?

In my opinion, with the economic growth, this profession will only be growing, and the KOL industry will become more professionalized. When I first joined Ruhnn, there weren’t that many KOLs in the company, because it started off doing e-commerce. It sold a lot of products on Taobao, but not many through KOLs. But as the market has changed, KOLs are growing, and more brands are looking for KOLs to work with. At first it was mostly fashion and beauty, but now there are furniture stores, offline activities, and even food. For example, I just did an ad for a food brand. In general, the range of industries that KOLs are working with is continuing to expand. For me, in these next two years I want to do the KOL job well and haven’t really considered other stuff besides that. I’ve been thinking about how to reach 5 million followers and setting up more professional goals.