The internet was not created equal. Not in this world.
Cultural aspects aside, we integrate the internet differently, depending on where we come from in the world. And this difference has led to; reinvented social dynamics, advertising thrown overboard, and e-commerce simply exploding!
On the Eastern-end of the world; the internet plays an integral role in peoples’ lives, with over 700 million netizens in China, as an example. Here, the likes of multifunctional social networks have transformed lives, such that a Facebook-like app, WeChat, gives people the ability to…
…pay utility bills, purchase plane tickets, order food, settle bills at any POS, order a taxi, transfer files quickly, oh, and chat with your friends and colleagues…
Did I mention that this can all be done in a single app?
The West has some catching up to do, with estimates suggesting that enthusiasm and adaption of the internet among netizens in the West is now 10-years behind its Asian counterparts. And this has led to major rifts in the influencer economics between the two.
With a higher online penetration in the likes of Asia, KOLs had come into form. As the online world is more dynamic to that of the surface, people are more likely to award online celebrities with a greater degree of credibility.
And this is driven by the youth. Online activity is rife, and those with numbers of followers are cashing in big. And the process is startlingly simple.
A youth will attain a massive number of online friends, who then, by virtue of self-fulfilling prophecy, attract more people due to their already-existing popularity. As this continues to increase beyond the classroom, it expands to the outer fringes of one’s social circle, and beyond the school and city. These youths become online superstars.
Influencer - Wanghong - 网红
The hyper-connected e-commerce influencers of China have a very different mechanism. Here, we can give a definition of influencers (Pronounced in Pinyin: Wanghong - Mandarin Chinese: 网红) as it is referred to in its current form. Over the last 2 years, the word influencer has become a social ‘buzz word’, designating two distinct attributes:
1. THE NET – (Pinyin: Wang – ManDarin Chinese: 网 )
2. PEOPLE, WHOSE PROFILES HAVE BECOME VIRAL – (Pinyin: Hong – Mandarin Chinese: 红 )
These viral personalities, will have to continue to stimulate their online community. Eventually, they gain considerable respect from their followers, and become an ‘elected’ champion of their group.
These new online champions are called Key Opinion Leaders, (KOLs).
They are, in local terms, regarded as ringleaders, activity guiding followers’ opinions on matters social, and most importantly, retail. Followers return in-kind, by providing the feedback to shape the opinions of the KOLs.
It is through this continuous cycle of respect and collaboration, that the KOLs become supreme beings, talking, but also listening.
In the West, influencers’ activities are nonchalant, a quality deemed as necessary to maintain credibility, and subtly introduce sponsored brands. This attitude; whilst a proven model in this part of the world, robs itself of true potential.
The real reason for missed opportunities with the world’s bigger brands, are that influencers are unenthusiastic to closely interacting with their followers. This is a cultural phenomenon, where individualism is a norm, and followership resembles close to that of a social faux-pas.
KOLs in Asia enjoy massive followings, with enthusiastic fans, laying the groundwork for true partnerships. Real, usable feedback is given by followers, actively reinforcing the stature of these KOLs. It is this that makes KOLs true community leaders, granting them significant sway in negotiations with brands.
This (R)evolution is yet to happen in the West.
Influencers are online, yes. And they harness the power of social media, yes.
But influencers are not ‘socially involved’ enough. However, with a greater emphasis on the sharing economy, interactions between leading profiles and their followers are deepening, planting the seeds in an already fertile earth.
But how do you make this happen?
This is to be discussed further, in the next article. Stay tuned.