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foreign KOL in China podcast

Podcast transcript #24: Confessions of a foreign KOL in China

Find here the China paradigm episode 24. Learn more about Lauren Hallanan’s story in China and find all the details and additional links below.

Full transcript below:

Matthieu David: Hello, everyone. This is Matthieu David, the founder of Daxue Consulting, and this China business podcast, China Paradigm. Today, I am with Lauren Hallanan, VP of Livestreaming at The Meet Group. But you also contribute to a lot of media. That’s something I would like to know more. And which is actually linked to what you want to introduce yourself, which is a market influencer in China as a foreigner, which is pretty rare. And I would like to learn much more about it. A bit of context before we start and why we have this interview.

We try to understand what’s the new China paradigm you’re impacting in terms of for each business. For small, medium, or big business. We believe there is a China paradigm. In terms of population or the economy, social perspective, ethnographic perspective, and Internet perspective, e-commerce perspective, live-streaming perspective, influencer perspective. And you are very special because I don’t know many influencers in China who are foreigners.

When we looked into your story, and I want to go back, you have participated in a show that everyone who has lived in China knows. I mean, at least for a time… for a long… for some time, I think it was Hunan TV which was doing that. But maybe I’m wrong about this.

Lauren Hallanan: It is Jiangsu. I have also been on Hunan TV shows as well, though.

Matthieu David: You had to tell. The name of the name of the show… I want to read to make sure I pronounce it well. Between ‘12 to ‘13, maybe a bit earlier, it was very hard. I don’t know how it is now. The idea was at that time of the show; you will be able to correct me later on, was to invite, I guess, single people who were looking for a relationship. And it was like a reality TV. So it was a program. The program was following you in your daily life. And then it was organizing matches with men and women. And you’re not the only person I know who participated in. People who were on the show got famous immediately after the show.

So I would like to understand better at the start. But first of all, thank you very much, Lauren, for being here. You’re in the US. It’s at 8 pm in the US. It’s 8 am in China. Thank you very much for staying late. Was my introduction correct?

Lauren Hallanan: Oh yeah. Your introduction. Yeah. Yeah, that’s great.

Matthieu David: Okay. Good. So how do you start being an influencer in China?

Lauren Hallanan: It actually came about because of the TV show. Honestly, you know, back… it’s kind of funny because I think it’s… like looking back now, it was something that I was always interested in, but I just didn’t know it because you think about back when I was in college, and when I first came to China, Chinese social media and influencers weren’t really something that was being talked about or existed. And it was funny because I was studying Chinese and I remember they would always make us study ancient Chinese history and Confucius and all of this. And I was like I’m interested in modern Chinese, like culture, the internet, like what’s slang, and what young people are talking about. I was interested in all of this, and at the time, that wasn’t really like a thing. Do you know what I mean? Weibo wasn’t around until like 2009. Right?

So Weibo wasn’t a big thing back then. So it’s something that I was always interested in, but I didn’t really realize that what I was interested in was Chinese social media and influencers. And then, on a whim, I went on that TV show. And once I was on the show, because like you said, back in 2012, 2013, it was one of the biggest, most watched shows in China. And everyone on the show, like all the other contestants and everyone, told me that like, you need to open a Weibo account. You need to open a Weibo account. Be able to control your personal brand. Be putting messaging out there because once people recognize you from the show, they’re going to go search for you on there.

And if you don’t create an account, then somebody else is going to and pretend to be you. You need that control. So I did. I did it, and it just opened my mind to just the whole world or the Chinese social media. And it was a fun introduction because, obviously, I got some followers right away. Unlike a normal person who opens an account, it might take a little longer to get traction. So it was fun because I was able to post something and get a lot of likes and comments. It’s always encouraging, right? So it’s really from there. Then I just started to become interested in all sorts of Chinese social media platforms. And I also kind of transitioned my career into marketing and public relations. And it just kind of all snowballed from there.

Matthieu David: I see. I see. You were already studying Chinese at the time, right?

Lauren Hallanan: Yeah.

Matthieu David: Okay. So you could participate easily on the show and so on. I see. So about what you do now, we understand it started from an interest initially in Modern China, Chinese social media, what’s always been Internet, and this show. What’s your current business? Influencer marketing in China is pretty new as a business. 10 years ago, five years ago, the young graduates, teenagers, were thinking about being Mark Zuckerberg, creating an app, or creating a website. And now we see more and more teenagers and young graduates thinking of being an influencer. And by the way, I would like to have your opinion on the word influencer. Is it a good word to be a reporter or an informer? So what’s your current situation? Could you explain to us? Do you have a business model? How is your business linked to influencer marketing in China?

Lauren Hallanan: The answer is multifold. So right now, as you mentioned, I’m the VP of Livestreaming at The Meet Group. And what’s interesting is The Meet Group is a US company which owns several social media platforms in the US. And they have added in live-streaming, and they have modeled their social media platforms after the Chinese live-streaming platforms. So my role at this company is because later on in my story, in late 2015, early 2016, I became heavily involved in… back then, the live-streaming industry in China just exploded from 0 to 100. I was part of that trend, and I was a livestreamer in China. And so I have a lot of expertise in that area. And so here is this US company that is trying to do the same thing. They’re actually doing very well in the US and Europe and some other markets. Pretty much, they’re learning from China and learning from the Chinese live-streaming model. So with them, I’m taking my experience with Chinese social media and as a livestreamer in China and helping them translate that and follow the industry and helping them to mold their current product.

But then, at the same time, I also have my own side business, which is that I consult with a lot of international brands about influencer marketing in China. I also, as you mentioned, I write a lot for various publications. I published a book. I have a podcast. So I do a lot of speaking engagements. So I’m doing a lot of education for Western audiences about the Chinese social media and influencer marketing industry. And then at the same time, I am still maintaining my followings on Chinese social media platforms. I’ve slowed down on it a bit over the past year or so because there’s just been so much going on, but I’m still definitely active in that although it’s not as big of a focus anymore. So that’s kind of the various ways that everything I’m doing right now is somehow connected to influencer marketing in China in some way.

Matthieu David: I see.

Lauren Hallanan: And then, as for your…

Matthieu David: I…

Lauren Hallanan: Oh, sorry. Yeah.

Matthieu David: Yeah, I would like to go back to The Meet Group.

Lauren Hallanan: Okay.

Matthieu David: And then we move on more specifically on China. This is interesting because this is one example of Chinese innovation taken back by the West. 

Lauren Hallanan: Okay.

Matthieu David: We’re talking a lot about innovation in China like Wechat, payment with QR code, etc. But so far, I don’t feel Chinese innovation has been implemented in the West. But here, what you are saying is that specifically the inspiration, a lot of inspiration or business model and how to monetize, how to engage was coming from China. Could you explain more about what The Meet Group from China? What was from China, which was useful to tech?

Lauren Hallanan: So actually, I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the Chinese social networking and dating platform called Momo. It’s a huge platform and very well-known in China. Back when live-streaming became popular, they added in live-streaming into their dating and social networking platform. Momo is a platform where if you’re looking to meet strangers and network with people, you can do that on there. And now, they’ve actually become a leader in China’s live-streaming industry because they’re able to combine this social network and all of their other dating features with live-streaming.

And so, I mean there’s a lot of different live-streaming platforms in China that The Meet Group looks at. But Momo was really the inspiration because The Meet Group owns several apps that were similar to what Momo used to be. They are social networking dating apps. 

And so, they were observing other players in the space and saw that Momo had added live-streaming and it was going incredibly well for them. And they said, “Hmm, would this work in the US?” And sure enough, as I said, it has. So, we particularly keep an eye on what Momo is doing, and then as well as other Chinese live-streaming platforms.

But it’s a lot of…. whether it’s the live-streaming technology, there are a lot of different features that we’re looking at saying, “Hmm, would that work within a Western audience?” It’s not really copying. It’s similar to what China did with a lot of western platforms. It’s looking at it and going, “Hmm, what can we take from this?” or “What inspiration can we get from this and how can we kind of do this in our own way that would better fit our audience.” But yeah… so I’d say, Momo, Wai Wai and all the big Chinese live-streaming platforms,  we are constantly observing them and seeing what people are doing. The virtual gifting model, The Meet Group, has adopted that with their platforms as well. So yeah, it’s really everything. 

Matthieu David: I think for the people who are listening to us, what may be a bit surprising is how a dating app would use live-streaming because usually, dating is like a one to one conversation. And here, live-streaming is more of one to many people. Does it mean that actually there is on this app, Momo, a live-stream where many people will look at you at the same time and not engaging in a more personal and confidential conversation? 

Lauren HallananRight. So with Momo as well as The Meet Group’s platforms and the reason that they’re also very similar is that, when you look at the dating app industry, there’s kind of a range. There are serious apps where you’re really looking to meet like the love of your life, and you’re very specific. Then there is kind of the Tinder or, in China, there’s TanTan where it’s like casual. And again, it’s also like you’re looking at a picture. You’re swiping left and right. You, maybe, want to go on a date with that person. And then, there’s like The Meet Group and Momo, which is what we call social networking/dating. And the analogy that we like to use is it’s like going to a bar. 

So you might go to a bar. It’s not with your friends. You may go to a bar to try and meet a girl or a guy. You may go to a bar on a date. Right? There are lots of different… it’s a more casual… maybe, you’re looking for a friend. Maybe you’re just looking to join the chat group because you’re lonely. So live-streaming actually fits in really well with that because it’s been found that on these dating apps, a lot of men get left very lonely. Right? There’s often a lot more men on these apps than women. And a lot of the men are constantly waiting for women to respond to them. Right? And during that time, they feel very lonely. So live-streaming is another option that while they’re waiting for someone to respond to their chat message on this dating app, they can go into live-streaming and they can be with a community of people and be chatting with them and feel not so lonely. Right? They’ve got people to chat with. So even though, it’s a one to many situations, they do get to have a community of people to be around. 

Matthieu David: We are talking about Momo. We are talking about Wai Wai. We are talking about TanTan, and how the imbalance between men and women led to using live-streaming in order to get better engagement, I believe especially for men who were too many compared to women. So does it mean that the live-streaming is mainly for women? 

Lauren: You will find that the majority of live-streamers are women, but there’s definitely a lot of very successful men as well because especially if they’re comedians because dudes like to hang out with other dudes as well. So there’s a lot of very successful men, but I think just the ratio is probably… a lot of these platforms, maybe 70% women live-streamers and maybe 30% male. So it’s definitely unbalanced, but there are successful men. Yeah. 

Matthieu David: Okay. Which one was created by P1? I know one of the dating apps was created by P1. It’s a very elite social network in China. Do you know that?

Lauren: Yeah. That’s TanTan. 

Matthieu David: TanTan? 

Lauren: Yeah. 

Matthieu David: TanTan. Okay.

Lauren: And they were bought by Momo a year or two ago. 

Matthieu David: Oh, very simply. I didn’t hear that. Okay. Going back to the main topic, which is influencer marketing in China, when I think about being a marketing influencer, are you happy with this name or you see being an influencer more as an informer, more as a reporter, because I believe if people are following someone who’s an influencer, it’s to get accurate, very true information and not to be influenced? I don’t like to be influenced. What do you think about the wording? I’m very interested to know about the wording. What do you feel about it? 

Lauren: Well, I think particularly when it comes to China, I think that… because in China, they have their own vocabulary for this idea, right? And so, not talking about the US market because that’s a whole other can of worms. But I think, when it comes to China, unfortunately, there is a lot of misperceptions because, in China, I think the most commonly used word is Wanghong, right? Really, to me, to somebody that studies the industry and to most marketing professionals who are working with Chinese influencers on brand campaigns and things like that, you don’t want to work with a Wanghong. A Wanghong is an internet celebrity, right? So to somebody in the industry, we understand that the difference… but a lot of just everyday Chinese people will use this term, Wanghong. But to an influencer, they’re like, “No, that’s not what I am.”  It’s a different connotation. 

An Internet celebrity is somebody who just kind of became famous overnight, and they really don’t have any area of expertise. They are probably just known for funny videos or good looks, or it’s more personality based. And then in China, instead of using the word influencer, I’m sure as you know, among the marketing professionals and brands, everyone uses the word KOL. Right? Key opinion leader. And I like that. I even like that better than an influencer. Right? Because then, you’re tweaking that word influence out of the equation. Right? Really, I think it’s a great title there.

A key opinion leader is somebody who has opinions that other people value. Right? So they’re seen as a leader in this space. And so, when you’re talking to brands, you’re also saying you want to look for a KOL and not for a Wanghong. Right? Because the key opinion leader is somebody, who’s actually able to influence people because they have an opinion or an area of expertise. So I like that term a lot. And then, in China, there are also a lot of times we’ll use just like the term blogger or a live-streamer or things like that, which is appropriate as well. But unfortunately, the word Wanghong gets used quite a lot. And I personally don’t like that term too much. 

I think the word we shall use within the marketing world and the word that should be with the audience, which may be a different word, is Key Opinion Leader. 

Lauren: I’ve also found that this was actually an issue last year. I think it was last year. There was a report done by Tencent. And it was surveying, I forgot exactly which age group, but I think it was like the post-nineties or post-95, young Chinese consumers. And they were surveying them about whether or not they follow Wanghong or whether they’re influenced by Wanghong. And they used this word Wangong. And so, of course, a ton of people responded saying, “No, I’m not.” Right? So then when everything got translated into English, there were tons of people going around saying, “Oh look, this Tencent survey said that young Chinese people aren’t influenced by these key opinion leaders. Like they don’t listen to them”. If you look at the terminology being used, it’s clear that that’s not what the results are saying.

Right? Because I don’t believe in Wanghong. I don’t believe what Internet celebrities are going to tell me. I’m looking for an expert. So, I think unfortunately that causes problems sometimes with some of the reports that we get as well because consumers don’t really understand all of the terminologies as well. So it’s kind of… yeah. 

Matthieu David: Interesting. Very interesting. So you talked about expertise. As a foreign KOL in China, what expertise have you been able to develop, and where do you position yourself? I believe that could be a source of inspiration for other brands in the world to leverage KOL within their own country. But how do you position yourself to bring value and a difference within the KOL environment, I mean as a foreign KOL in China?

Lauren: Yeah. So I mean a lot of times, it’s again talking about things that you’re familiar with. Right? And so for me, a lot of times, that’s talking about travel in the United States or places that I’ve traveled to. Of course, there are the very soft things like culture or the English language. And then when it comes to products, I tend to talk about a lot of products that I use in my daily life. And often, those products are products that might be American products or European products. And so, I think that in that sense, I have credibility because a lot of Chinese consumers are looking to find out… “Hey, this foreign brand is coming to China, and this is how they’re positioning themselves in China.

But how do people abroad in the whole market view of that brand?” Right? Because a brand could easily come along and say we’re the best, blah, blah, blah brand and the average Chinese consumer doesn’t know unless they turn to someone from that home country and say, “Is this really as good as they say it is?” So that’s something as well. I’ll try and focus on some brands that might be US brands, for example, and say whether or not it actually is a good product. 

Lauren: It’s this kind of my….  the newest platform that I’m interested in. And I’m hoping to be putting out more content on there because it’s such a cool platform right now. But I mean even when I was… before, I was focused a lot on live-streaming. And it would even be the same thing. I often went out and live-streamed places around the US or showed something that I was cooking or showed what I had recently bought and things like that. So I think no matter what the medium, you can still kind of be talking about similar things. 

foreign KOL in China

Matthieu David: When you are doing live-streaming in China, available after work so people could find you on Youku and so on or it’s purely live-streaming 

Lauren: I like streaming on a couple of different platforms, and most of the platforms would allow you to save the video afterward on the platform. 

Matthieu David: Okay. 

Lauren: Unfortunately, most of the platforms… I don’t know of any platforms that allow you to like export that video. So it was kind of stuck on the platform unless you had somebody else who had another camera that was recording video at the same time. It was difficult to kind of get that video afterward, but people could still go back and look at it.

For example, if you’re using Yizhibo, which is Weibo’s live-streaming platform, then the live-stream would show up on your Weibo page. So it was just like having a video on Weibo. People could scroll through your page and watch the replay. So you would find a lot of people would do that. The numbers would definitely go up within the first maybe 24, 48 hours after you did a live-stream. Yeah.

Matthieu David: Okay. Okay. So people would see it again one day or two days afterward? 

Lauren: Yeah. Yeah, the numbers would definitely go up because people miss it and would come back. They might not sit there and watch the whole thing, but you can kind of fast-forward through it and kind of check out what’s going on. 

Matthieu David: I see. Did you move away from live-streaming because you saw less momentum or because you saw that it is speeding up and you wanted to focus on this? Maybe because it’s more based on products. What happened that you transitioned? 

Lauren: I mean the biggest thing was that live-streaming takes a lot of time. And I mean, being on any platform takes a lot of time. But particularly with live-streaming, you have to be doing it several hours a day. Whereas if you’re creating posts for another platform, you’re kind of doing that behind the scenes. It’s less kind of taxing, I think, on your energy because you’re not interacting with that many people. So live-streaming in China is just really high energy.

And I personally just found after a while that it was just too much for me to keep up with. I mean I was doing it for over a year on like a daily basis, and it just got to just a little too much for me personally. So I wanted to transition to something where I could write articles and put it out there and not need to be always on. But honestly, I definitely think that Taobao live-streaming is something that I wish had been around earlier because that’s definitely something that I’m really interested in. I watch a lot of that now, and I think Taobao e-commerce live-streaming is super powerful, but I haven’t had a chance to use that. But it’s definitely something that if I was ever to get back into live-streaming, I think that’s what I would be interested in.

Matthieu David: Another question about foreign KOL in China, which is already in my mind is, how do you build trust and authenticity when you have clients because your clients are paying you to promote products? And in some way, there is a bias. It’s about money and not about quality. I saw some business model where the brand is sending the product and maybe paying for the [inaudible 28:51], but you can say anything you want. You’re not able to like it or promote it. And that’s the business model. What’s your current business model? How do you work with brands, and what’s your thinking about how it works? Is it going to continue this way or there is too much bias, and certainly there is a model which is going to be disruptive?

Lauren: Well, I can actually speak because I have my podcast. And with my podcast, I interview a lot of Chinese influencers. So I’ve talked to a lot of them about this topic as well. So it’s not only from my experience from just talking to them. I’m relatively small, so I’ll actually speak to some very large prominent Chinese influencers. They are very stringent when it comes to selecting which friends they’ll work with. So you really can tell a good influencer from someone who’s just kind of wanting to get all the money and fame that they can. You could really separate them out by how quickly and how easily they decide to work with a brand. 

I interviewed Hailey who’s part of a WeChat account, Sugar and Spice. And during her interview, she said, “We are notoriously selective.” That’s what she said—the word she used. “So we’re notoriously selective when it comes to selecting which brands to work with.” So they’ve even gotten a reputation for how often they turn away brands and products that they don’t think are something that would be good for their brand. So I think in general, good influencers will really give a lot of thought to whether ‘is this a product that I would use? Is this a product that I’m currently using? Does this brand fit with my brand? Is it something that’s going to appeal to my audience? They put a lot of thought into it. 

And also, most Chinese influencers that I know, if they’re going to work with a brand, they’ll require that the brand send them the product. A lot of them is like maybe a month ahead of time or at least a couple of weeks ahead of time. It really depends on the type of product. For example, if it’s like a skin care product, then they’re definitely going to want it a month ahead of time so that they can actually use the product and validate that it really does create the results that the brand is talking about. So, yeah, there’s definitely a lot of effort that goes into being able to…. and I know authentic is such a buzzword, but to be able to authentically talk about the product and not have it come off as something that’s sponsored or promoted.

It’s really important to be able to show that this is a product that you actually believe in and something that you have actually used and will actually continue to use and have experience with the product, because I think Chinese consumers have gotten smart and they understand influencer marketing in China and they know that a lot of these posts are sponsored. And a lot of them don’t care that it’s sponsored as long as they feel that it’s truthful. Right? Because, for example, if I’m already using a product and then the brand comes to me and wants a sponsored post, then it’s fine because it’s a product that I already use. I can share stories of how I’ve been using the product in my life for years. So the audience knows that even though this is a sponsored post, the opinions are real and I’m really giving them actual advice and it’s not just because the brand is paying me. So yeah, a lot goes into it behind the scenes. 

Matthieu David: Do you think it’s a platform which is more virtuous,  which is pushing more KOL to be truer in a more authentic way? Do you feel maybe there is a platform or there is another platform which is by its ecosystem, the way it’s working, it’s pushing to be more virtuous?

Lauren: Yeah. I really do think it’s Xiaohongshu. And unfortunately, the platform has gotten really popular over this past year, and so things have changed a little bit, but overall, I feel like the platform is doing a very good job of trying to retain that environment. But in general, I do think that that’s a great platform for that type of content, because for example, on Xiaohongshu, only 20% of the content that you post can be sponsored content. They actually monitor all the accounts. And if they think that you’re posting more than 20% sponsored content, then they will actually give you warnings and reduce the traffic to those posts. For example, I’m very small on Xiaohongshu. I’m just starting out on that platform.

But even as small as I am, I wrote a post once, and they thought it was sponsored, and I hadn’t marked it as sponsored. And they sent me a message saying that they were going to restrict the traffic because they detected that it was sponsored and I hadn’t gone through the right procedure. And I ended up talking to them and saying, no, it’s not, and kind of being able to prove that. And they were like, “Oh, okay. Sorry”, and they let the post have traffic again. But they’re definitely pretty strict about that. And also, on Xiaohongshu, it’s interesting because there’s a trend… there’s a Chinese term; One is to plant a seed, and the other is like pull the plant out. And so, one of them is to convince people that they want to buy this product. Right? And the other term means to pull the plant out. And that means, everyone’s saying this product is really good, but I’m going to write an article and tell you that the product isn’t actually as good as everyone claims it to be. So this is actually a type of content on Xiaohongshu. It’s like debunking the myth about a product.

Matthieu David: Okay. I see.

Lauren: Yeah. Yeah. I think that Douyin is a really great platform for brand awareness type content. I think it’s really good for brands that just want to make a lot of people aware of their brand, kind of to form the concept of… to let people know what this brand is about. Is it a cool brand? This type of brand to really kind of get people to understand the vibe of the brand. But at the end of the day, it’s a very entertaining platform. There is more and more like tutorial type content but not maybe as much as other platforms. 

Matthieu David: I think Douyin was good for serendipity. It’s pushing your product or service you may like. A bit like Facebook was investing a lot on serendipity, which Google was not able to do it because it is a search really very early to know what’s going and how to use Douyin. 

Lauren: Douyin… I think usually when I recommend to people, I think Douyin is awesome for tourism. It’s awesome for the tourism industry. For example, Chongqing, the city in China…

Matthieu David: Yeah.

Lauren: Chongqing is the most popular city in Douyin. And actually, over the course of 2018, their tourism numbers skyrocketed, and you can correlate the popularity of Chongqing on Douyin with the growth of their tourism. I don’t think that Chongqing themselves actually deliberately ran any campaigns. I think that there’s a lot of user-generated content and Chinese influencers who created some really cool videos with scenery and Chongqing just kind of organically built from there. But I do think there’ve been a lot of…. yeah, tourism brands do really well on Douyin because they just have so much visual content they can create.

And I also think that offline, there have been some case studies showing that Douyin is very good at driving offline traffic because you can tag the location of the video. So a lot of the Chinese…. there have been some tea shops, some tea brands that have been really trendy over the past year and a lot of them did Douyin campaigns. Hai Di Lao, the hot pot restaurant, had a really great Douyin campaign. So there’ve been a lot of these cases of driving offline traffic with Douyin. 

Matthieu David: Yeah. You’re talking about traveling. Talking about foreign KOLs in China, what’s the best use of overseas KOL? Do you feel a brand or even a place or a location which wants to attract tourists can have a very strong strategy with foreign KOLs in China to influence, even though we may not like this word….  to give visibility within China? So far, I don’t have examples of overseas KOL which have become major, massive within China to advertise on the place or product, or maybe I’m wrong, and I didn’t see it.

Well, I mean as far as foreigners go, I’ve seen a lot of… there is quite a community of foreigners who have grown audiences, foreign KOLs in China, but a lot of them are located within China and not necessarily back in their home country, although there are a couple of them now. So maybe they have kind of gone back to their home countries and continue to do it. So I think maybe we could see more of that in the future. But also, there are a lot of influencers, Chinese influencers, who live abroad in Australia and the US and Europe. And I do see brands working with them. I know quite a few of them that live in New York City, and there are a lot of brands working with them for some local events in New York City.

But I still think that it’s not thought about as much as it should be or used as strategically as it could be because we know it’s been shown that a lot of people… for example, somebody goes to school to study abroad in the US and then every time they come home, all of their friends and family want them to bring stuff back and want them to tell them all about their experience, where should they go visit if they go to the US and things like that. So we know that people are really looking at those people who have been abroad to lead them. So I think the brands should be taking more advantage. I mean, as I said, there are plenty of Chinese influencers based in New York City or L.A. I think brands could be making much better use of them. Yeah. 

I don’t think there’s really any technology challenges or anything like that because there are already a lot of Chinese influencers who are living abroad. So I don’t think that’s an issue at all. I think maybe it’s finding these influencers because it’s already hard enough to find good influencers, to begin with. So, maybe, brands aren’t aware of these ones that they have in their backyard or maybe because they’re not really thinking about it. I think a lot of brands are just so focused on the domestic Chinese consumer and don’t think about those Chinese influencers that are just right in their backyard. But I have heard from a lot of brands that it’s something that they think about because they feel more comfortable working with these Chinese influencers that are currently living in their country because they’re able to probably speak English or whatever language with that Chinese influencer as opposed to going through multiple agencies or local staff and having to translate everything because most of the Chinese influencers living abroad can speak English or some other language. So there’s definitely an interest. I just don’t think it’s being used as much as it could be. 

Matthieu David: I might be a little bit maybe naive, but I see a lot of KOLS in the travel industry as you said. It discovered places, hidden places which are not well known in guides and that people who live locally would advertise on. And some companies have been doing that. But it’s the place as a brand, the city or the region the company will have different people to understand the different environment and to adapt the journey for the client. Talking about what you can bring to companies, so your business, are you more finally on the KOL side or on the consulting side where you will actually advise brands and organization to leverage KOL? 

Lauren Hallanan: So I think…. as I said, I have kind of been transitioning. I think for about the past year, year and a half or so, I’ve just been a little bit heavier on more of the consulting side of things. I’m advising brands and working with brands. As I said, I still have my own followings, but I have just been focusing on that a little bit less. But it’s something that I want to kind of pick back up again just because I think by doing it myself, it’s a lot easier to talk to the brands, because I’m able to put myself in those shoes and I have a stronger understanding of how the platforms work and what type of content works because I have experienced doing it myself. So it’s definitely something that I try to keep both of them going, but I’d say more recently, I’ve been more on the advising side of things. Yeah. 

Matthieu David: Actually it’s a very very good model to do it yourself even if it may not be full-time to become a KOL or a foreign KOL in China. But to use your platform to be a foreign KOL in China yourself in order to advise companies and brands on how to use it, not necessarily yourself but to design a campaign and so on. I strongly believe in being hands-on in consulting and knowing the industry by yourself in order to advise. Okay. Do you have an example you could share with us about how you worked with some companies to set up a strategy and the campaigns certainly go into how to select the KOL? Are you going to select them to interact with them or? How would you advise a company or brand? 

Lauren Hallinan: I think it depends. It depends on the kind of stage that the brand is in. So sometimes a lot of brands are really just looking to understand the industry and the market. So in that case, it will be a much higher level like, “Hey, these are the various Chinese social media platforms.” And this is how you would go about selecting Chinese influencers, what type of content you could do on each platform, and a lot of the things that we’ve kind of just been talking about. Xiaohongshu versus Douyin. That kind of thing. So there’s like that high-level work. And then, when it comes to a specific campaign… with a specific campaign, I also tend to work like with a couple of other people that I contract who can help me to find these influencers and do all the communication and selecting Chinese influencers that would be a good fit for the brand. It’s a lot of work to find these influencers. So it’s not easy, especially if you really want to find the right ones. So yeah, I do a bit of both. It really depends on how ready the brand is to actually do influencer marketing in China.

Matthieu David: I see. Let’s cut it a bit, so maybe. How can companies reach out to you? How can they get in touch with you? 

Lauren Hallanan: Well, there are a couple of ways. You can go to It’s pretty easy to remember. The website is kind of undergoing some construction right now, but you can still find everything there. That’s where my podcast is located, and I’m putting more stuff up on the website right now. And then the other great place to find me is on LinkedIn because that’s really where I’m really active, and I share a lot of the content that I’m writing or things that I’m finding on Linkedin. So if you look for Lauren Hallanan…  I don’t know of any other Lauren Hallanan on Linkedin, so it should be pretty easy to find. 

Matthieu David: Thank you very much for your time. I know it’s already 9 pm in the US, so I am not going to go further even though I would have liked to talk about other topics. Maybe we can get another session all together in China Paradigm. Thank you very much for your time, Lauren. And I hope everyone has enjoyed this episode of our China podcast. 

Lauren Hallanan: Yeah. Thank you. Thank you so much for having me on this China marketing podcast. I love talking about this stuff. 

Matthieu David: Thank you.

China paradigm is a China business podcast sponsored by Daxue Consulting where we interview successful entrepreneurs about their businesses in China. You can access all available episodes from the China paradigm Youtube page.