With 20 million followers on social media, Becky Li is considered a top key opinion leader, or KOL. Her income depends on the sales she can generate, and these days her influence in China is directly measurable, she says. Luxury brands operating in China now give each KOL a different link to attach to a post or blog to calculate their influence, Li explains in a Bernstein Research report released in February.
“So, the brand is going to give me a link when I’m writing an article, and this link directs you to the brand’s website. Each KOL is going to get a different link. And then the brand can see what sales were brought by each KOL and they start a competition among the KOLs,” she says in the interview with Bernstein senior analyst Luca Solca.
They are cruel, but this is the reality.”
Li works hard advising Chinese women on fashion, cosmetics and jewellery in lengthy articles, as well as photos and videos on WeChat and shorter posts on Weibo, China’s Twitter. She recommends purchases from a range of preferred brands, including Chanel and Dior.
Unlike Western influencers, Li doesn’t feel compelled to share details of her private life with her followers.
Young Chinese women have three aims, Li believes: to make money, to become beautiful, and to love themselves. Using her brand, Becky’s Fantasy, and her immense presence on social media, she can influence the purchases of these aspiring young women and she wields huge power in the Chinese marketplace.
According to an article published by online fashion magazine Jing Daily in 2020, Li employs more than 100 staff to run five WeChat accounts, two clothing brands, an e-commerce platform and a self-improvement workshop.
Originally a newspaper journalist at the Southern Metropolitan Daily, in 2014 she felt the winds of change blowing through traditional newsrooms and started the move into online marketing with her own WeMedia account.
Online marketing was originally thought best for cheap items. In 2017, however, Li sold 100 limited-edition Mini Cooper cars online in four minutes, a feat that she says changed ideas concerning the multimillion-dollar world of online buying, and opinion leaders were absorbed into the salesforce.
“After 2017 and the collaboration with Mini, we started to change,” she says. “Brands asked the KOL to sell the goods on their behalf, meaning that they collaborated with us to have a co-branded brand or co-named brand, or asked us to shoot a campaign and then had requirements in terms of producing enough turnover.”
While she has long recommended Western luxury brands, Li expects China to develop its own range of luxury brands in the near future. “In the past, whenever I mentioned a Chinese brand, it was about copycats,” she says. “It was about bad quality. But now, people believe more in the designs and quality of Chinese brands, which are improving.”