On 17 October, a Chinese tech-startup owner posted an article on his WeChat account about a controversial aspect of China’s KOL (Key Opinion Leaders – known as influencers in the west) advertising scene. The article now has more than 100k views, as well as countless reposts by other notable accounts and individuals.
It concerned a deal between the tech startup and Bee Group Media, one of China’s leading multi-channel network (MCN) companies, which was intended to generate 1m impressions for the company’s new product – designed to use photon efficacy to promote blood circulation and help to prevent or reduce painful periods – by working with fashion vlogger YuHan (Weibo: @张雨晗YuHan) who had 3.8 million Weibo followers.
The early stats were fascinating: only an hour after YuHan published her first post about the product, the video had more than 3.5m views and 1,000 comments, 50% of which said they had placed orders already. However, later on the startup owner discovered that in fact, not a single soul had visited the company store, and zero orders had been placed.
This does not mean that all of this KOL’s 3.8 million fans are fake, but the MCN was accused of faking post-performance data – and seemingly this is not the first time it has faced such accusations.
The existence of ‘fake fans’ for KOLs is no secret in China. In 2018, entertainment-industry analytics company AIMan published a study based on using natural language processing and machine-learning to analyse data from leading KOLs’ accounts. It concluded that among the thousands of comments per post, usually more than half of them were fake.
However, this latest scandal has sparked a heated discussion among the public on Weibo, calling for more regulation of KOLs. On 19 October, Weibo announced that it was closing YuHan’s account, and also suspending Red Bee Media’s advertising activities on the platform.