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This article first appeared in Digital Edge, The Edge Malaysia Weekly on December 12, 2022 - December 18, 2022

Many small and medium enterprises (SMEs) were nearly decimated when the Covid-19 pandemic struck, especially those that were unable to pivot their brick-and-mortar businesses online and master the marketing of their wares and services on a platform they knew little about.

Understanding their lack of depth when it came to online marketing, SMEs resorted to engaging influencers to establish their presence and regain visibility, says Cheng Qian Yee, general manager of KOLHUB Malaysia.

“The SMEs approached us, and we helped them integrate influencers to promote and introduce their products to the mass public, especially when they could not operate their physical stores,” she says. “At the same time, they need a trustworthy influencer to market their goods and give genuine reviews, given that consumers might be sceptical if a new product is introduced [without proper endorsement].”

KOLHUB, short for “key opinion leader hub”, is an influencer marketing platform that helps brands connect and collaborate with local talents registered within their company to digitally market and advertise on social media platforms such as TikTok and Instagram.

Influencer endorsement has grown exponentially as a marketing strategy, with 80% of consumers having been inspired to purchase something based on an influencer’s recommendation, reported Rakuten Marketing’s 2019 Influencer Marketing Global Survey. Its popularity, especially since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, is such that it has become a necessary marketing tactic. Similar to influencer marketing is KOL marketing. KOLs are influencers with a large number of followers and have developed expertise or proficiency in a particular category.

“KOLs are normally influencers with more than 100,000 followers. This group of influencers has lots of followers and a great effect on the mass public [compared] to other categories of influencers. They are much more expensive than others,” notes Cheng.

“Celebrity endorsements are still very useful, especially for renowned brands but, during the MCO [Movement Control Order] period, many SMEs were on the verge of collapse with the inability to operate their business. [And] for SMEs to seek out celebrities to market their products would be very costly, which they would not be able to afford.”

Much of the success of influencer marketing is due to the prevalence of social media. According to the Department of Statistics Malaysia, 99% of internet use in Malaysia involves social networks.

“The reliance on social media is heavy and penetrating the Malaysian market for influencer marketing is easier because of this,” says Cheng.

KOLHUB makes it easier by being a one-stop platform for influencers and KOLs. Moreover, the platform is powered by artificial intelligence (AI) tools to ensure seamless integration and data collection.

Businesses interested in engaging influencers will first need to undergo a consultation session via KOLHUB’s website. The consultant will then walk clients through the process of choosing their influencers right up to the mechanics of the platform. They start by typing out the influencer they fancy on the KOLHUB website; then, an analysis of the influencer’s number of followers, demography, post likes, followers’ engagement and other necessary information will automatically be calculated for the clients.

Clients can then choose ambassadors who will be best suited to represent their product or service, based on their goals and budget.

“For instance, a brand selling sports bras is looking for its influencer followers or audience to be mostly female. We would help them filter the influencers based on what the clients need,” Cheng says.

She adds that, once KOLHUB grows to scale, it plans to incorporate AI chatbots and other technological advancements to create a smooth management and data generation system for the influencers and clientele.

“Influencers [operating on their own] usually submit their video or photo drafts onto a Google Sheet or send WhatsApp messages to their clients for a quick review before posting them on any social media.

“With our platform, influencers won’t need to go through that hassle, and customers can just click on the like or dislike button on photos or videos and leave feedback before the influencers can upload them online.”

Once the posts are up online, the AI will capture the likes, comments and engagement rate and automatically generate real-life statistics and a full report for the influencer.

“[To] generate data, previously we needed to hire a professional. One would need to calculate every single follower engagement, add them up and then divide it again and then everything added would be put on an Excel sheet. There is a whole calculation process for it [and] AI made it easier to calculate this,” Cheng explains.

This data is also important for both KOLHUB’s clients and influencers because it illustrates the authenticity of an advertised product or service. The system automatically unearths fake followers and bots on the influencers’ social media accounts.

Currently, KOLHUB has 3,000 influencers on its platform ranging from macro, micro and nano influencers. Influencers can sign up and verify their social media accounts on the KOLHUB website free of charge.

However, an admin and management fee will be imposed on clients because the KOLHUB management team deals with the influencers directly, provides marketing pitches and collaborates with influencers to foster creative ideas for them to post on their social media handles.

“As [for the fee], if a brand tells us that it has only RM5,000, we will just work with the budget have given us,” Cheng says.

KOLHUB is relatively flexible when it comes to fees and pricing, having worked with budgets as low as RM1,000, which enables brands to engage nano influencers, who would typically have a follower base of 1,000 to 10,000. Cheng believes RM4,000 would be the best budget to begin with.

KOLHUB is also looking into leveraging the software-as-a-service (SaaS) model on its business website for digital marketing agencies and clients.

“In the future, we might turn into a white-label business and we will open up these [SaaS] functions to other digital marketing agencies, which they would be able to use on our platform but would need to pay a monthly subscription fee. We are still working on this,” says Cheng.

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