Little Red Book, the Chinese social e-commerce giant also known as RED, recently sent a memo to content creators announcing new qualification criteria for influencers, and the message was clear: rise to Red’s new quality standards or forfeit your privilege. The newly implemented changes, perhaps the most dramatic policy shift in Red’s 6-year history, is expected to impact over 3/4 of the site’s influencers, but as with all changes, there are new opportunities for influencers and brands that know where to look.
Motivation for Changes
Red went online in 2013 as a platform where Chinese travelers could share overseas shopping tips and discover niche brands. In just six years, it’s developed into a social e-commerce giant, with a whopping 200 million monthly active users, and is often considered a “must-have” part of marketing strategies for international fashion and beauty brands intent on winning a share of the China market.
But the rapid expansion of the platform had some unintended consequences. An increased number of sponsored posts started taking over influencers’ feeds, and the imbalance between sponsored and non-sponsored content created user fatigue, which, in turn, lowered user engagement. Unethical agents creating fake product reviews in an attempt to manipulate public opinion drew widespread scrutiny. And perhaps most concerning for Red, content creators and agencies who represented them started enjoying a steady stream of revenue, yet the platform wasn’t able to share in those profits.
In January 2019, Red launched “Brand Partners Platform,” an influencer portal that helped brands discover and work directly with influencers who had been certified by the platform. The first rule: A certified Brand Partner needed to have at least 1,000 followers. Brand Partners Platform was an important first step in regulating Red’s influencer community and a way for the platform to potentially tap into revenue from influencer collaborations.
But Red raised the stakes again this May by revising the Brand Partners Platform requirements. The latest policy requires that a qualified Brand Partner must have at least 5,000 followers and maintain an average of 10,000 views-per-post over the past month, a dramatic change from their previous requirements. In addition, a Brand Partner must be represented by a multi-channel network (MCN) that’s been certified by Red. Under the new policy, only 4,000 of the 17,000 previously certified influencers would qualify as Brand Partners.
The policy update is intended to attract and retain users by pushing influencers to continuously produce new, high-quality content. Under the new policy, a Brand Partner must publish four non-commercial posts for every sponsored post and may qualify for only four sponsored posts each month.
Implications for Influencers
The policy changes caught many influencers by surprise and caused concern and confusion. Many influencers who had previously operated independently, regardless of the size of their following, are now scrambling to find an MCN as host.
Some critics argue that raising the qualification criteria for Brand Partners goes against Red’s user-generated content roots, and therefore risks disenfranchising a large group of micro-influencers who had previously made up the foundation of Red. Many of them might decide to leave Red and move to another platform. “People come to Red because the content we (micro-influencers) share is authentic,” reads a comment from a content creator who did not qualify as a result of the new policy. “We help built Red but now it has betrayed us.”
The new policy is not bad news for everyone. The diminished talent pool will reduce competition and thus allow the remaining influencers to capture more attention from advertisers. The limited sponsored post inventory allocated each month also means that brands will likely pay influencers more to compete for the coveted slots.
Many top-tier influencers welcomed the change, particularly the requirement to produce additional non-sponsored content. “I think raising the bar will bring positive changes to the influencer community; it compels us to improve the quality of our work,” says Rui Wang, a Red influencer based in New York City with 1.8 million followers. “As a result, our followers will have a better user experience on the platform.”
What Should Brands Do?
Register their brand account on Red. In May, Louis Vuitton became the first luxury brand to launch an official account on Red. For brand planning to engage Brand Partners on Red, now is the time to register an official brand account. Brands that rely heavily on e-commerce, should consider listing their products on Red Mall — Red’s e-commerce section — in addition to other e-commerce sites like Tmall and JD. Because Red doesn’t allow outside links, having a presence on Red will help close the sales loop and improve the conversion rate of influencer collaborations.
Diversify content distribution channels. Advertisers should repurpose the content created by Brand Partners on different marketing channels. This would increase ROI and could potentially offset the increase in collaboration fees that are expected as a result of the new policy.
Consider organic seeding in addition to sponsored posts. Because users on Red are generally looking for educational and relevant information, unbiased product reviews or mentions in posts that covers multiple brands might generate better results than a traditional advertorial.
Continue to engage micro-influencers. Even though some micro-influencers are disqualified to be Brand Partners under the new policy, they remain a potential source of influence on Red, and brands should seek ways to continue to engage with them. For example, brands cannot contract these micro-influencers for sponsored posts, but they can provide them with products for an opportunity to gather unbiased reviews. Building relationships now can generate brand loyalty and bring benefits in the future as these micro-influencers requalify to be Brand Partners.
Charlie Gu is the CEO of Kollective Influence, a marketing agency that specializes in cross-border influencer management and strategy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.