Confessions of a KOL: The Luxury Conversation x M Talk in Shanghai

The Luxury Conversation held an event in collaboration with M Talk, a regular series of insightful and inspiring talks held at M Glam, on the Bund in Shanghai.

100 guests attended  in order to hear straight from the KOL’s mouth about the reality of life under the social media spotlight. When worked with properly, Key Opinion Leaders are now a must-have aspect of any brands communications strategy in China.

Speaking at the event was Michelle Ye and Tera Feng. Michelle was one of the very first KOLs, shooting to fame in 2010 by sharing her unique perspective on life to her fans, reaching 1 million views in just 10 months. Michelle later launched her own highly successful fashion brand in 2015.

Previously an editor, Tera has now become a fashion buyer and KOL, working with brands such as YSL, Dolce & Gabbana, MARNI, Swarovski, SECOO and more, on her incredibly successful Weibo account.

Left to Right – Moderator Jane Chen, Michelle Ye, Tera Feng, Chloe Reuter (Founder of Reuter Communications and The Luxury Conversation)

We spoke with both Tera and Michelle after the event to look at the business angle of the KOL world.

You must have lots of contact from brands asking you to collaborate with them. Although there’s no ‘magic rule’, what advice can you give to brands about how to approach KOLs?

Tera: I think that the key point is the content, which means the story. It’s not about trying to use all of your budget on the most ‘views’ that you think you can achieve. You should look at the story first – what are the individual points that will create a kind of dream-come-true feeling for followers? After you have the story, then you can look at which KOLs are creating content that is relevant to this.

Michelle: The key is work ‘with’ – collaborate and do something together. Don’t just aim to ‘pay for posts’, photoshoots and modelling plus digital media coverage. Do your full research on the KOL(s), find out about them and what they like. Approach them in a real, human way – gather their interest and show them that you are fully aware of them as a person. It’s key to work together on a fully involved sense. Invite them to everything related – the showroom, the factory, the sourcing, the people. The people are most important as the human element will bring the originality, passion and sense of something meanningful to followers/viewers.

What projects from brands (that you worked with) impressed you most? What can a brand do beyond only have photos of a KOL using their products?

Michelle: I loved working with the French jewellery brand, Poucon. We made a micro-movie about my time with them and my life in Paris. I met people at the workshop, I met the stone hunter and I really got to know the stones, the brand, and I grew into this brand. I became their customer, and to this day I continually post about it, because I love it, I am confident in telling people the true stories of the brand.

A brand can work on creative ideas, design and many ways with the KOL, because the real KOLs are very talented – which is why they are followed with such passion.

Tera: I worked with Secoo in the Milan and Paris Fashion Weeks. My team and I looked at how we could create content that combined the media angle and the ‘KOL lifestyle’ angle. We looked at how media represent Fashion Week – through interviews in the designer’s showrooms, covering the fashion shows with strong opinions and to go backstage and show the reality of what was happening behind the flashy front of stage.

We mixed this kind of content with relaxed and casual lifestyle content such as which Air BnB we were staying at, what restaurants impressed us each day, and where to find the most exciting shops and museums during a vist to that city. It wasn’t only about the logos of the brands, but the beauty of the city itself. It clearly shows the authenticity and the local spirit of the luxury brands, which is what Chinese people want to feel about overseas craftsmanship and quality.

Is the KOL trend a ‘bubble’? Will followers/readers get bored of ‘too many KOLs’? How can you survive the changes?

Tera: I see it as a new way to learn and research. There are indeed very many KOLs now, and the reality is that to be successful you need to have a team, a business plan, and even the standardisation that a business has in all areas, such as working policy, codes of conduct and everything. It’s not easy to get this aspect in the first place, which is why some people might find it difficult to sustain.

I think what we can say is that there is still big potential, as the market os so young. So, there will definitely be ongoing changes and it’s important to stay in touch with society to see when these changes are happening.

Michelle: Well, it is a very competitive industry, with so many new ones. For me, I maintain my specific positioning, make it clear what I am about, to keep it easy to see what kinds of people want to follow me.

‘Surviving’ is a big word, for me I simply keep doing what I’m doing and keep it both interesting, but also useful. Useful information that helps the follower – then hopefully they will keep following me! (laughs)

What if a western brand is only thinking ‘wechat + weibo’? How else can they, and how else do you connect with Chinese luxury consumers/followers on social media?

Michelle: I have opened an account on Xiao hong shu (Little Red Book) as it’s very popular now for reviews and useful content. Going offline is also important for both brands and myself, because it is ‘real’ – whenever I go to a new country or city, I will meet up with some fans for lunch, tea and such things, to keep the personal touch, get feedback and have a real discussion in person.

Tera: I think that luxury brands should keep an eye on when is right to start going on to other platforms. There are some like Zhihu, Douyin, Xiao hong shu (AKA ‘Red’), but they are so new that there is still no need to ‘rush’ to be on these. However a business should keep watching and be ready to move quickly when the right time presents itself. I am preparing for Douyin and Xiao hong shu as the next platforms to work with.


About M Restaurant Group

M Restaurant Group is a pioneering collection of award-winning restaurants and lounges in China. In 1989, Australian cook Michelle Garnaut—the signature ‘M’—opened M at the Fringe in Hong Kong, one of the first restaurants with a new take on modern/contemporary fine-dining in the city. It was a runaway hit, and ten years later she took a daring step and opened M on the Bund in Shanghai, at a time when the historic waterfront was known mainly for dilapidated offices rather than the lively nightlife scene it has since developed. She tested the waters first with a stint cooking at the landmark Peace Hotel, and in the end the gamble paid off. Now restaurants and bars of all kinds have sprouted up in the shadow of the Art Deco Nissin Shipping Building where M on the Bund presides, still going strong after nearly 20 years.

Today, the M Restaurant Group includes two venues: M on the Bund and Glam dining lounge and bar in Shanghai.

Delicious food in a chic, comfortable environment are ideals embodied by both restaurants, with classics like M’s Crispy Suckling Pig and M’s Very Famous Pavlova always greeting diners, along with seasonal specialities, fresh, homemade bread and signature cocktails, all made from scratch. And perhaps most meaningfully, the restaurants are a part of the communities they serve. M has spearheaded the sourcing of sustainable and organic foods in China, working with local producers to set standards. A focus on the arts has yielded the Shanghai and Capital Literary Festivals, the M Literary Residency and a vibrant series of talks and salons, all of them in the comfortable confines of M venues.


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