Antoine Bunel is a French food influencer in China. Here, he is what we call a Key Opinion Leader (KOL). When he came to China in 2012 with his Chinese wife, Antoine used social media platform to blend in and make friends. By sharing his passion for food with his Chinese audience, he now has become the most famous French food influencer in China. Today, he is working with Alibaba and international brands like Samsung or Mercedes. In this interview, you will discover:
● How did he become a KOL in China ?
● What is the daily life and challenges of an influencer in China
● Why China is so unique when it comes to influence marketing ?
● How does he collaborate with brands ?
The genesis: becoming a food KOL in China
Tell us a few words about you what is your background ? Why did you come in China ?
To give you some background, I fell in love with China very early. Since being a child, I have been practicing martial arts and have a full admiration for Bruce Lee. In 2008, I had the chance to visit China for the first time, teaching English in Chongqing. My love relationship with China was officially sealed when I met my Chinese wife in London a few years later, and when we decided to come to Beijing to live.
How did you start on Chinese social media platform ? Why sharing content about food ?
First, food is a central element of who I am. It’s part of a family heritage transmitted by my mother. I believe food is a perfect key and opportunity to share, socialize and interact with people. I believe every culture, every man and woman, like France and China, can come together, and understand each other thanks to food.
Second, food is also a great way to address a large variety of topics like health, children education, love or the environment. Those are growing interests in China where topics like fighting obesity, how what you eat impact environment, or how to convey your cultural heritage to your children in a modern society is at the heart of the Chinese society concern.
So, it felt very natural for me to use food as a key topic to share on Chinese social media platforms. I started by opening a Sina Weibo account in 2012. And, as I had some background creating media and marketing content for work, I could very easily produce my own. So basically, it started as an afterwork hobby. To relax and chill, I took pictures of the food I cooked, sharing some recipes, and even filming myself cooking. It was the perfect way to improve my Chinese as well. All the content was then shared on Sina Weibo.
Influence: Building an audience and content on Chinese social media platforms
How did you do to grow your audience ?
It was very organic and progressive. It started slowly but some key people start noticing my efforts and found the content genuine. It gave me the opportunity to be invited to TV shows and events, each one participate in building my community and creating some buzz around my account. So the growth was not linear and it has never been an objective for me to have a big audience.
So, when did influencer became a full time activity in China? When did you become officially a KOL ?
My work before becoming a full time influencer was actually to create and manage a KOL program for a major Chinese e-commerce platform. So this professional experience gave me exceptional understanding of the key success factors and helped me to see the value of my effort in content creation. So, in 2015, I decided to focus on building my own content full time, and also luckily landed a major TV show for Anhui TV.
For me, the content is really at the heart of my work and the way I connect with my community. The growth of the social media community and engagement are the results of the content quality. It is the way to impact, connect with my audience and what motivates me on a daily basis.
You began on Sina Weibo, how about WeChat?
WeChat came later for me. Even if I saw the rise of the platform, I did not try to leverage it immediately as a “business” would do. So we started late, and as WeChat is quite “private” compared to Sina Weibo, it was not the perfect platform for us to share content with a massive public audience. Today, Sina Weibo still do a better job to achieve this purpose.
Some marketers and expert have been announcing the death of Sina Weibo for years. Do you think it still a relevant platform in China ?
Yes, definitely. Sina Weibo is a great platform to engage and share content. And over the years, it has shown some great resilience. In China, there are always new platforms and trends, which do not always last. For example, Miaopai or some livestream have been very hot 2 years ago but are not relevant anymore. However, live streaming has become very relevant on e-commerce platforms like Taobao or JD.
In the meantime, the main game changer was WeChat, it has definitely changed the way we interact in China. However, it is a very “private” platform and can not really be compared with Sina Weibo.
As a KOL, are you “testing” those hot social media platforms ? What platform is hot right now in China ?
As a key opinion leader, I need to follow the trends, however it’s not always easy and can be time consuming. I want to stay focused on producing great content first.
At the moment, we have been developing XiaoHongShu (Little Red Book) since one year. I am also building content on a cooking APP (XiaChuFang)) where I get amazing engagement from my audience.
How about Douyin (TikTok) which is very hot right now for video content ?
I have a mixed feeling about Douyin (TikTok). For sure, it’s very popular but the quality of the content can be deceiving. It’s really about entertainment and can some time feel like a waste of time for users. For content on Douyin, the real challenge is to catch the user attention very fast and be impactful. Furthermore, the algorithm of TikTok is very random, some content get a lot of views, and the size of the community has almost no impact on the visibility of the content. So it is not an easy platform to navigate.
Influencer working with brands and digital marketing agency in China
Part of your activity as an influencer, is to collaborate with brands and digital marketing agency like Next-Ren. How do you apprehend this part of the job ? How do you work with brands ?
I mostly work with brands thought digital agencies, however, I remain an independent KOL and I did not sign an exclusive contract with an agent. This is important as it gives me the opportunity to really choose the project and the people I am working with.
I had the chance to work with dozens of brands and actively pitch some creative ideas. I like projects where I am a part of the creative process and I can add value that goes beyond pure influence. I believe this is also a way to stay true to my community.
Can you share the names of some brands you have been working with ?
Sure, I have the chance to work with brands like Samsung, Citroen, Mercedes Benz, Président or Siemens.
Great, what is your expectations when you work with a brand ? What are the challenges?
I am very flexible in the way I work with brands in China. The key expectations are content quality and staying true to myself and my audience. One aspect, I believe brand should improve is building long term relationship with influencer, and fight the short term, one time campaign approach. There is a lot of indirect exposure brand can gain from working with influencer on a longer time frame.
The daily life of an influencer in China
Can you tell us about a typical day of your life ?
Every day is different, but always very hectic. I am doing most of the work myself, from planning content, writing scenario, filming, editing and even producing my own music !
Hopefully, I can always count on the support of my wife who is working with me and became both an agent and a project manager. Also, my two boys are very involved and became a central part of the content I create.
Outside the daily support of your family, is there a team working with you ?
We do not have a full time team with us at the moment. We recruit freelancers depending on the support us or the agency needs for each project. I had the chance to work in the industry for a long time in China so we can build a great team in little time.
What is Next ?
What are the projects you have in the back of your mind and hope to work on soon ?
Woww, there are so many projects and ideas I would love to develop around food as an influencer in China.
First, there is so much to discover in China for foreigners and even Chinese that I would really love to build a show to bring French chefs around China. And the other way around in France with Chinese people. I believe we have an incredible chance in France to have such traditions of craftsmanship in food that we should show it more to the Chinese people who love to travel in France.
For now we're focused on building our social media as we want to reach more Chinese fans and share our message of health and happiness. We get lots of positive comments every single day so it's very encouraging!
To build work with influencers and KOL in China, you can reach to a digital marketing agency like Next Ren Shanghai !