KOL: What Are KOLs in Marketing, and How Can You Use Them in Your Campaigns?

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Picture this: You’re scrolling through Instagram, TikTok, or whatever your chosen social media platform is, and you see J. Kenji López-Alt, author of The Wok, talking about his favorite brand of wok to cook with. You’re going to really listen to his recommendation, right? 

Ok, we get it. Not everyone is an avid chef looking for the next pan recommendation. But this example can apply to any industry. For those who love makeup, a product endorsement from Nikkie Tutorials would hold a lot of weight, while those looking for the best skincare product to purchase would trust the word of Dr. Muneeb Shah, a dermatologist and mega influencer who focuses on educating his viewers. 

These are all examples of key opinion leaders, or KOLs for short. And brands that tap into their expertise and influence can see massive results for their bottom lines. 

What are KOLs (key opinion leaders)? 

Key opinion leaders (or KOLs) are experts in their field and have a significant amount of influence, typically online. They usually work full-time in the field they post about, and they have earned a huge amount of trust from their followers. 

When some people think of KOLs, their mind immediately goes to science- and health-related fields. After all, the typical person relies on the expertise of doctors and researchers to make a lot of decisions in life. But, in reality, there can be (and are) KOLs in every vertical you can think of, whether it’s beauty, fashion, cooking, fitness, gaming, or something else entirely. 

What is the difference between a KOL and an influencer?

The terms KOL and influencer are often thought to be interchangeable and get mixed up a lot. In reality, an influencer is anybody with a certain amount of followers (usually at least 1K) who creates content and has a loyal following.

A key opinion leader has the same influence and audience as the influencer but with a twist—they usually have a much more targeted audience.

One of the best examples of a key opinion leader is the famous YouTuber Casey Neistat. He had millions of YouTube subscribers in the early days of the platform. He was also the first person to popularize making video content, and he showed how it was possible to create movies without having to go to film school or work for a large video production company.

This is why Canon frequently uses Casey to promote their cameras. Here filmed a video called “The Best Camera Money Can Buy” for the Canon EO5 70D. The video received over 4.6 million views, 4.3K comments (many of which were about the camera), and over 66,000 likes on YouTube.

KOLs vs. influencers: Which are right for your brand?  

KOLs are great resources for helping brands in saturated markets stand out from their huge list of competitors. They’re also great for new products that have some pretty impressive claims that people may not initially believe because they seem “too good to be true.” They can test your products and put the weight of their expertise behind proving your claims to be accurate. 

However, one thing to keep in mind is that due to their high level of expertise and influence, KOLs are often more expensive to partner with. 

Brands with established track records may not need to partner with KOLs, since they already have a large amount of trust. They can instead rely on influencers to showcase new products and build awareness around new launches, often for a much lower cost. 

How influencers can become key opinion leaders 

Influencers have the potential to earn the status of key opinion leaders over time. To do so, they really have to build up their level of expertise and audience trust. As a brand, you can help your creators achieve this status by: 

  • Encouraging your creators to highlight their qualifications. This can put extra weight behind their recommendations of your brand, and it showcases that the creators know what they’re talking about, which can lead to more influence. 
  • Making sure your partners love your products. When a creator’s audience can tell their recommendations are genuine, the brand can earn more trust, and the creator can demonstrate their expertise. However, if the brand love isn’t genuine, you and your partner can suffer the consequences.
  • Have your creators share why they love your products. It’s easy to say, “I love this product.” It’s harder to say, “These are the 10 reasons I love this item.” By having your creators list off exactly why they like your products,  they’re showcasing their expertise and truly promoting your brand. 

Benefits of working with KOLs 

KOLs help you target the right audience. 

Let’s say that you are looking to reach millennials and Gen Zers who are into makeup. If so, you could potentially get millions of views by partnering with someone like Nikkie Tutorials on TikTok. Given her prominent status as a KOL, she may be a better, more effective choice rather than other marketing channels, like Facebook ads, PPC, or inbound marketing.

KOLs carry a lot of expertise and trust. 

KOLs are almost always showcasing their expertise in their content, whether it’s through product recommendations, tutorials, thought leadership posts, or Q&As. This earns them a significant level of trust with their audience. When a KOL posts about a product they love, this trust can translate into increased sales for the brand. 

KOLs can help you make more sales. 

KOLs can help improve your sales in the short term and the long term. Partnering with KOLs for a campaign and having them create content featuring your products (using a branded hashtag) can create an immediate boost in sales. In the long term, new followers and searchers can check out these posts, and you’ll continue to see an increase in sales.

KOLs can increase your brand’s reach. 

Since KOLs tend to have significant audiences on various platforms, they can help teach many new people about your brand. And because KOLs focus on a specific niche, you’re sure to reach members of your target audience who are likely to purchase your products. 

KOL (or Key Opinion Leader) woman cutting herbs over a large pot in a kitchen

Key principles for working with KOLs 

1. Set your campaign goals. 

Before you can start to identify KOLs to partner with, you have to decide on your main goal. Are you looking to increase your brand reach? Sell more products? Get more followers on your social accounts? 

Then, you need to set key performance indicators (KPIs) to help measure your success. For example, if your goal is to increase brand awareness, you could measure the number of impressions, views, and engagements your KOLs earned on their branded posts. 

Free Worksheet: Download this free worksheet and fill it out so you can keep track of all your answers. 

2. Use your goals to plan a KOL marketing strategy. 

Here are a few questions to ask yourself to get started: 

  • How are you going to meet those goals you outlined in Step One? 
  • How can working with a key opinion leader help you achieve your goals? 
  • What mediums should they use (blog, image post, short-form video, long-form video, etc.)? 
  • How many posts should they create?  

Write down all of your answers and use this to guide your search for the perfect KOL(s). 

3. Find the right KOLs for your brand. 

It’s never been easier to find and target key opinion leaders. The simplest way is to search for them on Google or the social networks you’ve chosen for your campaign. Look for creators with a lot of followers and a lot of educational content. Then, check their comments to see what their followers are saying. Are their followers asking questions and seeking advice from the creator? If the creator is talking about a product, is their audience commenting about how they need to try it for themselves now? 

An even better way is to use a tool like GRIN to search for you. Our Creator Search functionality allows you to add filters like location, engagement rate, and number of followers, so you simplify your efforts. 

4. Negotiate a partnership. 

Once you reach out to one or more KOLs and they express interest in partnering with your brand, it’s time to negotiate a partnership. Together, you’ll have to agree on payment, content types, and how many posts they’ll create. Consider also negotiating for content usage rights so you can repurpose their posts into your other marketing efforts.  

5. Track your results. 

As your KOLs begin posting, keep an eye on their content and how it’s performing. Here’s where those KPIs you set in Step One will come in handy. 

There are several ways you can track results. You can use spreadsheets to collect their content and showcase how it’s performing. Just keep in mind that you have to update these regularly. 

You can also use a Creator Management platform like GRIN, which will automatically aggregate the data for each post, KOL, and campaign, so you can look at really granular details or the whole picture. 

And if you want to see how many sales your KOLs are helping you earn, you can empower them with Affiliate Links or Discount Codes that track conversions and revenue. 

If you’re working with your KOLs over a longer period of time, share this data with them so they can see which of their content performs well and make adjustments to the posts that aren’t bringing in the same level of results. 

KOL marketing strategies 

Partnering with KOLs to create videos 

A KOL’s expertise can really shine through a video since it gives them more time to test a product, talk about its features, and share their recommendations. This dynamic media type also humanizes the product more than a photo and allows viewers to become more familiar with your brand.

Letting their expertise shine through 

As we’ve already discussed, KOLs are experts. They know how to create content that engages their audience and gets their point across. Therefore, it’s essential to offer KOLs as much creative freedom as you can. If you give them too many talking points or requirements, their content may not seem authentic, which can lead to their followers losing trust in them and your brand. 

Repurposing KOL content throughout your marketing mix 

KOLs are easily recognizable, and when you include content from them in your marketing mix, people are more likely to trust you, thanks to the halo effect. Repurposing their content also allows you to get the most bang for your buck out of the partnership.

KOL marketing examples from successful brands 

Dreamland Baby 

@kendraworth #ad @Dreamland Baby Sleep Sack Review #sleepconsultant #babysleep #infantsleep #fyp #lucky #smallbusinesstiktok ♬ Lazy Sunday – Official Sound Studio

Dreamland Baby sells sleep solutions for babies and young children, and they partner with influential certified sleep consultants to highlight the science behind their products and the real-life benefits exhausted parents can see from using the weighted swaddles and sleep sacks. 

Athletic Greens 

With so many supplements on the market, it’s natural for people to be confused about which is right for them or whether any of them actually work. Athletic Greens, a brand selling a powdered supplement that promotes gut health, boosts energy, and does other amazing things, partners with nutritionists to help build more authority in the eyes of potential consumers. 

5 top KOLs influencing opinions today 

Massy Arias 

@massy.arias If you want to fix your squat ankle and hip mobility are crucial. Save this hack and ill see yoj on the next one #fitness #fyp #gymtok #fitnesstips #squat #howto ♬ original sound – Massy.Arias

Massy Arias is a certified personal trainer and mega influencer who breaks down common fitness problems and teaches her viewers how to overcome them in easy-to-understand language. She also offers her own fitness program that her followers can subscribe to. 

You can also find Massy on Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook

Nikkie de Jager-Drossaers

Better known by her hand of NikkieTutorials, Nikkie de Jager-Drossaers is one of the foremost beauty influencers across all major social media platforms. In her videos, she tries out makeup trends, beauty hacks, new products, and more, and she tells her viewers which work and which don’t. She also founded her own cosmetics line.

Check out more of Nikkie’s content on Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, and Twitter.

Dietitian.Deanna 

@dietitian.deanna Which one 1 will tou try? #snacks #OverwatchMe #foodfreedomcoach #andGO ♬ Cool Kids (our sped up version) – Echosmith

Deanna is no ordinary dietitian. In fact, she is a major KOL when it comes to intuitive eating. When she’s not teaching her clients how to find “food freedom” or educating entrepreneurs on how to make their dreams come true, she’s posting about how to incorporate intuitive eating practices into your daily life and achieve a higher level of body positivity.

You can also find Deanna on Instagram, Twitter, and her podcast.  

J. Kenji López-Alt 

One of the leading authorities in the culinary world, J. Kenji López Alt is a macro creator, cookbook author, New York Times food columnist, and the chief culinary advisor for Serious Eats. On his social channels, Kenji focuses on sharing his favorite restaurants, recipes, and cooking tools. 

Check out more of Kenji’s content on Instagram.  

Dr. Muneeb Shah

@dermdoctor This one is for the skincare nerds @L’Oréal Paris #LorealPureVitaminC ad @target #skincare #vitaminC #dermdoctor #dermatologist ♬ Hey – L’Oréal Paris

Perhaps better known as The Derm Doctor, Dr. Muneeb Shah is a dermatologist and mega influencer who often shares videos of him reacting to gross (yet oddly satisfying) videos of people and dermatologists taking care of skin conditions. While he duets, he shares his advice on what to do if you experience something similar. He also talks about products he would recommend to his patients. 

Find more of Dr. Shah’s content on YouTube and Instagram

Key takeaway: Five essential tips for working with KOLs. 

Working with KOLs can bring an incredible boost to your marketing efforts. Here are a few takeaways that you should keep in mind as you set out on this exciting journey:

  1. Be as authentic as possible to your brand and your message. Only choose a KOL whose message and style fit your brand. You want to make strategic choices when building your KOL marketing strategy. Don’t work with someone just because they have a huge following, and make sure that all their content and messaging are authentic to your brand.
  2. Spread your net far and wide. Try to work with various KOLs who use different mediums, content forms, and social networks.
  3. Study what works. Look up examples of previous KOL campaigns in your industry to find some inspiration. 
  4. Build long-term partnerships with KOLs. Maximize your results and build a network of loyal brand ambassadors for your business.
  5. Have fun, and don’t be afraid to step out of the box. Let the KOLs get creative with how they represent your brand since they know what their audiences like to see. 

Updated: October 2022

Frequently Asked Questions

A KOL is a “key opinion leader,” meaning a person whose opinion holds sway over a large group of people. KOLs are often well-respected individuals, experts in their fields, and creators. 

Some examples of key opinion leaders include Oprah Winfrey, Gordon Ramsey, and Arianna Huffington. However, KOLs will vary depending on the field of expertise they specialize in. For example, healthcare KOLs usually include doctors, healthcare professionals, and scientists, while culinary KOLs include influencer foodies, chefs, and restaurateurs.

A KOL (key opinion leader) can be an influencer, while an influencer isn’t necessarily a key opinion leader. People trust KOLs because of their expertise and authority in a particular field. While influencers can have a significant number of followers, they don’t necessarily have to be experts in any particular subject. Their followers could enjoy seeing an influencer’s content purely on the basis of entertainment.

KOL stands for “key opinion leader.”

“KOL” in business refers to “key opinion leaders.” These are people who have a lot of expertise and influence in a specific topic, whether that’s GaryVee when it comes to marketing and sales or J. Kenji López Alt when it comes to cooking. 

In advertising, a KOL is a “key opinion leader.” This is a person who has a lot of influence, expertise, and trust in a certain niche, whether that’s cooking, skincare, beauty, or something else entirely. 

In marketing, KOL stands for “key opinion leader.” A key opinion leader is a person who has leveraged their expertise in a subject to gain a large following who trusts them deeply. They can be great partners for a brand looking to increase brand awareness and sales at the same time. 

Brands can partner with KOLs in their marketing efforts to leverage the influencers’ high levels of trust with their audiences. This can help the brand generate awareness, improve sentiment, and increase sales. 

A KOL has worked over a long period of time to showcase their expertise and build authority among their audience. They should avoid partnering with brands and promoting products just for the paycheck, as this can lead to a loss of trust. Instead, they should focus on educating their followers, answering questions, and only promoting products they truly love and use regularly. 

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Written by Sarah Conrad

Originally from San Antonio, Sarah studied advertising at the University of Houston and decided to stay in the city upon graduation. She is particularly interested in SEO for social media platforms and tracking the latest influencer content trends. When she's not putting pen to paper, she's baking, painting, or hanging out with her dog.