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The problem with Malaysian KOLs & KOCs

A heated debate with a friend of mine made me want to write this article, because I woke up and chose violence, that's why 🤣

What's the difference between KOL and KOC?

"Key Opinion Leaders" or KOL are social media influencers with a large amount of followers and a huge social presence. They are online celebrities that are well known for their charm and influence, with their follower numbers ranging from hundreds of thousands to millions.

"Key Opinion Consumers" or KOC are real-life consumers who try products and post their thoughts or reviews online. They normally have a lesser following and social presence, but they tend to be more trustworthy considering that they are normal consumers just like us.

KOLs vs KOCs -
KOLs vs KOCs -
Alright, now you understand the difference. Let's get into the main topic of this article. What's wrong with the industry?

KOLs and KOCs

Do not know how to position themselves, so I'm here to nag at you, yes, nag at you to position yourself better so you don't spoil the market.

Did you know that KOLs overseas need large numbers to be called KOLs? That's because you need to be influential to be a 'Key Opinion Leader', without the numbers to back you up, the core purpose of engaging and working with a KOL loses its purpose.

Then, Malaysian influencer agencies whip out the micro-influencer card, telling brands and influencers that it's okay to have a smaller following as you'd still be able to influence your friends and family right? While that in itself is true, but there's a catch.

Agencies will tell brands that this is a very cost-efficient way of advertising, because most of the time micro-influencers get paid much less than big-shot KOLs, some don't even get paid! Some brands pay though, don't get me wrong! But some are only offered free products and are then obliged to advertise for these large brands.

And yet, micro-influencers are willing to accept such an offer, under dire terms like posting content within a five-day window while only being compensated with a free product. We can't control these things, but I'll only sigh and say, eh you spoil market leh like that 🤦‍♀️

So, if you have a few thousand followers and love the Instagram lifestyle, then yes, you're probably more of a KOL than a KOC. You may already have been approached to advertise some brands and products, haven't you? But have you received a product that you didn't actually like but was forced to say good things about it?


Well, there you go ladies and gentlemen, that's the main difference between KOLs and KOCs. When approached, KOLs are obliged to advertise, KOCs on the other hand, are not.

KOL audiences cater to the masses and the general public, while KOCs tend to have a specific niche. If you're a skincare and beauty reviewer like me, then you're a KOC, welcome to the club! Let's cry together over our empty wallets while laying in our pile of unopened skincare and makeup products.

KOLs are not required to be entirely honest about products because they can just be engaged by brands and agencies to be promoters, but that's not the case for KOCs. KOCs build their communities with honesty and trust because they write reviews based on personal experience.

Would it be right for a KOC to take on a KOL's task? It wouldn't be very suitable considering the difference in their audience's needs. If you watch any beauty or skincare YouTuber, you'd know how careful they are with their sponsored videos, only collaborating with brands they have loved and enjoyed, while some steer entirely clear from sponsors. And why is that? Because they value their audience's trust more, and when money is involved, it always complicates matters.


Does that mean that KOCs can't take sponsorships? They sure can, we are even paid to create genuine, honest content and just simply being ourselves! The challenge with sponsorships is to be able to do it in a genuine, upfront and transparent way while not compromising your audience's trust in you! KOLs on the other hand, have much more freedom with both types of content, simply because... their audience doesn't really mind as long as it's them 😅 Because they are more like celebrities, you know!

So, which side of the coin do you prefer? Position yourself as that, and stay true to your values accordingly. As someone as unhinged as myself, I'm happy with spending money to get what I want and running my mouth about it after 😂 And of course, I enjoy sharing it with my audience!

P.S. There are always blurred lines. Some people don't mind being both, some people just want to earn a living and are alright with just free products, some don't see the need to have a clear positioning at all. So in that case, you could treat it as me just being overly-picky and meticulous. But if so, you probably shouldn't be reading the rest of the article 🤷


First things first, understand the difference between these two terms. As an unhinged KOC myself, I'm really tired of receiving collaboration offers labelled as a KOC Campaign, and then proceed to ask us to -

  1. Not mention to our audience that the sponsored product is gifted by the brand

  2. Post unpaid content within five days of receiving the product

  3. Want us to talk positively of the brand and encourage our audience to try the product

If you're looking for exposure, micro-influencers and KOLs are the ones you're looking for. Not KOCs, because we're required to be honest about our content. Please don't label your campaign as a KOC campaign.


KOCs are here to provide raw, honest reviews and opinions on your products so that you're able to improve. We're not positioned as people who advertise or promote a brand. KOLs on the other hand, will surely welcome your collaborations with open arms, because that's what they're meant to do. KOLs are meant to push your brand's social media presence and exposure!

You are a big middle-person that is able to call the shots, it would always be optimal to pay your influencers regardless KOLs or KOCs for content. Don't let the brands lowball you with their budget because they can fork out more, they just don't want to. But hey, we're Malaysians, we're cheapskate, I know. But its really not worth it to let big brands step all over your back and take advantage of you.

I don't want to mention the Terms & Conditions I've read from influencer agencies, it's downright unfair for influencers. They have to pay for sponsored items first, submit their content and then risk not receiving payment from agencies if their content isn't up to standard. They will only receive compensation only after the brand and agency have checked that their content is of good quality and fits the brand's criteria. Some even go as far as to write "Only join this campaign if you're willing to advertise for free."

Utterly, despicable. As tough as the competition is in the advertising industry, isn't this equivalent to modern day slavery? Come on. You will probably say, well, influencers are still accepting these collaborations, so I don't think there's a problem with our terms. In the end, it's supply and demand. But is it really the right thing to do, to exploit influencers on such terms?


Dear agencies, make a change. It starts with you.

Brands. Do you trust Malaysian influencers?

Ask yourself that question, and then ask yourself why.

What you offer to your influencers matter. Your marketing will propel itself to the next level when you realize that Humans aren't just pawns to be used to help you sell. I've known marketers who only want to look at numbers, but trust me, numbers can be easily faked nowadays.

Have you met people who follow you on social media and then unfollow you later? 😬 Surely, you know about the following and unfollowing, the comment-for-comment, share-for-share, follow-for-follow that's happening on all platforms right? Nowadays, how much of an influencer's audience is authentic and genuine? Are they really the people you want to represent your brand?


Nowadays, it requires more than just reports, engagement numbers and follower count that determines a successful influencer campaign. Taking time to filter through authentic talents, pitch a better budget and you'd be able to actually benefit a lot more from influencer campaigns.

Or maybe, just choose an influencer agency that actually filters their influencers, offers good terms and it would be a win-win for all.

You want to stand out as a brand, so don't be just like the others. It's not worth it. But if you're a sheep and you're just following other people's footsteps, then... why are you here? 🤔

Improving the community starts with all of us.

As an advertising major that's been through all this chaos, I know its rather naïve to hope that things will change in the future. But I can hope, right?

In this digital age where authenticity is scarce, let's encourage it a little more 🙂

Love, Ruby.


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