Bytedance’s short video app Douyin (抖音) will establish an official program for multi-channel networks (MCNs) to manage key opinion leaders (KOLs) on its platform, according to a report.

MCNs are agencies that work with multiple channels or content creators to gain success on video platforms. Previously Douyin was against these companies, which approached KOLs privately. MCNs would use Douyin to gain KOLs and fans and then move them across to a competitor, thereby reducing traffic.

Additionally, Douyin initially recruited and paid KOLs from other social networks in order to accelerate its growth. “Douyin was one of the first social networks in China to have really leveraged the influence and content of KOLs in this way,” Elijah Whaley, chief marketing officer of Parklu, told TechNode.

According to Whaley, directly employing KOLs ensured Douyin had a constant source of high-quality content and was able to attract significant numbers of new users through the KOLs.

“Obviously, the strategy worked beautifully, and now that Douyin is at scale, so they don’t need to employ KOLs any longer,” he said.

Douyin will gradually transfer already signed KOLs to officially approved MCNs. MCNs will be selected to be included in the Douyin MCN program based on their operational and content production capabilities. Selections will be made based on an entities number of accounts, historical page views,  and month-by-month growth.

The company will then recommend fans (in the millions range) to the MCNs in batches, and a three-way contract will be signed between Douyin, MCNs, and KOLs.

In allowing MCNs to operate through official channels, Douyin is effectively regulating their operation on its platform, and making MCNs responsible for the quality of the content that the KOLs produce. “Douyin is transferring the cost, management, and difficulty of maintaining a KOL community to the MCNs,” Whaley said. “Douyin’s bread and butter is advertising, and that’s where they want their core focus. This is a smart and natural move on the part of Douyin.”

Douyin’s parent company Bytedance has made headlines in the past few months for its legal spats with competitors. Most recently, the company filed an RMB 10 million lawsuit against Baidu for unfair competition. The case came just a few weeks after a very public disagreement with Tecent after the social media giant blocked Bytedance content on its messaging apps. Prior to this, Tencent filed an RMB 1 lawsuit against Bytedance for damaging its reputation on Douyin and Toutiao.

Updated July 5, 2018, 14:00: Added comments from Elijah Whaley, chief marketing officer of Parklu