Follow Me!: How Internet Celebrities in China (Wanghong) Attract and Influence Their Chinese Fans

Follow Me!: How Internet Celebrities in China (Wanghong) Attract and Influence Their Chinese Fans

En-Chi Chang, Tony Cheung-Tung Woo
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1048-3.ch019
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This study aims to decipher how Internet celebrities in China, or Wanghong, accumulate their credibility and how they gratify fans in China. By conducting qualitative research based on interviews in Guangzhou, China, this study fills a research gap in understanding the internet celebrity culture in digital China. The analysis shows that Chinese fans were attracted by Wanghong because of their positive personality traits, e.g., being humorous and inner beauty. They followed Wanghong mainly because they gained useful information and advice from Wanghong who at the same time provided entertainment. The benefits from following Wanghong are mainly the acquiring of information and the fulfillment of emotional needs. This information was then shared to boost the follower's self-esteem and to strengthen the follower's connection with his or her social circle. However, although most interviewees were satisfied with their parasocial interactions with Wanghong, they expected more interactions.
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Social media has captured the hearts of Internet users around the world and makes users more dependent on these new forms of media every day. Statista (2018) shows that in 2010 there were only 0.97 billion social media users worldwide, but by 2021 the number of users will reach 3.02 billion. Leading social media providers have virtually penetrated every aspect of the consumer’s lives and changed the way in which consumers exchange information, attain knowledge, communicate with family and friends, and engage themselves in social life (Leung, 2013; Huang & Zhang, 2016). Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, widely used worldwide, and Weibo, WeChat, and QQ in China help connect billions of Internet users each day. These service providers offer functions such as instant messaging, blogging, information searching, and multimedia content sharing; these services challenge traditional ways of socializing, gaining knowledge, and sharing information.

Social media allows Internet users to create, co-create, and exchange user-generated content through participating, communicating, and networking in various online communities and platforms, i.e., blogs, microblogs, forums, and the content community, each of which accommodates various needs of users (Rathore, et al., 2016). Hence, social media offers innovative channels for information acquisition and peer communications among connected Internet users (Hansen, et al., 2011, p. 3).

Social media has facilitated the interconnectedness between information providers and receivers and the co-creation of information and knowledge, but also produces a daunting amount of data. For example, 1.5 billion users are active on Facebook every day and 510,000 comments are shared per minute; such an amount of data is only a small proportion of the 2.5 quintillion bytes of data created on the Internet every day and the number of Facebook users is only a fraction of the 3.7 billion total Internet users (Marr, 2018). Therefore, seeking relevant and useful information on social media would be like finding a needle in a haystack, while the need for trustworthy information online creates an opportunity for intermediary individuals on social media; these intermediaries possess characteristics of opinion leaders, on whom information seekers can depend for valuable information.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Live-Streaming Platforms: Increasingly popular social media in China; some examples of popular platforms in China are Douyu, Huya (YY), MOMO, and Douyin ( Live-streaming has been used for various purposes in China, from monitoring kitchen hygiene to live-streaming shopping. Some live-streamers on these platforms become Wanghong and earn good money from tips in the form of virtual gifts, besides salary from the platform and income from adverts and online shops.

Fashionistas: Fashion and beauty key opinion leaders; Wanghong who are known through sharing fashion and style tips on social media. They might also run online fashion shops, including live-streaming shopping, such as Taobao live-streaming.

Three Views (??): The term refers to ‘world view, value, and outlook on life’.

Wanghong (??): Wanghong is a Chinese term for internet celebrities in China. There are two types of Wanghong: key opinion leaders and fashionistas. Wanghong share information on social media in China through texts, photos, videos, and live-streaming. They have created a unique economy in China, in which Wanghong are marketed by agencies and engaged in both social media marketing and online retailing.

Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs): Wanghong who are celebrities, media personalities, or known for their professionalism (expertise) in certain areas. Fans follow them because of their personalities, expertise, and views on certain topics.

Papi Jiang: Online nickname of Jiang Yilei, one of the most popular Wanghong in China. She became known through her fast-talking and satirical videos across various social media platforms in China. In her videos, she often discusses topics such as relationships, trending topics, and movies.

Dayi Zhang: An iconic fashionista and entrepreneur in China. She became a fashion icon in China through sharing fashion and beauty tips on social media, including live-streaming. Her income and influence top those of Chinese film and TV celebrities. After rising to fame and fortune, she created her own fashion brand, jupe vendue , and cosmetic brands, BIGEVE and rouge a levre vendue .

Self-Media (???; Zimeiti): Independently operated accounts run by individual users posting self-produced content on social media platforms, such as WeChat and Weibo. Their emergence is based on participatory journalism, in which ‘ a citizen, or a group of citizens, plays an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing and disseminating news and information’ ( Bowman and Willis, 2003 ) .

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