How to Become a Chinese Internet Celebrity

Found an interesting article on Little Red Book by Rand Han which discusses the most powerful celebrity in China is actually a “digital blogger” the complete article can be found here

Here’s an eye opener: China’s most famous digital blogger is more popular than China’s top movie and sports star celebrities combined… by a pretty wide margin.

This is crazy, but when you think of it, oddly intuitively right. Offline celebrities are great, but seem distant and inaccessible. When compared to your average blogger or online celeb however, there exists the opportunity to engage, keep up with them daily, and share more of their lives; more points of contact eventually equal greater engagement, assuming the content of those engagements remains fresh.

Pretty interesting no? It’s clear the influence a lone blogger can have, and brands are reflecting this in their campaigns; not only is Han Han on outdoor ads, but China’s bloggers are a common staple in your average WOM campaign diet.

I know what you’re thinking: “Rand, these nobodies became somebodies… so how can I too become a Chinese internet celebrity?”

This is a very good question, most appropriately answered with the following headline:

How to become a Chinese Internet celebrity.

Here are a few cases of internet celebs; some of them manufactured by China’s “buzz”agencies, and other arising naturally, either through talent, sexuality, or serendipity.

Furong Jie.

“Sister Furong” was manufactured by a now defunct China ePR agency. Back in “the day” the calling card of China’s social media agencies was the ability to create viral content online. Generally this is on the low end of low end in terms of budgets; but when done right became cultural phenomenons. Sister Furong is one such example.

It’s pretty clear that Sister Furong was created to be mocked. She’s a not-so-attractive woman, posing as if she were very attractive, in poses that are supposed to be sexy (the “S” shape) but upon the briefest of inspections clearly are not. It’s a play on ignorance wherein the viewer feels a brief sense of superiority; and it was a smash hit with China’s netizens, launching Sister Furong’s agency into the top echelons for a brief window in time.

Now of course this will have a backlash effect; following this route leads to ridicule. Which brings us to…

Yufeng Luo.

Yufeng Luo sent thousands of marriage seeking leaflets in Shanghai’s busiest districts, with strict conditions such as “handsome”, “great attitude”, “rich”, “college educated”, “great job”, “1.72-1.83 meters in height” etc. Generally such superficial audacity would seem arrogant; that’s until you see Yufeng Luo.

Also the product of an agency, Yufeng Luo was deemed “the most confident girl in all of China” by China’s netizens. Successful for the agency, at her peak Yufeng Luo was interviewed on Jiangsu TV, and had her own TV show, but for the girl that played the part?

A little embarrassing yes, but with Shanghai’s crowded streets, and especially the Expo’s packed crowds, the invisible “barrier of mocking” may be a benefit. Maybe.

Brother Sharp.

Brother Sharp, or the “prince of beggars” was an organic viral phenomenon, not created by an agency. He’s just a cool looking beggar walking on the street who happens to suffer from extreme mental problems.

Yes Brother Sharp cross dresses; as you may have guessed these next “fashion statements” met with a little less fanfare, though they certainly did get attention. Upon deeper study, Brother Sharp’s got some serious mental issues, which upon reflection may be the secret that turned him into a fashion icon, cause as we all know, fashion is insane.

Brother Sharp managed to catch attention; but it was a brief case of serendipity before he slid back into the general fuzz. Unlike Furong Jie’s managed buzz, Brother Sharp peaked and was gone in an internet minute.

Xinyu Zhang.

Now here’s a movie celebrity who became an internet celebrity. It isn’t too hard to guess what makes Xinyu a star; and a star she is to China’s many geeks. Xinyu is the spokesmodel for video games, football, and through a nude picture “scandal”.

Xinyu Zhang followed an arguably “traditional” route vs. her celebrity counterparts, selling sex rather than some freakish contextual oddity.

Generally we see sustained activity throughout the years, managed by consistent activity, linking to video games, and guys who want to see her naked.

So there you have it.

Becoming a Chinese internet celebrity isn’t too hard it seems if you’re willing to sell your soul. In the case of Han Han we have true talent and true connection to his audience. In the case of the others? A focus on one extreme facet of personality blown out of proportion to cartoonish characterization.

We get a sense of short term vs long term benefits, and the meaning of connection, be it based on mutual respect, or a complete debasement of one’s image.

One thing is certain, these celebrities are commanding greater awareness and public attention than their offline counterparts, and the reason is simple; it’s engagement and connection on a day to day emotional level that makes these celebs more accessible, and inherently more interesting.

Just like ad campaigns that turn into social media campaigns; the same with digital vs. offline celebs; it’s no longer one big bang, but a series of small bangs over time to increase affinity and to lengthen conversations. In a sense this has been done previously, but in another sense enough has changed in the traditional model to make this a “new enough” field that requires exploration and for brands, optimization.

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