RISE OF THE CYBERSTAR ECONOMY
Posting selfies and videos on social media platforms isn’t just a way of sharing one’s life happenings with friends anymore — it’s now a way to make a fortune off advertisers and marketers
The emergence of cyberstars is a phenomenon that coincides with the permeation of the Internet in daily life and it indicates that the way of life, culture, education and media are
on the eve of a revolution.”
celebrity professor of Fudan University
News of Chinese online celebrity Papi Jiang securing 12 million yuan ($1.85 million) in venture capital funding has ignited a debate over whether a “cyberstar economy” has just been created in China.
The 29-year-old Shanghai woman, whose real name is Jiang Yilei, shot to fame using Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter. Unlike many of the other Chinese online celebrities who usually post selfies of themselves in fashionable clothes or at glitzy events, Jiang’s appeal is her no-frills and satirical commentary on everyday issues. Jiang was in 2015 rated number two in a ranking of Chinese Internet celebrities by China Internet Weekly, only after Wang Sicong, the son of China’s real estate tycoon Wang Jianlin.
Since publishing her first batch of clips in July last year, Jiang, who is a graduate student from the Central Academy of Drama in Beijing, has amassed a following of more than 9 million followers. Each of the video clips posted on her WeChat account has been viewed more than 100,000 times.
According to the Xinhua News Agency, Jiang was reportedly valued at 300 million yuan even before she received the funding. On April 21, an auction for the first advertisement to appear on Jiang’s video feeds will be held on Alibaba.
“The popularity of such clips among young people are attractive to venture capital investors. This dramatic and self-centered way of expression is typical of what young netizens do on social media these days. This is what started the investment in Internet starlets,” said Yu Hai, a sociology professor at Fudan University.
Gu Xiaoming, a professor from Fudan University, said that the emergence of cyberstars is a phenomenon that coincides with the permeation of the Internet in daily life and it indicates that the way of life, culture, education and media are on the eve of a revolution.
The concept of cyberstars is not new, but it has now evolved into a viable platform for branding, this is a stage that former Chinese Internet starlets never reached, said Shen Yang, a professor from Tsinghua University.
And it seems that age and life experience are inconsequential when it comes to being an Internet sensation. One such example is 15-year-old Canadian blogger Karisma Collins who started using social media about four years ago.
She currently has more than 400,000 combined followers on Instagram and Facebook, as well as more than 685,000 on musical.ly, a music video community site. Most of the teenager’s posts on social media are of her posing in various outfits and the majority of her followers are reportedly girls aged from 12 to 24. Each of her recent posts on Instagram is liked by more than 10,000 followers.
“To be honest, my favorite part and their monthly sales exceed 1 million yuan.
“As much as 615.3 billion yuan of clothes in China was sold through e-commerce in 2014, of which clothes promoted by a cyberstar accounted for 100 billion yuan. There is also a huge potential in using these stars to promote other industries such as gaming, tourism and plastic surgery,” wrote Lv Ming, an industrial analyst with Guotai Jun’an Securities, in a 23-page report in January.
According to Ding Chengling, the founder of an establishment that helps educate cyberstars, some of these individuals have also been offered opportunities in the entertainment industry that range from appearing in shows, promotions, television series to even movies, according to their popularity.
Chen Yujin, founder of Shanghai-based digital celebrity incubator Tophot, said that the trend has validated her belief that her business idea is full of potential. Chen aims to design tailor-made styles for every one of the more than 100 Internet starlets who have signed up with her company. Tophot’s mobile platform attracted more than 500,000 users within three months of its launch in November 2015.
“Just like the yacht industry 10 years ago, when people barely knew about it, the digital celebrity economy has a very bright future,” said Chen, who started her business of producing Internet celebrities in February 2015.
“We want to overthrow the traditional opinion that cyberstars are unlike general artistes. As a matter of fact, we have already received some advertising opportunities from affordable luxury brands and the top digital celebrity with us has already reached a similar level as third-tier artists, based on appearance fees at shows,” added Chen.
Ding said that today’s cyberstars will need to keep up with the everchanging Internet trends by consistently generating creative content to engage their audiences or risk being forgotten, even if they are as popular as Papi Jiang.
Papi Jiang (above) and Karisma Collins are Internet sensations in their own countries.