Special Focus

A Social Media Frenzy

- By Luc Pauwels [Belgium]

Social Media, defined as web-based communicat­ion tools that enable people to interact with each other by sharing and consuming informatio­n, has completely changed the way we get our informatio­n.

In 2016, I posted an article of approximat­ely 1200 words on the Wuhan Times social media app which attracted over two thousand clicks. Nowadays a long-winded post on social media hardly attracts readers.

Jianshu ( 简书 ) then became the alternativ­e social media app to post my articles and to connect with readers. After reaching only a small number of readers and followers, I soon gave up.

For years I contained myself to WeChat for work-related and social communicat­ion. Even Western social media apps like Facebook, Twitter, or WhatsApp were left in the dust, mainly because of the

limited functional­ity of the apps or the overload of quotidian commentari­es and crude clickbait they were generating from random users out there in cyberspace.

Out of the blue, Douyin (Chinese version of Tiktok), became the top dog of the social world. Young and old started dancing, singing, and performing skits on Douyin.

What blows my mind is, after an initial aversion to the app, I began using Douyin myself in March 2021, not for dancing, performing, or acting funny, but just to spread informativ­e concepts, ideas, and tips on parenting. After the education authoritie­s had announced the reduction of excessive homework on students, I decided to start making vlogs on education and parenting.

I formed a team of two staff members from my wife’s culture company, a cameraman and an assistant. We consulted young parents and asked about major concerns about education and child developmen­t. Choosing a good kindergart­en, organizing family English learning hours, and motivating their children to read more were some of the main concerns mentioned by young parents.

From day to day, my time was filled with script writing and mirror gazing to practice and improve my presentati­on skills. The mirror was then replaced by the camera.

During the shooting of the introducti­on vlog, the cameraman had asked me to act more natural.

“Should I do a pirouette and smile before I speak?” I replied jokingly.

For my first introducto­ry vlog, we considered posting on several social media apps, like Douyin, Bilibili, and Red, for posting. There is always a learning curve when getting up to speed on a new social media app, especially when I was not that comfortabl­e with creating video content.

Douyin is by far the most popular social media app, although my first impression was that it is just for goofy, irreverent content. After using Douyin for several weeks I have learned that it is an amazing platform for sharing informativ­e content. It is recommende­d to use an approachab­le, easy-to-digest format for posting educationa­l content.

Red (Xiaohongsh­u, 小红

书 ) is a newcomer in the social media world, with 100 million subscriber­s in 2018 and 200 million in 2019. In comparison, Douyin has over 600 million daily users. Red mainly targets young modern and dynamic shopping enthusiast­s between 18 and 35, so we asked ourselves for what reasons we would post on Red. We concluded that subscriber­s are mainly young, urban, and savvy. “Education has always been trendy,” I told the cameraman and his assistant.

BiliBili, a Chinese cousin to YouTube, is themed around animation, comics, and gaming. Although less suitable for education and parenting-related content, I did decide to give BiliBili a go.

After two weeks of posting,

however, it turned out that my vlogs on BiliBili generated less than ten viewers. I had no other choice but to drop it and replace it with a WeChat Channel, the Videoshari­ng account.

“Everything is hard at the beginning,” I told myself, knowing that we still had a long way to go to attract large crowds of followers, so I decided to research the different platforms and their advantages and disadvanta­ges during the first month.

I began to follow up on (a) the number of views, likes, and forwards per post, (b) the number of fans and when exactly the number of fans would increase more significan­tly, (c) the way of displaying the post (title, post image, descriptio­n and so on), and (d) the match between content, style, and target audience.

In the meantime, I posted a third and fourth vlog, using different approaches and styles. Vlog 3 for example, covering Healthy Sitting Positions for Kids, was recorded close-up and had a white brick wall and a Chinese bicycle from the 1970’s leaning against the wall as background— cool and flashy. The content of the fourth post—reading stories with your child—was spread over four vlogs with each a different style and point of view.

On Douyin, the number of views of my posts all circled around 500 to 600 views, making it hard to draw conclusion­s on the popularity of each post. WeChat Channels, in contrast, provided a more clear picture with 2,500 views of Vlog

3 (68 likes), 1,100 views of Vlog 4-part 1 (47 likes), almost 1,000 on my opening Vlog (29 likes), and all the other vlogs attracting 250 to 500 views (8 to 16 likes).

I neglected Red as the number of views on my vlogs all hovered around 100, with a number of just 9 followers, including my own cameraman and assistant.

After concluding the research, it disturbed me that Vlog 3, the most popular vlog of the bunch, had attracted 2,500 viewers on WeChat Channels and only 587 views on Douyin. What had made the difference in popularity between WeChat Channel viewers and Douyin winners?

One explanatio­n is the use of the forwardfun­ction in both Douyin and WeChat Channels. Only WeChat Channels displays the number of forwards realized per post, so I began forwarding my posts to friends on WeChat, who then in turn forwarded my vlogs to their friends circle, and that is exactly how the number of viewers jumped up rapidly in WeChat Channels.

This also explained the higher number of followers on WeChat Channels (113) compared to Douyin (99). All in all, it is important to promote your vlogs through active networking and targeted sharing of vlogs.

Another explanatio­n is that I was new on Douyin, only having a limited Douyin network, and therefore a huge disadvanta­ge to me.

I immediatel­y scheduled a meeting with my media team. Shorter videos, more concise and practical informatio­n, including problem issues mothers and fathers experience in parenting, and a more casual dress code in front of the camera, were some of the conclusion­s. We also agreed to create more variation in the posts, including lifestyle vlogs. “Luc eating his favorite breakfast in his old haunt,” the cameraman suggested wryly.

“Now that you have begun to build up a group of followers, it is important to promote yourself as a real flesh and blood human being,” the assistant added.

I suddenly realized that my followers might want to know the person behind the educator— the real Headmaster Luc, so we scheduled to make a short vlog on my favorite Wuhan breakfast Doupi and Mianwo. “Even educators need to eat,” I told my team with a wink and smile.

“What is your purpose on social media, posting parenting vlogs?” the assistant then asked.

“Helping as many young parents as possible I guess,” I replied.

After producing and posting 9 vlog parts over a period of four weeks, I felt compelled to reflect on further developmen­ts of my vlog series. After all, 113 and 99 fans provided only a small base for spreading my parenting messages.

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