In China, universities teach how to go viral online
By: Albee Zhang Source: Taipei Times Date: 21/6/2017
A 21-year-old student walked around her campus in China using invaluable skills she learned in class: Holding a selfie stick aloft, she livestreamed her random thoughts and blew kisses at her phone.
Jiang Mengna is majoring in “modelling and etiquette” at Yiwu Industrial & Commercial College near Shanghai, aspiring to join the growing ranks of young Chinese cashing in on internet stardom.
Hordes of Chinese millennials are speaking directly to the country’s 700 million smartphone users, streaming their lives to lucrative effect, fronting brands and launching businesses.
They are known as wanghong (網紅) — literally hot on the web — and they now represent an industry worth billions and so big it even has its own university curriculum.
At Yiwu Industrial & Commercial College, the classrooms for Jiang and the other 33 mostly female students are typically dance studios, catwalks strafed by flashing lights and bustling makeup rooms. The skills taught include dressing fashionably, applying make-up, performing on camera and knowing various luxury brands.
“I like dressing myself up really pretty and take pictures. I feel like this major really suits me,” Jiang said.
She spent 30 minutes at lunch musing about her day to her internet audience.
She was rewarded with a quick 60 yuan (NT$267) in “virtual gifts” — emoticons with small digital values that comprise the main income for many aspiring wanghong, at least until they go viral.
“The requests and demands for our major are rising because the e-commerce industry is developing rapidly,” said Hou Xiaonan, a dance teacher.
Wang Xin, 20, switched from accounting to a major in wanghong.
“I have always had an idea, a dream to be on stage with the lights on me and the crowd watching me,” Wang said.
BILLION DOLLAR INDUSTRY
The students are trying to follow in the footsteps of people like Wang Houhou, a self-described shopaholic, and her friend Wang Ruhan.
When they began posting tips on China’s social media about good fashion and where to find it last year, the pair had no idea that their new hobby would make them money.
But soon enough, the Shanghai-based duo’s posts and videos won hundreds of thousands of viewers, and retailers followed, vying for their endorsements.
Like other wanghong, they are now leveraging their cyber-fame with an e-commerce fashion business which they launched earlier this month.
“I would just find a very interesting item that I would wear, and I would take weird photos of it and post it on the blog, and people really go and buy this stuff,” Wang Houhou said, almost in disbelief.
Internet consultancy Analysys International estimated China’s wanghong industry was worth 53 billion yuan (US$7.7 billion) last year and would double by next year.
“A nobody can suddenly become prominent and average people can become celebrities,” said Yuan Guobao, author of The Wanghong Economy.
A ‘WANGHONG’ IS BORN
The patron saint of wanghong is Shanghai’s Jiang Yilei (姜逸磊), 30, a graduate of a top China drama academy whose low-budget comedic video rants on everything from urban life to relationships went viral last year.
“Papi Jiang,” as she is known, now has 23 million followers and product endorsements including New Balance footwear and luxury watchmaker Jaeger-LeCoultre.
Wanghong content is typically bland day-in-the-life livestreaming that earns small digital monetary gifts from fans.