Home Internet Not your average internet celebrity: China’s CEOs turn online influencers

Not your average internet celebrity: China’s CEOs turn online influencers

BEIJING – “I really want to become a wang hong (internet celebrity),” said Mr Lu Fang.

And while internet stardom is something younger people typically aspire to, the 48-year-old chief executive of a Chinese luxury electric carmaker recently voiced the same aspiration.

“I hope everyone will help me become a wang hong,” Mr Lu, the head of state-owned automaker Dongfeng Motor’s subsidiary Voyah, quipped to local media in April.

Mr Lu, who says that he works hard on microblog posts every day, is not alone in his quest for internet fame. 

China’s chief executives are increasingly fashioning themselves as online influencers, in a bid to boost sales as a slowing economy squeezes their companies’ bottom lines.

This phenomenon has gained prominence following the Covid-19 pandemic, analysts have said, in a reflection of the stiff competition and depressed demand that China’s businesses have to contend with today.

CEO-influencers

These CEO-influencers hold hours-long live streams, star in video clips and pen short notes on platforms such as Weibo, a microblogging site, and Douyin, China’s version of TikTok. 

There, they tout their companies’ products, discuss industry developments and share light-hearted snippets of their lives, sometimes multiple times a day.

Their goal: the eyeballs, hearts and – ultimately – wallets of China’s consumers.

China’s CEO-influencers include head honchos from industries spanning electronics to tech to education.

One of the most successful is Mr Lei Jun, founder of consumer electronics giant Xiaomi, who has over 23 million followers each on Weibo and Douyin.

The charismatic 54-year-old made his debut as his company’s live-streaming salesman on Douyin in August 2020, when the pandemic spurred more corporate leaders to use live streams to reach consumers who were isolated at home.

The revenues that he brought in then made headlines – over 100 million yuan (S$19 million) in less than two hours.

Mr Lei is now leaning hard on his personal brand to break into China’s hyper-saturated electric vehicle market, most recently with a 3½-hour live stream on May 18 that saw him drive Xiaomi’s SU7 Pro from Shanghai to Hangzhou while 39 million people watched online.

The internet traffic that he generates, seen as a precursor to sales, is the envy of his peers.

In a Weibo post in February, billionaire tech tycoon Zhou Hongyi cited Mr Lei as one of the CEO-influencers he sought to learn from, so he can speak for his company while saving on advertising fees.

 

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