How expats are cashing in on China’s internet celebrity boom

August 21, 2017
Industry News
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Kylie Knott
kylie.knott@scmp.com

Sharing funny stories about life abroad isn’t just a pastime – it’s helping foreigners claim a growing slice of a US$7.9 billion pie

THE FICKLE AND often fleeting business of internet celebrity is booming in China – and not just for the locals.

Social media personalities generated more than US$7.9 billion in revenue last year, according to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and foreigners are helping themselves to a growing share of the pie.

Take David Gulasi, the founder of an English education centre in Inner Mongolia, as a case in point. His profession might not seem an obvious platform to fame and fortune, but he has already managed to accumulate 5 million followers on social media platform Weibo – China’s answer to Facebook and Twitter – by sharing the funny moments he has experienced in his day job.

The Australian former standup comedian, 34, shot to fame by accident when he posted a comical video about a misunderstanding he had with two male students, who had invited him to their house “to play together”.

nitially, he was “freaked out” by the students’ request, but quickly realised there was nothing inappropriate about the invitation. “In China, people don’t say ‘hang out’, they say ‘play with’”, Gulasi explained, laughing. His video detailing the exchange went viral and within 24 hours his followers had gone from 5,000 to 120,000.

Gulasi is just one of a growing legion of expatriate online celebrities who are feeding off China’s more than 730 million internet users. According to the academy, these expatriate stars and their Chinese peers are reaching 385 million followers on Weibo alone.

Although expatriate online celebrities still lag their local peers in terms of popularity – Chinese comedian Papi Jiang, for example, has about 23.5 million fans on Weibo – Gulasi’s fame has proven to be a lucrative venture.

With his international background, videos spoken in English, and an alternative world view, Gulasi’s profile has attracted Chinese millennials, a group many firms are eager to serve. Gulasi now sells advertising space on his Weibo page for as much as US$60,000, and is so popular he can afford to reject sponsored content that he does not agree with. Continue Reading
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