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Hylink Digital Marketing Research Institute Publishes "A Guide to Fan Culture"


By Jasmine Lee

“Can someone tell me how to start a Weibo Super Topic?”

On July 16th at 10pm, Jay Chou fan “Little Unicorn” posts the above message to her WeChat. At 11pm, Little Unicorn publishes the first post on Jay Chou’s brand-new Super Topic (a dedicated conversation thread) and joins his fan website, quickly becoming caught up in a new wave of fan knowledge.

By July 21st, the topic “Jay Chou’s Super Topic hits 100 million views” became a trending topic on Weibo and Jay Chou rose to #1 on Weibo’s “Top Stars” list, thanks to the hard work of Little Unicorn and countless other fans.

You could say that having a favorite celebrity is an inevitable part of growing up, and that most people have been a fanboy or fangirl at least once in their life. Weibo users are certainly not the exception to this rule.

According to 2018 data from Weibo, entertainment stars’ cumulative follower count on the platform is 16.7 billion. That means that each of Weibo’s 446 million daily active users follows at least 37 idols.

In 2018, driven by Japanese and Korean-style idol audition shows, celeb-loving fans appeared on the large scale. Their “people power” single-handedly made idols into stars, with their fans helping them hit top lists, promoting merchandise, and supporting them at concerts and events. The fans’ outpouring of adoration has drastically changed the marketing world’s evaluation of fan culture’s worth and forced professionals to take note.

However, we also noticed that marketers trying to understand fan culture can be misled by special cases and individual behaviors, causing them to overuse and exploit fans’ true emotions, or accidentally trip into the “minefield” of fan fury.

Let’s investigate. How does one understand the relationship between fans and idols? What is fans’ true role and unique culture?

These questions led Hylink Digital Marketing Research (HDMR) to publish our new report, A Guide to Fan Culture. Through research, in-depth qualitative analysis, marketing case analysis, and other methods, we discovered the average fan’s real opinions and how they reflect the fan community’s positive energy. Our guide helps those outside the “inner circle” to use proper and positive methods to understand fan culture and provides reference and advice for marketing purposes.

The guide is divided into introductory and advanced editions. Below is a summary of some major findings detailed in the introductory edition.

Japanese and Korean Influences

“My idol got work today!”

“I hope my idol and I have a bright future!”

“If you don’t spend money on your idol, you’re not a real fan!”

You’ll hear fans all over China saying these phrases, but you might be surprised to learn that sentiments like these actually come from the Japanese and Korean idol industries.

Internet users born after 1990 or 1995 all grew up experiencing the development of Japanese and Korean idol industries and were influenced by fan and idol culture from an early age. The industry’s ideas, standards, norms, and methods became an important frame of reference for China’s youth.

Moving on from Japan and Korea, HDMR discovered these three key characteristics about the Chinese fan community in particular: First, young women form the nucleus of the fan community. Sixty percent of fans are women and seventy percent were born after 1990. Second, there are many ways to be a fan: standalone fans, fan clubbers, fans with only one idol, etc. Finally, most people go with the majority, always following whichever idol is popular.

The Marketing Perspective

Marketers should pay attention to four distinct categories of fans and their different timelines of maintaining interest. HDMR divided fans into the following categories: the peanut gallery, passers-by, long-term fans, and casual fans, looking into their levels of interest over time.

Marketers can use the analogy of latent users, infrequent users, loyal users, and drifting users, thereby understanding the worth and meaning of these categories, and the makeup of the fan community.

The guide includes a wealth of information about Chinese fans and their culture, covering information such as what makes a “fan,” characteristics of the fan community, different fan identities, illustrative case studies, and what marketers can learn from fan culture. Such detailed information is essential to having a full understanding of how to utilize fan culture in the marketing industry and beyond.

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