Xiaohongshu Maye Musk

Is Weibo no longer the top choice for foreign celebrities jumping on the Chinese social network hype?

Chen Du

posted on May 7, 2021 7:43 pm

Maye Musk, model, dietitian, and author of her first book A Woman Makes a Plan, recently made her debut on Xiaohongshu, a mobile social network that is normally unheard of, but gained quite a lot of popularity in China in recent years.

Within a few moments of the account’s opening, Ms. Musk posted two videos, with another one posted more recently. In the first video, she said hello to her Chinese fans, telling them in English that she has a lot of stories to share at the age of 73.

Interestingly, without bringing up Xiaohongshu’s name, Ms. Musk said in the first video that she’s happy that she is very excited “to be on social media in China,” and hopes to visit China soon. The translated Chinese subtitles, however, did mention that the Chinese social media Ms. Musk was on, and talking about, was Xiaohongshu.

Prior to launching the new account on Xiaohongshu, Ms. Musk, a Canadian-South African, is already a popular foreign celebrity on Weibo, where she also has a verified account, mostly due to her affiliation with and outspoken support for her son Elon Musk, the notoriously flamboyant tech CEO. Being seen as the maternal figure who raised a highly successful serial entrepreneur, Ms. Musk is recognized by Chinese netizens who know her as a strong, independent woman who managed her professional career well while being a successful mother.

Xiaohongshu, literally translated as “Little Red Book,” is probably the best Chinese social network for Ms. Musk to be on right now. 

Much like many influencers on Xiaohongshu, Ms. Musk is, seemingly, there to promote a product--in this case, her 2019 memoir, A Woman Makes a Plan: Advice for a Lifetime of Adventure, Beauty, and Success. The book was published in China in June last year but did not receive much fanfare due to people’s struggle with the Covid-19 pandemic at the time.

Within weeks of opening the account, Ms. Musk already accrued more than a hundred thousand followers and about 66,000 likes and bookmarks on Xiaohongshu, with her debut video performing the best, receiving about 43,000 likes. 

A screenshot of the data analytics of Maye Musk's Xiaohongshu account, from Chanmama, a data aggregator.
A screenshot of the data analytics of Maye Musk's Xiaohongshu account, from Chanmama, a data aggregator.

One die-hard fan commented that they had read her book three times and had put it on their desk. Many other commenters asked for links to her fashionable outfits, while others praised her slow and perfect English as great listening material, and some even joked that her tongue looked red and that she needed to see a doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Taken into consideration the recent Tesla China customer protest fiasco, some users also commented (a few even wrote in English) on Ms. Musk’s videos, venting their resent towards her son’s electric vehicle company. 

“You are an outstanding mother and a respected woman. However, we cannot forgive Tesla’s damage done to Chinese consumers and its rude attitude,” commented one user. “Your son’s company disregards consumer safety. This is the result of your education,” said another user.

Ms. Musk replied to none of her thousands of comments, positive or negative. As of publishing, her Xiaohongshu account also did not follow anyone.

Nevertheless, Ms. Musk’s usage of Xiaohongshu as a promotional channel is the right move, as data show that her Xiaohongshu account already has more followers than her Weibo account, registered back in 2019. She was visibly not exactly keen on how Chinese social network works back then, posting several links to her Instagram posts 

The photo, short video, and live streaming-based platform is filled with users sharing beautiful aspects of their lives. Popular topics on the platform revolve around makeup, boutique outfits, artisan creation and display, niche travel destinations, book reviews, etc. Even tech influencers on Xiaohongshu bring a different vibe to consumer electronic reviews than that of other platforms, like Bilibili and YouTube.

Miranda Qu, co-founder of the Shanghai-based company, described Xiaohongshu as a mobile version of Along the River During the Qingming Festival (editor: a Song Dynasty landscape drawing of urban life, dubbed China’s Mona Lisa) for Chinese netizens’ modern lives. 

The unique lifestyle-centric nature of Xiaohongshu’s content is a perfect match for Ms. Musk’s personal and professional characters. 

As of July 2019, the platform had over close to a hundred million monthly active users, with 70% of the total user base categorized as Gen-Z and 80% of which are female. For starters, Xiaohongshu can be easily understood as the Chinese version of Pinterest. But with a highly performing e-commerce feature known as the RED Store, it is more accurately described as Pinterest and Amazon combined, challenging the dominance of Weibo and WeChat, China’s most used social networks, and e-commerce players like Alibaba and, at the same time.

When foreign celebrities go on Chinese social networks, Weibo, often referred to as China’s Twitter, is often the designated option. Global figures like India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, renowned physicist Stephen Hawking, computer entrepreneur and philanthropist Bill Gates, Apple CEO Tim Cook, pop idols Taylor Swift and Psy (Gangnam Style) have opened accounts on Weibo, although some of them ultimately had to leave the platform due to various reasons, like the deteriorating bilateral relationship between China and India that led to a rampage of politically-charged online insults, for Modi.

In fact, that increasingly worrying political discourse on China’s massive social networks, particularly Weibo, could be one of the reasons that it’s becoming less desirable for foreign figures and celebrities to interact with Chinese people. Meanwhile, niche social networks, like Xiaohongshu once was and still managed to largely maintain, could become optimal, especially since the company has scaled up quickly in recent years. 

This is not to say that Xiaohongshu does not have its own problems dealing with foreign users. Last year, PingWest reported last year that the app allegedly shut down live streams featuring foreign vloggers. The company did not respond to our requests for comment. Industry experts who spoke to us proposed that this could be an unfortunate side effect of the company being inexperienced with content moderation with regards to foreign users.

For the time being though, Ms. Musk’s coming onboard feels like a fresh breeze to many Xiaohongshu users, and a confirmation that the platform of their choice is becoming increasingly global.