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How an Army of Elderly Influencers Took Over China’s Instagram


JIANGSU, East China– At a high-end dim amount dining establishment in downtown Nanjing, Li Yaozhu is assisting her 83-year-old mom shoot her most current viral video. Resting on a couch by the window, Li movies her mom as she connects her Hermes silk headscarf in a classy bow. Later on, she’ll modify the video and publish it to her eat Xiaohongshu, a Chinese social app. Li, a retired style seller, started recording her mom’s clothing options in 2020. It started as a method to kill time throughout lockdown, she states, however ever since it has actually ended up being a major pastime. She now has almost 70,000 fans on Xiaohongshu, who excitedly await her mom’s newest videos. “She does not understand the brand names or just how much they cost,” Li informs Sixth Tone. “But my mom has excellent taste in clothing, and my fans take pleasure in seeing her clothing of the day.” Senior influencers like Li’s mom have actually flooded onto Xiaohongshu in current months, shocking a platform that is frequently identified China’s closest equivalent to Instagram. She does not understand the brand names … But my mom has excellent taste in clothing, and my fans delight in seeing her clothing of the day. Xiaohongshu is among China’s most significant social platforms with over 200 million users. For a long time, it brought in a really particular user base: young, metropolitan, and mainly female. The app was primarily deemed a location where stylish millennials went to publish selfies, swap way of life ideas, and follow style influencers. That, nevertheless, is starting to alter. China’s elders have actually ended up being much more internet-savvy given that the start of the pandemic, when digital platforms became a crucial part of the federal government’s virus-control technique. Throughout the lockdowns, countless over-60s downloaded and found out to utilize food shipment, payment, and health apps for the very first time. They typically did so out of need: It was hard to purchase groceries– or total compulsory COVID tests– without them. Now, retired people are beginning to branch off– which’s leading numerous to try out apps like Xiaohongshu. The variety of material developers aged over 50 on the platform has actually apparently risen by over 100% in the previous 12 months alone. For lots of senior citizens, Xiaohongshu is appealing since it provides an opportunity to construct brand-new social connections. They are typically actively looking for a method to engage with more youths, states Zhu Qin, a teacher at Fudan University’s School of Social Development and Public Policy. Numerous senior Chinese are empty-nesters, and feel starved of social interaction, Zhu states. They tend to very first register for the social app WeChat, however discover chances to mingle there are minimal. Kids frequently obstruct their senior moms and dads on the platform, for worry they’ll their way of life options. “This causes solitude amongst the aging population, and motivates them to rely on platforms where youths are the bulk,” states Zhu. The method Xiaohongshu is developed makes it simpler to get in touch with brand-new individuals. Unlike WeChat, where individuals generally talk with their family and friends, the app is a more open platform that links individuals with shared interests. In the past, Xiaohongshu’s concentrate on aspirational way of life activities may have delayed elders, however that seems altering as earnings levels increase in China. A representative from Xiaohongshu stated they had actually been struck by how “vibrant” the material published by older users is. Elders not just share their daily lives, however likewise videos of themselves trying activities like treking and playing frisbee. “People pursue a much better life despite age, and living requirements are enhancing, so the senior have greater and greater goals for their lives,” stated the representative. Li Yaozhu assists her 83-year-old mom shoot her newest video, Nanjing, Jiangsu province, February 2023. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone Making an effect Li, the retired person from Nanjing, likes communicating with her fans on Xiaohongshu. She now invests 2 days a week running her account, shooting, modifying, and livestreaming videos. Periodically, if she awakens in an excellent state of mind, she tapes herself singing a tune. Other times, she’ll publish videos of her mom delighting in a walk in a fashionable attire, or coloring her hair in a hotel restroom. She delights in the remarks these videos provoke from more youthful users. “They frequently state, ‘grandmother looks fantastic,’ ‘I enjoy this granny,’ or ‘I hope I’m that stylish and stunning when I’m old,'” Li states. Some elders have actually brought in even larger followings. In 2019, a quartet of retired people from Beijing– who call themselves Glamma Beijing– went viral after publishing videos of themselves strutting around the capital in classy gowns. They have actually given that collected over 2.3 million fans on Douyin, the Chinese variation of TikTok. These senior citizens on social networks appear so energetic and complete of life, and I do not see any age stress and anxiety in them. This makes me less afraid about getting old. – Zhang Yuru, Xiaohongshu user The group members inform Sixth Tone they take pleasure in talking with their fans on social networks. The large bulk of them are young: Research shows that many people following senior influencers on Douyin are in between 18 and 24 years of ages. To their Gen-Z fans, Glamma Beijing are genuine, natural, and down-to-earth, with their own distinct style sense. “As retired people, our capabilities are decreasing at this age, however rather of decreasing, we’re doing something more impactful,” includes Sun Yang, a 67-year-old Glamma Beijing member. Sometimes, Glamma Beijing’s material makes an extensive impression on their young fans. “There are some youths struggling with anxiety who see how pleased we can be at our age, and this assists them in their healing,” states Lin Wei, another member of the group. Zhang Yuru, a 24-year-old from Nanjing, is among lots of young Chinese who have actually started following senior influencers on Douyin and Xiaohongshu throughout the previous 2 years. She states she has actually been motivated by the senior citizens’ favorable mindsets. “When individuals consider old individuals, they tend to visualize them as persistent, irritating, unfashionable, and sluggish,” states Zhang. “But these elders on social networks appear so energetic and complete of life, and I do not see any age stress and anxiety in them. This makes me less afraid about getting old.” As the number of elders utilizing Xiaohongshu grows, senior users are beginning to form their own neighborhoods on the platform. Li Liping, a retired person from Shanghai, has actually been publishing on Xiaohongshu considering that 2018. The 67-year-old now has more than 15,000 fans on the platform, with whom she likes to share “philosophical insights” about life. “Previously, I mainly taped my own life, today that I have more fans I believe I can assist them, therefore I pay more attention to much deeper things,” states Li, who isn’t associated with Li Yaozhu. Li likewise follows numerous other middle-aged and senior individuals on Xiaohongshu, and they all routinely like and discuss each other’s posts. She states that she does not fret about growing older, or about how old her fans are. “To feel the appeal of life and to reveal the charm that is distinct to each age is the most crucial thing for me,” she states. Cottidie/VectorStock/VCG Fighting for senior citizens For Chinese social platforms, senior citizens now represent a possibly huge brand-new market. China’s over-60s population is anticipated to increase over the coming years, from 280 million in 2022 to 402 million in 2040. Today’s senior citizens are likewise respected web users. In 2021, the Chinese federal government needed significant sites and apps to develop senior-friendly user interfaces: making text bigger and clearer, and colors bolder. The very same year, a study discovered that 51% of middle-aged and senior web users invested over 4 hours a day online– more than the nationwide average. Among the very first tech business to attempt and take advantage of this market was Meipian– a social app that was established around the very same time as Xiaohongshu, in 2015. Meipian’s special selling point is that it enables users to rapidly modify and submit approximately 100 pictures simultaneously. The business quickly discovered this function attracted one group in specific: the senior. As countless senior citizens registered, Meipian chose to lean into this pattern. Gradually, the app has actually turned into a special platform: a huge social media targeted particularly at senior citizens. Elders utilize the app to record their lives, share images and poetry, satisfy individuals with shared interests, and arrange activities such as singing or painting groups. Screenshots of posts by photography lovers on Meipian. Today, Meipian supposedly has around 200 million users, of which half are over 45 years of ages. Numerous in China jokingly describe the platform as “Laohongshu”– “Old Red Book”– to contrast it with Xiaohongshu, the millennial-friendly platform whose name implies “Little Red Book” in English. As more senior users flock to Xiaohongshu, the “Old Red Book” is having a hard time to remain pertinent. The business was currently having problem monetizing its company. It went to excellent effort to arrange activity groups to assist users with shared interests link by means of Meipian, and even started arranging offline activities for its users. Its senior user base wasn’t keen on paying to participate in these occasions, or on shopping through livestream. Now, Meipian dangers losing its leading influencers to Xiaohongshu– a platform where material developers can discover a bigger audience, and more chances to capitalize it. I hope that by publishing this material I can get a feel for the way of life of youths, and communicate and interact much better with my kid. Du Qing, a senior citizen from Beijing, established an account on Xiaohongshu last November. She had actually currently been utilizing WeChat and Meipian, however she wished to learn more about individuals from her kid’s generation. “Meipian has lots of individuals my age, however it’s so fascinating to communicate with a lot of youths on Xiaohongshu,” Du states. Du rapidly ended up being a struck on Xiaohongshu. Unlike the majority of senior users, who tend to record their every day lives, she started publishing surreal, greatly modified pictures. In one, she photoshopped herself 7 times into a landscape. In others, she mimicked well-known historic paintings. Within 3 months, she had more than 10,000 fans. Du is happy that individuals enjoy her work, however primarily she is happy that she now has a lot of chances to connect with her young fans. “I hope that by publishing this material I can get a feel for the way of life of youths, and engage and interact much better with my kid,” she states. The majority of the senior influencers who consulted with Sixth Tone stated they published material as a pastime, instead of as a method to earn money. Numerous have actually gotten deals for industrial chances. As quickly as Li Yaozhu started developing a following, agents from influencer companies started connecting, attempting to sign her up. The retired person decreased. “The Xiaohongshu account resembles a journal for me, coming from me personally,” Li states. “Once I partner with a group, it will alter the nature of what I do. Going commercial might impact my regular life.” Li has actually begun to monetize her account in her own method. Every Sunday, she livestreams for a couple of hours on Xiaohongshu, presenting a couple of items she likes in each program: denims, t-shirts, or pieces of fashion jewelry. Her fans can then purchase the items on Xiaohongshu Live– an e-commerce platform connected to the app– at a discount rate. Screenshots of Li Yaozhu’s posts about her mom on Xiaohongshu. Li states she just makes a couple of hundred yuan from each program, and states she primarily does it due to the fact that it assists her engage more with her fans. She’s more thrilled about beginning to take a trip with her mom once again. Prior to the pandemic, Li and her mom took a trip to 28 nations together, however they have not left China given that the nation enforced travel constraints in early 2020. Now that the borders are lastly open once again, Li wants to prepare a journey to Thailand, or a cruise along the Rhine in Europe. She’s sure her fans will delight in the videos, too. “I feel so fortunate to have a platform like Xiaohongshu,” she states. “The videos I publish will be a treasure for me when my mom dies, and I will have great deals of memories to honor.” Extra reporting: Gao Yidan and Chang Minxiao; editor: Dominic Morgan. (Header image: Li Yaozhu’s mom postures with her headscarf in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, February 2023. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone) aging social networks innovation

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