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Facebook 'Live' brings fans closer to the rich and famous, but Chinese celebrities likely to miss out

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 August, 2015, 8:15am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 August, 2015, 1:41pm

Facebook 'Live', a new feature that allows celebrities to post real-time videos and interact with fans immediately, is the social media giant's latest answer to fast-rising industry competition from new rivals like Periscope and Snapchat, but most Chinese stars may have to miss it.

Rolled out on Thursday, Live works with Facebook Mentions, an app available to public figures with verified Facebook pages that also helps them close the gap with fans.

Many Western celebrities have already taken good use of live-video streaming apps like Periscope to boost their popularity. Twitter, a long-time competitor of Facebook, has been popular among Hollywood stars for years.

Facebook Mentions works by letting stars monitor what their fans are saying about them and issuing responses, whereas the latest 'Live' feature allows celebrities to stream live video of themselves and post it with Mentions onto their Facebook page.

Actor Dwayne Johnson, formerly known as The Rock, and alpine skier Lindsey Vonn have already actively engaged with Live. Johnson broadcast a video of himself working out at the gym while Vonn, who split with golfer Tiger Woods in May, offered fans rare footage of her racing down the slopes – filmed from her smartphone.

Many of China’s top actresses like Gong Li and Zhang Ziyi do not have Facebook pages despite their global fan base as they focus on their domestic audience.

Accessing Facebook in China requires a Great Firewall-leaping virtual private network to route through proxy servers. 

The vast majority of Chinese stars shun Facebook and rely principally on Chinese social networks. Facebook has been banned in Mainland China since 2009.

Zhang shot to international fame after her supporting role in Taiwan-born director Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, while Gong bolstered her global credentials with key roles in Hollywood hits Miami Vice and Memoirs of a Geisha.

However, these and other Chinese celebrities attract millions of followers on Chinese microblogging site Weibo, often dubbed “China’s Twitter”.

The country’s most followed celebrity is actress Yao Chen, whose Weibo account has 78 million fans - about 8 per cent more than the number of Facebook fans of American singers Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift or Katy Perry. 

Weibo allows users to post status updates and pictures but lacks some of the real-time interactive features offered by Live.

Statistics from social media monitoring company SocialBaker show that the most popular celebrity page among China’s Facebook users is that of Hong Kong artiste Gem Tang. 

Tang has 2.6 million fans on Facebook, of which only 120,000 are Chinese. In contrast, her Weibo account has 18 million fans. 

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who is married to American-Chinese doctor Priscilla Chan and is studying Putonghua, seems keen to tap into the vast Chinese market. In October 2014, he conducted a 30-minute question and answer session in Mandarin at Beijing’s Tsinghua University. He was also appointed to join the advisory board of the university’s economics and management school.

Facebook has an office in Hong Kong selling advertisements to Chinese companies that want to reach out to international users, but no such outlets on the Chinese mainland.

That may not change for some time. 

Lu Wei, a minister at China’s Cyberspace Administration, said last September at the World Economic Forum in Tianjin, a city in northeast China, that Facebook would not be granted access to Chinese users anytime soon.