The Emerging Celebrity Advocacy in China: Performance of Celebrity and Diverse Online Engagement Behaviors


Celebrity advocacy is a representative form of celebrity politics. It is expected to stimulate more public participation of the young networked citizens. Different from other countries, celebrity advocacy in China is systematically organized by national government to inspire non-institutionalized participation. Some surveys investigated how audience reacted to celebrity advocacy. However, the practical performance of celebrity advocacy and the following responses representing diverse forms of online engagement have not been sufficiently examined. Thus, this paper examines how celebrity advocacy influence online engagement on SNS.

The Chinese Communist Youth League (CCYL) has initiated series of online campaigns discussing politics on its official SNS accounts since 2016, some of which invited entertainment or sports celebrities to advocate political issues. The topics range from social policy, social system to ideology, attracting extensive responses on SNS. 18 videos with 15618 comments from Bilibili and 567 posts with following comments from Sina Weibo are collected.

The political potential of celebrity advocacy remains a debate. It is noted that the reliability and expression styles of celebrity possibly influence the effect of advocacy. The reliability is probably generated when celebrities providing professional interpretation, specific solutions and actions. The expression styles include the emotional or rational illustration. Online engagement refers to diverse forms of SNS-based participation, which includes three dimensions: entertainment-oriented engagement, online civic engagement, online political participation. The level of online engagement reflects general social consequence and is measured by factor analysis of like, comments and etc. Issue relevance for audience may help direct the audience attention, potentially moderating the influence of celebrity advocacy on online engagement.

Features of celebrity advocacy, issue relevance and online engagement are operationalized into descriptions with certain activities according to previous studies.  Content analysis is conducted to analyze contents of videos and posts to present  celebrity performance and issue types. Text analysis based on machine learning is employed to analyze following comments to distinguish dimensions of online engagement. Regression model is employed to analyze the relationship of variables.

Current results show that celebrity advocacy is positively related to high level of online engagement, indicating its power of gaining public attention. However, celebrity advocacy fails to stimulate other forms of online engagement except for entertainment-oriented participation. The correlation between the credibility of celebrity and diversity of online engagement is proved: professional explanations from celebrities are positively associated with the attention on political issues, whereas solutions provided by celebrities is negatively associated with online political participation. The effect of issue relevance and casual effect model are being elaborated.

The democratic potential of the systematically organized celebrity advocacy and its inclusiveness to engage alienated groups to politics are discussed. Specifically, this research has a theoretical dialogue with previous studies by distinguishing specific features of celebrity advocacy and online engagement. The defects of this paper and the potential to elaborate by simultaneously using big data and small data in future studies are discussed.