How Mom Influencers “play” on Weibo: investigating networked identity of Chinese Moms


Since the elimination of the ‘one-child policy’ at the end of 2015, China is expected to welcome more babies, and the maternal-and child-related industry is also anticipated to experience a surge in the next decade. Under the curtain of this enormous market, mom influencers are the ‘invisible hand’ that unlocks buying potential for parents. As a result, mom influencers will exert significant impact not only on their social media followers but also on the ever-changing business world.

Historically, mommy blogging as the product of the blogosphere has seen its initial prototype of mom influencers in challenging the power discourse around topics of motherhood and dominant masculinity in the online public space.

As users start to transfer their online interactions from the blogosphere to social media platforms, mom influencers require an ever-larger follower base, more diverse narrative strategies, and more engagement tactics to keep themselves visible and attractive on these more fluid new stages. 

Previous studies have discussed how mommy bloggers present their children and families on the blogosphere to challenge the traditional understanding of motherhood. However, few emphasized how the mom influencers, as the new genre, achieve their popularity through presenting themselves and navigating their identities in the new social media context. This study aims to fill in the gap and provide more empirical evidence to complement the narrative community of online motherhood.

The theoretical framework of this research is underpinned by Goffman's self-presentation theory. Previous research has suggested that the self-presentation theory is vital in explaining individuals' information sharing and exploring identities on leading social media platforms. Through intentional performance strategy, identities can be sculpted with a vivid persona. Being non-actors as performers, influencers tell narratives in a natural way, which are perceived as more real for online users than famous stars. The new media circumstance offers more opportunities for this kind of performance since mass self-communication on interactive media offers essential tools to build a networked identity online.

Using textual analysis method, this study explores the pattern of how Chinese mom influencers perform on Weibo. By studying the most influential posts of mom influencers posts on Weibo (timeframe of posts was from January 1, 2018 to October 23, 2019), this study concludes that mom influencers actively apply various performance strategies such as showing the cuteness of their babies, using expert tones and designing involving situations. All of these performance strategies enable the mystification of their performance online. Through building myths of being a noble class who always choose ‘the best’, mom influencers secure their goal of helping their offspring win at the starting line. 

As a result, mom influencers construct their networked identities through their gifting and @ing labor, as well as using emotional and dependent self to connect with followers. Last but not least, they bring the calibrated identities through their constant confessions online. 

This study is one of the first to provide empirical evidence of mom influencers' self-presentation in the Chinese social media context.

Keywords: social media, influencer, mom influencer, self-presentation, identity