December 7, 2016, 7:30 AM

The growing number of influential Weibo commentators are increasingly opening their own online shops or promoting products.

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Chinese consumers avidly stay connected via social networks, mostly through their smartphones, and they love to shop online. Increasingly, the “influencers” that have gained big followings on social media have used their popularity to sell or advertise goods online.

“Everyone in China now indulges in social media.” Says Zhang Zhouping, a senior analyst at the China E-commerce Research Center. “Chinese users prefer to consume short, personalized and entertaining content during their fast-paced urban lives. Influencers have become popular as they meet those needs perfectly.”

Weibo deems about 30,000 of its users “influencers,” and they generally have at least 10,000 followers each. In all, these social media stars’ followers grew collectively to 385 million in 2015 from 100 million a year earlier, Weibo says.     

Some of that growth comes from investors pouring money into companies started by these prominent social commentators, seeking to turn their popularity into commercial success. For example, Papi Jiang, a 29-year-old comedian whose video commentaries have attracted 10 million followers, received a capital infusion of 12 million yuan ($1.6 million) in March from a group that included Chinese venture capital firms Zhen Fund and Lighthouse Capital. Papi Jiang has turned her social following into a business, promoting products from such international brands as cosmetics maker L’Oréal and Belgian biscuit brand Tuc.

Besides making money through advertising, some influential Weibo sell merchandise on social networks or popular Chinese marketplaces. During the recent Singles’ Day online shopping festival Nov. 11, influencers operated three of the top 20 best-selling stores on Taobao according to the China E-Commerce Research Center. Taobao is the giant online shopping portal operated by China’s Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.

Hangzhou Pblab E-Commerce Co. Ltd., says it manages more than 30 online stores for popular social media figures and that its revenue reached 100 million yuan ($14 million) in 2015. Pblab, whose name is an abbreviation of “personal brand lab,” in May received a 30 million yuan ($4 million) investment from Chinese entertainment company Enlight Media Group.

Social media and e-commerce have become more closely intertwined in other ways in China. For example, more than 1 million Weibo users have started to use the social network’s “Show Window” feature, an e-commerce function that allows individuals or companies to promote and sell their products directly through their Weibo accounts. Launched in 2014, “Show Window” also allow sellers to accept payment via by Weibo’s in-app payment system, Weibo Payment, which 48 million consumers use, according to company.       

For more information about the Chinese market, please click here for the Internet Retailer 2016 China 500.