This fitness influencer’s Tiktok exploded through the COVID lockdown in Shanghai

Throughout April 2022, Will Liu appeared to be the most popular search on Baidu, with over 5 million search indexes in total. Liu’s search indexes doubled that of other popular celebrities. So who is Will Liu, and what makes him so popular?

Source: IMDb. Will Liu

Who is Will Liu?

Will Liu is a Taiwanese singer and actor, best known for being on the fifth season of the Chinese Reality Show “Where’re we going, Dad?” in 2017. His interactions with his daughter, Little Puff, gained netizens’ fondness. A fitness enthusiast, Liu loves exercising and even trains with his celebrity friend, Jay Chou. In 2021, he moved to Shanghai with his family to focus on his career in Mainland China.

Since the end of March 2022, Shanghai has been in lockdown due to increasing cases of Covid-19. Liu began streaming his exercise routine on Douyin (Tiktok in China) – which explains how the “Will Liu” craze started. In only 15 days, his Douyin account follower increased by 384%, a total gain of 10.47 million. On April 17, 2022, his streaming on Douyin was viewed almost 14 million times, and the highest number of online viewers who did exercises with his streaming exceeded 1.1 million.

What caused Liu’s virality?

Although Liu has been posting fitness videos since 2018 on Douyin, it was not until the lockdown streaming that his popularity exploded. During the streaming, Liu and his wife danced to songs including famous Mandopop singers such as Jay Chou, his good friend. The dance movements are simple but become intense after following for a long period of time. Not only did the dances attract netizens, but Liu’s energy and humor also made his live-streaming fun to watch.

Source: Will Liu’s official Instagram Account. Liu, his mother-in-law, and his wife (from right to left).

However, Liu’s stream was shut down by Douyin a few times as he was exposing his chest muscles too much. To avoid this, Liu and his wife danced in puffy jackets in the subsequent streaming.

Source: Xiaohongshu. Liu’s live-streaming, before and after Douyin shuts down his stream.

Netizens also resonated with his wife’s “painful” facial expressions and her taking breaks from the dance streaming. One netizen commented, “watching Liu’s wife is like watching myself doing the exercise!”

Source: Liu’s live-streaming. The comical facial expression from Liu’s wife also became a topic of interest for netizens.

“Will Liu Girls” and the Home Fitness Trend in China

With the growing health awareness in China, fitness has become one of the hottest topics on Chinese social media in recent years. The Covid-19 pandemic, on the other hand, boosted home fitness. Interestingly, according to a report, 80% of Liu’s live streaming fans were female. A hashtag called “#Will Liu Girls#” was created on Weibo by Liu’s female audiences. The hashtag was reviewed 58.4 million times on Weibo, as well

as triggering posts and discussions on other social media like Douyin and Xiaohongshu. Female fans identify themselves through the label and would post every time they exercise with Liu. Many of them also post “before and after” photos as they follow Liu’s exercise routines.

Source: Xiaohongshu. Posts from “Will Liu Girls”

Moreover, Chinese celebrities such as Zheng Kai also post themselves following Liu’s fitness dance, calling themselves a “Will Liu boy”. Until May 4th, Liu’s followers on Douyin exceeded 60 million, making him one of the most popular influencers in China today.

Key takeaway from Will Liu’s virality on Chinese social media

  • Will Liu’s popularity is a combination of two aspects: Chinese’ growing health awareness which boosted the home fitness trend due to the recent lockdowns and Liu’s personal charisma and humor that attracted followers to watch his livestream.
  • The social listening of “Will Liu girls” indicated the primary purpose of exercising, especially for Chinese women, is to lose weight.
  • Livestreaming has grown to be an extremely popular way to communicate with Chinese consumers and is especially powerful in connecting and building consumer loyalty.

Learn more about the wellness and fitness market in China