(Yicai Global) March 21 -- Chinese netizens are increasingly paying to receive flattery via WeChat groups in the latest online craze to hit the country.
China's internet users can buy access to the groups on Alibaba's Taobao and its second-hand selling-platform Xianyu with five minutes of ego-stroking costing between CNY20 (USD2.90) and CNY128.
Customers are pulled into the online communities after they have paid for their session and are abruptly kicked out once their time is up. The groups are populated by around 20 to 100 users, who are often liberal arts students from the country's top colleges.
The best-performing groups receive over 2,000 orders per month and charge CNY50 for five minutes of service, while those less popular only receive a handful of orders each month.
One group owner bought his community for just CNY50 and has yet to make his investment back, according to state-backed news outlet Securities Daily. However, the community head is not expecting to get rich through the scheme, he said, adding that it is more geared towards fun and is a way of creating a network for alumni.
The groups target those who feel lonely and are seeking some kind of recognition with most customers coming from the millennial generation, he said.
The emergence of the phenomenon is closely related to the development of China's social networks like WeChat and Douban, said Li Yi, chief researcher at Shanghai Academy of Social Science's Internet Research Center. It resembles the paid-for knowledge services offered in recent years, and they are the result of an anxiousness for over-selling seen in recent years. However, this kind of flattery service is more shallow, he added.
The phenomenon will not last long, he said, adding that he does not expect any large-scale businesses to emerge from it.
"Buying compliments does not constitute a correct code of values," he said. "Flattery for economic benefits rather than seeking it through studying hard is a wrong direction for university students."
Editor: William Clegg