In the internet era, key opinion leaders are not necessarily political heavyweights, scholars or industry experts. Organized groups of parents, for example, can be influencers – including those who share their experiences relating to shopping, school applications and parenting in general on Baby Kingdom, a Hong Kong-based online public forum.

The Baby Kingdom community, in which female users refer to themselves as “C9” (a homonym for “married women” in Cantonese) and their mothers-in-law “99” (it’s another Cantonese pronunciation things), has grown robustly over the past few years, thanks in part to Hong Kong’s messy education system creating a lot of desperate parents out there.

That also helps to explain why New World Development recently made a strategic investment in the site.

The conglomerate, which is famous for investing in everything from property to infrastructure to department stores to bus companies, has just taken a stake in what is one of Hong Kong’s top online portals and discussion forums for an undisclosed amount.

New World Development said Baby Kingdom was a parenting website with “development potential.” Daily operations will not continue to be run by the existing management team.

Founded in 2002 by Rainer Sip, Baby Kingdom has boosted its registered members to over 200,000 and has an annual turnover of over HK$10 million (US$1.28 million), thanks largely to the online shopping portal K Mall, whose name echoes – rather serendipitously – New World’s trendy shopping mall brand K11.

Besides allowing parents to share tips on everything from toilet training to summer courses, the platform wields a certain amount of influence on social and political issues. In one instance, it orchestrated a boycott of a certain children’s novel on the grounds that it was too violent; in the end, the publisher pulled the book from shelves.

“Besides allowing parents to share tips on everything from toilet training to summer courses, the platform wields a certain amount of influence on social and political issues”

During the Occupy protests of late 2014, it became a home for parents holding pro-Beijing or conservative political views. Pro-democracy parents are more likely to visit, a liberal public forum.

This is not the first time New World Group owner Henry Cheng has shown an interest in the parenting market.

His privately-owned Chow Tai Fook company last month became the sole owner of Victoria Education Organization, a famous local kindergarten chain with eight outlets in Hong Kong and Shanghai, having been an investor since 1997.

His son Adrian’s private investment arm K11 also invested US$15.2 million this July in a cooking website, DayDayCook.

As it expands its empire with Baby Kingdom, New World – a sprawling conglomerate that detailed all of its subsidiaries and joint venture companies over 13 pages in its latest annual report – may well be heeding a famous local saying – that “one has to lead the race right at starting line.”

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