As you probably know if you’ve been following me for a while, I’ve been pivoting my live streaming strategy to become less of a live streamer and more of an online influencer. In China, the difference between these two is that a live streamer is not necessarily an expert on something, they just chat with people and entertain them and earn money by receiving virtual gifts from viewers on live stream apps. Influencers, on the other hand, have some sort of expertise and viewers follow them to be entertained and also to learn something from them. These influencers will not only live stream but are also likely to share video and photo content on other platforms as well. While they might earn a lot of money from gifts, they frequently work with brands or have their own businesses that they promote.
That being said, Momo is not a platform for influencers, it is a platform for live streamers. I did not realize this when I first joined the platform, but the longer I was there the more it became clear. Honestly most of the live streaming content on the platform is boring. It’s all the same, girls live streamers flirting and dancing, guys are telling jokes and singing. All just doing whatever they can to earn more gifts. Of course, lots of other platforms in China are the same, but Momo just felt more extreme.
There were also a couple other reasons why I knew Momo wasn’t a good app for influencers, one being that the Momo app is very insular; they don’t allow you to share information about other apps. You cannot put links to any other sites, and the app will not allow you to post a post with the words Weibo or Wechat in it (you can’t put those words in your profile either).
And except for live streaming at events, I have never seen any other type of brand collaborations on Momo. Many of the other live streaming platforms have brand sponsored content every day.
Because of this I had started to grow an audience on other platforms, while still trying to maintain my audience on Momo. I figured I could slowly transition from one to the other.
So I was unaware, I’m sure it was in some little byline somewhere, but Momo does not allow their live streamers to stream on other platforms. And while this would totally be reasonable if I had signed as an exclusive Momo live streamer and was receiving a salary and being promoted as a top streamer on the site…I was not. Apparently this rule applies to ANYONE who decides to stream on Momo. A little over-the-top right?
So this is how it all went down. I’d been live streaming on Yizhibo and Huajiao for about two months when one day my Momo agent (I describe who an agent is here) sends me a message on Wechat. He said, “How’s the live streaming going on Huajiao?”
He continued by saying, “Momo knows you’ve been streaming on other platforms and they called me about it. Momo doesn’t allow that. I’ve known you were on other platforms for a while now but I didn’t say anything. I was waiting to see if you were going to continue with it or not. Actually all those other platforms are terrible, so many fake users. You need to stop. Just come back to Momo. No other platforms can compare to Momo.”
He went on trying to convince me of all the merits of Momo. I responded with my reasons for not wanting to live stream solely on Momo, but he never directly answered my concerns.
I told him I still wasn’t buying it. Besides all of the content related reasons, my Momo viewer numbers and earnings have been declining as well. I really didn’t see a future for myself on the platform.
He suggested I pause and don’t stream on the other platforms for a month or two, see how the streaming on Momo goes after I return to the U.S., and I can always change my mind later. But of course that idea didn’t appeal to me because I need to maintain the current momentum I have on those other platforms and it would really confuse my followers there if I just suddenly stopped.
He then told me that if I don’t stop streaming on the other platforms right away, Momo would shut down my account. I said I’d think it all over and get back to him.
I’m in the middle of lunch and a Momo employee calls me. I don’t pick up the phone. She continues to call two more times without pausing in between. Is this really THAT urgent? Since when have I become THAT important?
Then the agent calls me. I don’t pick up either. Finally, he sends me a message. I replied, “I’m going to eat my lunch first and then I will talk to all of you.”
After eating I reluctantly called the Momo employee. She answered with a harsh tone. “So, have you made your decision? Are you going to stop streaming on the other platforms? Tell me your decision now.”
I stalled, “Isn’t this all a bit rushed? I only found out about all of this last night. I need some time to think it over. It’s so sudden.”
“What’s there to think over?” (rhetorical question, she’s not actually concerned)
“I really want to stay with Momo, but I don’t see why I can’t live stream on other platforms as well.”
“It’s against the rules.”
“Well if you guys want me to stay on the platform can we bend the rules?”
We went back and forth like this for a while, but I wasn’t giving in. Eventually she agreed to give me more time to think about it, “I’ll call you back tonight and I need an answer.’
Actually when I was talking to her I already knew my answer, I was just trying to buy time. As soon as I got off the phone with her I started taking action to get the message out to as many followers as possible that I wasn’t going to be on Momo any longer. If I’m going to leave I wanted to take as many people with me as possible.
I jumped on the app and started sending messages in my follower groups telling them that if they want to get in touch with me in the future they should follow my Weibo and add my Wechat account (I have a separate Wechat account for fans and professional use only). I clued my group manager in on the situation and had him continue encouraging people to add me as the day went on.
I also sent out a discreet post (I didn’t want to say too much and have the post deleted) on Momo letting my followers know that I wouldn’t be on the platform as much in the future and if they want to reach me they should add those accounts.
I went into my account bio and added my Weibo and Wechat handles, but I had to use other words to let everyone know what they were because Momo doesn’t allow you to use the words “Weibo” and “Wechat”.
Thankfully, hundreds of followers started adding my accounts, but still, that was just a drop in the bucket considering I had 300,000 followers in total.
I didn’t hear back from her by the end of the day so at 8 pm I started live streaming. I didn’t talk about anything else. I just said, “If you like watching my live stream and you don’t want to lose touch with me, add my Wechat now!” Over a thousand people added my account right away. Honestly, I was shocked that nobody from Momo came into my stream and shut me down.
Throughout the rest of the evening and the next morning more and more people added my Wechat (seems like Momo users aren’t big fans of Weibo haha).
She called me back in the early afternoon and made me give her my decision. I told her I would continue streaming on other platforms and she said “Ok, it’s not personal” and hung up. Within the hour my account had been shut down.
The funny thing is that they didn’t completely shut it down. You can take a look at the photos below. I can’t live stream anymore and my cover photo has been taken down, yet my post and my bio are still there. This has been great because over the past week or so I have had between 50-100 people adding my Wechat every day. It’s actually been to my advantage that they took down my picture and put up this photo instead because many followers have been seeing it and wondering what is going on and adding my Wechat. If they had left the photo up less people would have known there was an issue. They probably would just assume I stopped using the platform.
Since I had already dramatically decreased my hours on Momo it did not feel like too much of a shock to not be able to stream on the platform. But it was still painful to suddenly be cut-off from the audience that I had worked so hard to build. Hopefully more and more of them will continue to add my Wechat and Weibo and find me on other live streaming platforms.
I’m sure that it was the right decision. I had been working on transitioning away from Momo anyway, I just didn’t expect it to end so harshly. While I understand that they want their streamers to be exclusive to their platform, I don’t think this policy is going to be good for their platform in the long term, especially when they’re not willing to offer incentives for streamers to be exclusive.
Furthermore, I don’t think that the current gifting model is going to last in the long term. I can tell that viewers are becoming bored with the content and are becoming increasingly demanding, while also less and less willing to give gifts. The platforms that will do the best in the long term will be those that have a wider variety of content, more professionally generated content, and that cooperate with other platforms and brands.