Last year was a big live streaming year for me. I grew large audiences from consistently showing up and interacting with people every day, twice a day. I mainly just chatted with people like they were my friends, usually talking about topics related to U.S. culture and lifestyle. Although this content worked and helped me grow a large following, it was exhausting, boring and unsatisfying and because I was earning my income from viewer’s gifts it felt like I was trading time for money. I was growing an audience, but it was a broad audience and it wasn’t one that was well suited for working with brands.
Instead of being a live streamer, what I really desired was to become an influencer in a specific area of expertise, where I could work with brands and not rely on gifting. I wanted to start pivoting a while ago, but the area I wanted to focus on was travel, particularly travel in the U.S., which was difficult to do while I was still living in Beijing. When I moved back to the U.S. in the end of March I knew that this was my big opportunity to start over. I could finally start rebranding myself as a travel influencer.
That doesn’t happen overnight and I’ve definitely hit some road bumps but, after being back for a little over two months, I finally feel like things are starting to come together.
Honestly, one of the biggest things holding me back was FOMO. Although I knew I wanted to be a travel influencer, I was worried that I was making the wrong choice. I kept thinking, well…makeup is really popular right now, or fashion, or teaching English, or….
My first month back I was live streaming and sending out content constantly, but I was covering a wide range of topics. This continued on into my second month home. I was constantly producing content but it was unfocused. I just kept thinking, well maybe my audience will like this, maybe they’ll like that, let’s see how they react to this, and that… I was afraid of choosing one thing and making the wrong choice and missing out on something else. But I soon realized that by trying to please everyone I was pleasing no one and if I wanted to work with brands I needed to niche down and focus in on one area.
Although I had been flip flopping back and forth, I knew all along what I wanted to focus on, I’ve known for a long time. Ever since I was a kid I wanted to be a travel show host and these days, a travel influencer who has their own online show is kinda the same thing! When I think back on it, it was my love of travel that led me to study International Relations in university and end up in China in the first place. And a couple years ago when I got a job at Tianjin TV doing a travel style TV show around the city of Tianjin, I loved it (even with the low pay and terrible content!) After I stopped doing that, I started working for Edelman Public Relations and my favorite accounts to work on were the tourism ones.
Well at least I finally figured out what industry I’m interested in, but is this a good industry to choose? Well, China’s outbound tourism market is huge at 109 million outbound travelers in 2015, it’s growing rapidly, and one of the top long-haul destinations for Chinese travelers is, you guessed it, the U.S.!
Personal passion + my area of expertise + large, growing market = perfect opportunity!
But it’s not as easy as that. Once I had made the decision to focus on tourism, I had to figure out how to make this shift. There were a couple things that I have had to do:
Let me explain why.
With live streaming there can be a lot of external issues such as the time difference, bad reception, and unpredictable weather. Furthermore, if you want to have the largest audience possible you must send out an announcement ahead of time letting people know when you will start, but if there is traffic, someone else shows up late, there’s a sudden rainstorm, etc., this will throw everything off.
Also with live streaming, the audience is coming in and out of your stream and you are having to repeatedly explain where you are and what you’re doing. And in China, the expectation for live streaming is that the average stream will last at least 1-2 hours which can be really exhausting for the streamer.
On the other hand, videos can be filmed on a more flexible timeline and are not affected by reception (can you tell that’s one of my biggest issues?) Videos can tell a more complete story because people usually watch them from beginning to end instead of jumping in in the middle, and they can be consumed in a short period of time.
I am definitely not discrediting live streaming, I’m just saying it has its time and place and some industries are more suited to it than others.
So when would live streaming be appropriate?
For example, live streaming is a great option for make-up, cooking and fashion influencers because these streams are typically done indoors in a controlled setting.
And for travel influencers I can think of a couple good use cases, for example, live streaming in the hotel to share what the rooms look like or to show the beautiful view out by the infinity pool. Live streaming in a restaurant (ideally one with strong Wi-Fi!) and sharing some local cuisine. Or walking around a historical neighborhood to share the cool architecture.
These types of streams would be interesting for the viewers and would be the least likely to experience the external issues I mentioned above.
Still, as a travel influencer I want to be able to share my whole experience with my viewers, not just one thing during one hour of my day, so that’s where video comes in. Live streaming is the interactive piece that allows viewers to feel like they are there traveling with me, while video is the means by which I can capture the entire trip and share interesting and valuable information about the location in a more accessible manner.
Oh and one more reason why it might be tough for a travel influencer to rely on live streaming as their main type of content is that successful live streamers need to stream several days a week at consistent times in order to create momentum and grow a following. Unless the influencer plans on traveling non-stop, it’s going to be hard for them to live stream that often AND have only travel related live stream content. That was a huge problem that I was experiencing. However, with video, one trip can produce several videos that can be dripped out slowly until the next trip.
Deciding on this new content strategy was one thing, but actually making the shift from live streaming to video has meant a lot of learning for me. In the past I have been a live streamer and a TV host and now I have had to switch sides and become a filmmaker. It’s a whole different mindset and set of skills. I did have some basic knowledge but, as a perfectionist, with me it’s either be the best or don’t do it at all, so I have been working hard to up my skill level and produce high quality travel videos that are not only visually appealing but have a narrative and are informative.
Mentally it has been a bit tough to make this pivot and essentially start all over, but I’m sure I will reap the benefits in the long term.
Although most U.S. tourism industry professionals are very aware of the growth of the Chinese travel market and would love to have more Chinese visitors, I’ve discovered through speaking with them that the thought of actually starting to reach out and implement a marketing plan is quite daunting and many smaller destinations don’t even know where to get started.
Also, because self-promotion through Chinese social media and other online platforms is so confusing for them, many U.S. destinations still seem to be focused on working with Chinese tour companies because all they have to do is provide information to the agency representative and then let the agency figure out the rest.
And while I’m glad that they’re at least doing something, I don’t think destinations are going to attract the type of travelers they’re looking for, or create long term growth, by working only with agencies. As we have heard over and over again, the Chinese FIT (fully independent traveler) market is growing rapidly and less and less people want to travel with tour groups. Young, affluent Chinese people who have at least some basic English skills and would like to travel outside of the huge U.S. cities such as NYC, LA and D.C. are going to want to travel independently. No doubt about it. Which means that influencer campaigns are important in helping these destinations reach the right audience.
For me, figuring out which destinations and attractions are interested in promoting to China, and then finding the correct contact person to speak to has proven to be very time-consuming, but I’m sure the more I do it, the easier it will get. (If anyone knows where all the destinations interested in Chinese tourism hang out, please let me know! Or if you’re one of them, feel free to get in touch!) I have started to develop some relationships; however, I know it will take a bit of time before I can develop a presence in the travel community.
So that is an update on what I’ve been up to and where my heads at. Lots of big changes over here! Although I will not be doing as much live streaming as I was before, I will still be doing some. I plan to continue running this site, however, I will probably start to incorporate some other Chinese social media insights and not exclusively cover live streaming. Please let me know what you would like to learn more about by leaving a comment or shooting me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.