A live streamer is someone whose main (and sometimes only) form of content is live streaming. Many of them do not put out content on other types of social media platforms. Some of them will perform (usually singing, dancing or comedy), whereas others will just chat or often flirt with their audience. Live streamers often stream 5-7 days a week at set times for several hours each time. They might even stream multiple times a day, for example once at lunchtime for 3 hours and then in the evening for another three hours. Success at being a live streamer in China is very related to the streamer’s looks and their ability to convince people to follow them, give them likes, and most importantly, give them gifts.
Due to the gifting feature on Chinese live stream platforms (where audience members will send streamers virtual gifts that have a monetary value if they like their content) live streamers can make a good living from solely live streaming. This means that many live streamers are focused on figuring out ways and using tactics to get more gifts and not necessarily on creating good content.
For many of them, it doesn’t matter if they have good content or not because their followers are following them because of their personality and looks and not for their informative or entertaining content. In China, these types of people would often be called 网红 .
Many live streamers start streaming because they hear how popular the industry is and feel that it is an easy way to make money. Right now in China the job market for recent graduates is tough and starting wages are very low. Many of them can make more money from live streaming than they could at a regular job.
An influencer is someone who has a developed a social media following from producing high-quality content related to their area of expertise. This content is often in video, photo or written format. Their following is likely mostly found on Weibo, WeChat, or Meipai. They also live stream, but to them live streaming is more of a supplementary tool used for a specific purpose such as interacting with their audience, sharing an event, or trying to get new followers. They might only live stream a couple times a week and some only do it when they are cooperating with a brand. For influencers, content is king and they must produce new, original content on a consistent basis. Their looks and personality might play a role in their popularity, but not necessarily.
Many influencers in China are also known as 自媒体 or “self-media” because they are essentially their own media publications. They also might be called KOL or Key Opinion Leaders because they have an influential perspective on a specific topic. Many influencers gained professional knowledge and skills before becoming an influencer. Or they started their accounts due to a passion or hobby that they wanted to share.
If you hadn’t guessed already, in general I feel like it is better for brands to work with influencers who live stream rather than pure live streamers. I’m sure there are exceptions, but generally this is the case.
A couple reasons why:
1.Explosive growth = large audience but lack of experience
Live streaming has been so popular over the last year and a half that many live streamers have grown large audiences very quickly and are now being approached by brands, but because they’ve been in the industry for such a short period of time they are lacking experience as well as professional knowledge and skills. Convincing your audience to give you gifts is a lot different than working with a brand to promote a product or event. To become an influencer often takes more time and a deeper understanding of your audience and your offering.
2. Audience interested in the streamer and not the product
As I mentioned above, many live streamers have grown their audience based on their looks and personality, not on a specific area of expertise. So their audience is oftentimes more interested in them than the product or event they are promoting. For example, back when I was mainly a live streamer, if I was asked to attend an event to promote a brand, the audience wouldn’t care about the event, they would keep asking me to turn the camera back on myself and keep talking to them. It’s because they were showing up to my live stream to talk to me, not to see or learn about something else.
3. Money Hungry
Many of these new live streamers are money hungry and are willing to take whatever opportunity that comes along, whether it’s a good fit or not. Now I’m not saying that there aren’t plenty of influencers doing the same thing. But from the live streaming chat groups that I’ve been in I feel like a lot of these live streamers are in it for the money and they will do whatever it takes to earn some extra bucks.
But this is not just the streamer’s fault, there are a lot of brands throwing money at live streamers with large followings and not taking the time to see if they’re really a good fit. I’ve seen a lot of these live streaming agencies send out a post in Wechat group announcing that they are looking for live streamers for a brand campaign and the only requirements might be that they have more than X number of followers, their sex, and their location (if it’s for an event). How effective is that campaign gonna be….?
4. Difficult to get data from live streaming
A majority of the live streaming platforms in China do not provide streamers with viewer data. The only information they might receive is number of views, comments, and likes, as well as highest number of simultaneous viewers. As a live streamer I could learn a lot about my audience through talking to them every day and I can make an informed guess about their sex, average age, their location, etc. but that’s about it.
Influencers who use Weibo, Meipai and WeChat have access to more follower data and analytics tools.
5. Not all live streaming platforms have eCommerce or linking capabilities
Only some platforms such as Yizhibo, Taobao Live and JD Live offer directly linked ecommerce features. And if you’re looking to drive traffic to a site I don’t know of any platforms that allow you to just include links to another website. This makes it difficult to include a call to action in the live stream. You just have to hope that the viewer will remember to go look up the company or product after their done watching. Therefore, the advantage to working with an influencer who has a following on other platforms as well is that they could send out a photo or video post with links before or after the live stream and during the live stream they can direct viewers to go look at their most recent post for more information.
The Chinese influencer environment is extremely nuanced. There are so many platforms and new mediums emerging all the time. I hope this helps and please reach out if you have any questions or need more clarification!