Live streaming is still the hottest trend in Chinese social media, particularly in KOL-driven e-commerce. But relatively speaking, the industry is still in its infancy, with room for growth and many new live streamers knocking at the door. Brands are excited by the genre’s possibilities and figuring out the best strategies to leverage live streaming in China to achieve maximum impact. What follows are the seven things that made 2020 live streaming in China tick.
It seems obvious that an attractive personality is almost a prerequisite for aspiring live-streamer. Indeed, the genre’s biggest stars are distinctive characters, each with their biographies and attributes that help them stand apart. Viya Huang has a girl-next-door, big-sister appeal, conveyed by her relaxed manner and the sense that she’s speaking directly to her fans. That relatability has helped her grow a considerable fanbase and—more importantly—inspire a deep, trusting bond among her followers.
“Lipstick brother” Li Jiaqi draws on his experience in the beauty industry to speak authoritatively and in a professional manner. Unsurprisingly, the combination has proved persuasive enough to make Li one of the biggest-selling live-streamers, breaking records left and right for sales. In contrast, musician Siiviba’s rags-to-riches rise to fame has made him an icon for young people across China, particularly in rural areas.
Choosing the right live streaming platform is the next trick, and live-streamers should weigh up the options against their intentions, target audience, and goals. Douyin and Kuaishou are the best-known social networks with the biggest audiences of live streaming in China—these are the ideal spaces for aspiring KOLs. Both Kuaishou and Douyin users are known for the high degree of trust and loyalty they display towards their favorite KOLs.
Each platform’s user base is slightly different in terms of demographic profile, and live-streamers want to make sure their intended audience is present on the platforms they broadcast on. Douyin and Kuaishou both enjoy a large, diverse fanbase, but Kuaishou is celebrated for its ability to capture the imagination of young people in lower-tier cities and rural areas.
Xiaohongshu is significantly smaller, with under 100 million monthly active users, but is prized for its predominantly female user base. The potential to cultivate an audience of key opinion consumers (KOCs) on a platform like Xiaohongshu is one reason for its success.
Taobao Live and JD Live naturally offer sophisticated e-commerce integrations, but it’s Taobao Live that’s the five hundred pound gorilla in the industry. Live-streamers who also run online stores or whose broadcasts will have a strong e-commerce component may prefer to explore these platforms.
Building a critical mass of viewers can be a slow process, and hosts who already enjoy a sizeable online following certainly have a considerable advantage. For example, entrepreneur Luo Yonghao, the founder and CEO of technology brand Smartisan, acquired over a million followers within three hours of opening his Douyin account. Conversely, live-streamers who don’t have an existing public profile or a following on other social platforms will have to do the hard work of building an audience from scratch.
Finding a rhythm builds the live-streamer’s relationship with their followers. Many live-streamers stream every day, and with good reason—that way, followers know when to tune in and make a habit of doing so. If one live-streamer only shows up sporadically, their followers are likely to lose interest and drift elsewhere. The best live-streamers want their followers to be “sticky” and recognize that keeping the frequency of interactions high can make all the difference.
Making the sale
A talent for sales is a must for live-streamers who want to sell and promote products via their broadcasts. Generally speaking, the ability to present professionally is essential. That doesn’t mean that sales-focused broadcasts should be deadly serious—in fact, they should be fun to watch—but the host has to strike an appropriate tone. For example, live-streamers who crack jokes through their broadcast may come across as insincere or apathetic. That impression is unlikely to move a viewer to part with their cash.
Sales skills come in many forms, but we can break them into at least a few main categories. The ability to explain the product clearly and authoritatively is vital. The ability to highlight the main features and selling points of a product concisely is harder than it looks. The live-streamer who shows their knowledge, experience, or expertise will be more persuasive, while an apparent lack of knowledge is a real turnoff. Li Jiaqi is beloved for his understanding of beauty products, but even the master came up short in a notorious live streaming disaster when he endorsed a non-stick frying pan that he had not taken the time to learn how to use appropriately.
Broadcasting skills also play into a live streamer’s skill as a salesperson. The essence of sales is communication, and specifically, the art of persuasion. Using clear, jargon-free language is an essential requirement. Speaking with a distinctive style, rhythm, or tone, can leave an impression on the viewer. Catchphrases and memorable phrases can also be part of this—Li Jiaqi is known for deploying an array of exclamations, from “Oh my God!” to “Buy it!” A gifted broadcaster has the capacity for empathy or emotional intelligence to establish a rapport with the viewer, even without meeting them. Selling and promoting products through live-streams is a unique skill in itself, from building follower numbers to linking up promotions across different channels to convert to sales. Experienced KOLs can quickly apply these skills to live streaming or to a new platform, but it does take time to build these instincts. People may not realize that Viya Huang, for example, didn’t become the biggest star in live streaming overnight. Viya’s experience in sales runs deep, going back to running e-commerce and brick-and-mortar stores. She also does her homework, spending an incredible amount of time familiarizing herself with the products she features in her live streams.
Live streaming is not a vacuum. Live streaming KOLs need to have a presence on non-live streaming channels and across several social platforms. Austin Li is said to have 300K fans following 60 some private WeChat accounts. It’s his engagement in these accounts that drives sales with his hardcore followers.
Sales are often the result of promotions carried out in short videos and social media posts. Fans might see a product mentioned on a live streamer’s Weibo post, then make a note to tune in to purchase the item during a live broadcast. The live stream may be the main event, but KOLs have to apply similar energy at each touchpoint and across all their channels.
Collabs, collabs, collabs
KOLs also collaborate with other influencers, including other live streamers and celebrities. Fans get a kick out of seeing these “dream team” matchups of favorite influencers and stars, and these events can be mutually beneficial, driving follower numbers up and introducing KOLs to untapped audiences. They can also be fantastic for sales—some of the most explosive events of live streaming in China recent years have been collaborations between top KOLs and celebrities, such as Kim Kardashian teaming up with Viya to sell her KKW beauty products, and Alibaba founder Jack Ma going head to head in a sales battle with Li Jiaqi to promote Singles’ Day.
Building a team
Finally, an often-overlooked aspect of live streaming in China is that it’s a team game. Live streaming may look like a one-person show, but the most successful live streams, especially those that move large sales volumes, are the work of a dedicated team of professionals. Aside from the on-screen talent, a well-formed operation of live streaming in China includes engineers who keep the technical aspects of production running smoothly and product buyers, distribution staff, and customer service staff. Somebody also needs to take responsibility for the team’s overall coordination.