[Influencer Marketing in China] Part II: Live-Streaming

Instagram Live [Image courtesy of Instagram]
Live-streaming, whose appeal lies in the immediacy and sense of authenticity created through the medium, has become a well-used method of communication by both influencers and brands to reach and connect with their audience. The social media platforms we are most familiar with–Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and Snapchat–have all made live-streaming options available to its users. If this is not testament enough to the popularity of the medium, search “live-streaming” in the App or Play Store and you will be greeted by a plethora of results. From South Korea’s V LIVE that streams celebrities’ live broadcasts, to Twitch that focuses on the live-streaming of video-games, to apps like BIGO LIVE that allow the every day user to gain a following through live-streaming their lives.

It should not come as a surprise then, that the Chinese social media space is seeing the same, if not greater, interest in live-streaming. In last week’s installment of Influencer Marketing in China, we talked about the social media ecosystem and some of the social media platforms available to Chinese users. This week, we’ll be showing you some of the different ways in which live-streaming is used by influencers and brands in the country.

Influencers: to Make a Living Out of Virtual Gifts

Unlike macro-influencers (more commonly known as KOLs in the Chinese influencer marketing industry) such as Papi Jiang and Mr. Bags mentioned in our first article or other influencers throughout the world, who earn their keep (as influencers) through a variety of brand partnerships, micro-influencers in China largely make a living out of the virtual gifts that are sent to them directly by fans who watch their live-streams.

Yizhibo live [Image courtesy of ChoZan]
Apps such as Meipai, Momo, Yizhibo, YY, Inke and many other Chinese live-streaming platforms offer this service, where fans can purchase virtual gifts to be sent to their favorite small-time celebrity, who could be doing anything from amateur singing to eating lightbulbs and goldfish. These gifts can either be reused on the platform, or exchanged for cash value. While a significant portion of micro-influencers do not earn very much from this venture, those who have built a solid fan-base can earn a good $100,000 a month for their broadcasts.

Of course, this is not to suggest that micro-influencers are not open to receiving sponsorships from brands. In fact, as compared to the tens of thousands of US dollars that a post by a macro-influencer would cost, the services of micro-influencers can be engaged with far less.

Brands: to Promote a Product

In many parts of the Western world in particular, live-streaming is not often used by brands to promote their products directly. Instead, brands use live-streaming, either carried out through the influencers they hire or done on the brand’s official social media account(s), to showcase special events and/or their preparation for said event, host live takeovers and essentially perform activities that are peripherally (rather than directly) related to the good, service or brand they are trying to promote.

In China, on the other hand, live-streaming is done by brands through influencers and through live-streaming options available on e-commerce websites such as Aliexpress and Tmall with the express intention of promoting goods and services.

Collaboration with Influencers

Here is an example of an influencer promoting a product below:

In this case, the intention of the live-stream is clearly to promote the USB-powered heated hair curler.

While watching a person sell a product may sound boring to some, it is clear that audiences on Chinese social media platforms don’t think so. That said, many Chinese KOLs do their level best to make the session interesting–they provide a personalized shopping experience for their audience, addressing long-time fans directly and answering questions on the product in real time. If the item they are promoting can be applied (e.g. make-up) or worn (e.g. clothing), Chinese KOLs will do just that to show their audience what the item would look like on a person in real life, instead of on a model. When influencers collaborate with brands on producing limited edition items, they can even tailor the item to their audience’s preferences.

Mr. Bags posing with his bag designs created in his collaboration with Tod’s [Image courtesy of Jing Daily]
This means that brands should treat the budget they are allocating to Chinese KOLs differently from other influencers. Whereas ROI for influencers in the rest of the world is typically calculated via the engagement (likes, comments and in some cases, views) received on posts, the budget one spends on a Chinese KOL can (and should) bring back direct ROI.

Collaboration with e-Commerce Websites

E-Commerce websites such as Aliexpress and T-mall have been using live-streaming to increase its sales. As the Chinese online shopping environment continues to suffer from a problem of fake goods, Chinese consumers have learnt to be wary of what they are purchasing, especially if these goods are luxury items, which are typically sold for a higher price.

Some brands have taken to live-streaming in order to convince consumers of the authenticity of their products. On 4th of July 2016, T-mall live-streamed one of GNC’s U.S.-based stores, giving the audience a real-time view of the company’s products and providing information about how to purchase supplements and other goods on their online store. Macy’s also participated in the same live-streaming event, giving Chinese consumers a tour of their Manhattan-based flagship store.

T-mall’s “See Now, Buy Now” event

Other brands have also taken to using the live-streaming opportunities offered by e-Commerce retailers such as T-mall during special sales seasons. On Singles’ Day, T-mall held a “See Now, Buy Now” fashion event that lasted 8 hours, where users could shop for goods while watching models parade around in them. According to Alibaba, sales made during Singles’ Day 2017 amounted to RMB 168.2 billion, 39% higher than the previous year’s record.

With Chinese consumers flocking to brands who choose to live-stream either through influencers or through e-Commerce platforms, it is hardly difficult to understand why live-streaming has become such a hit in China.


This is part two in a series entitled Influencer Marketing in China. The aim of this series is to give you all the information you need to know about how to navigate the influencer marketing scene in the Chinese market.

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