In China, regardless of the fact that income and living conditions may vary across the country, the internet is definitely part of daily life and so is live streaming.
Apps that give their users the possibility to broadcast self-produced content from one user to another, such as Yizhibo, DouYu TV, Momo, and YY Live started to become popular in 2015/16 and were followed by around 200 different applications specializing on niches, including news, sport, gaming, entertainment and fashion.
Live streaming apps have been an integral part of Chinese digital lifestyle and are continuously on the rise: Research conducted by iiMedia predicts that in 2020, there will be 524 Million users of live streaming applications, and 80% of them are less than 30 years old, as the majority of China’s young generation. What makes these platforms so attractive to its users, is the large variety of content to stream and the possibility to not only watch, but also to interact directly with their internet idols. Considering China’s vast geographical diversity that consists of remote and rural areas, the most entertaining place in town (depending on where the user lives) may be on the Internet.
Unlike western social media platforms, Chinese platforms were able to use sales promotions in collaborations between brands and influencers. Influencers are also called KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders) in China. And on a much larger scale, they share more than just product reviews. Additionally, it is also about championing the connection between commercial interests of brands and their audience’s. While the feature of shoppable posts on Instagram, originally intended as a pure photo-sharing platform without advertisement in mind, is still rather the exception to the rule, social media platforms in China were able to achieve a strong connection between streaming and shopping. The audience of successful KOLs is allowed to participate in their idols' daily lives and can thereby develop a strong personal connection with them. When KOLs recommend a product, it might feel as personal as if a good friend is recommending something. Trust is the key element in livestreaming.
On closer examination, you can notice that WeChat, as Weibo’s strongest competitor in Chinese social media landscape, is linked to Alibaba’s main competitor JD.com. However Alibaba’s Taobao is developing their own in-house social media platform called Weitao, with an additional livestreaming function called Taobao Live. At first glance, the livestreaming outlook on Taobao Live will remind you of Instagram live sessions. Of course, for the case of Taobao Live, the host is not only presenting products for sale via direct shop link, but also interacting with their loyal followers through daily livestreaming and inviting them to their special live events. Moreover on Weibo/Yizhibo, the followers can write comments or even send virtual gifts to the host. In most cases, these gifts cost money and the revenue goes partly to the host and partly to the platform.
KOLs that cooperate with a brand can become the hosts of their own personal shopping channel. Their audience is able to buy the advertised products directly during the streaming session without having to stop watching the broadcast. By offering special coupons or limited product editions, KOLs can achieve high sales numbers. An especially famous example is the KOL Li Jiaqi, who was able to sell 15,000 lipsticks in five minutes. In addition, Taobao Live is now not only used by KOLs, but also by farmers advertising their harvest or fishermen presenting the catch of the day. Those considered successful hosts are those who manage to combine entertainment and shopping in one. In China, livestreaming and shopping go hand in hand, especially because Chinese consumers expect an entertaining shopping experience. Therefore, most large marketplace platforms in China are integrating social media channels into their shopping platforms to enhance consumers' shopping experience.
In this diverse environment, it is even more important to understand how to make the most of livestreaming for brands and products. Key questions have to be answered before taking action. The most essential one probably is: What does a brand want to achieve by streaming? Often it makes sense, especially when a brand is new to the market, to invest diversely and use the power of many. Word-of-mouth will support, spread awareness and gain trust and attention. Working together with selected micro KOLs (50,000-100,000 followers) over a longer period of time will help to build a sustainable fanbase.
If a brand is already well-known and, rather than brand awareness, conversion is the main KPI, investing in a collaboration with a famous KOL could be the right strategy. Furthermore, timing, platform, content, presenter and many more details have to be considered.
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