“What do you do for a living?”
“I’m a full-time live streamer in China.”
Probably not the answer you would expect from a blonde-haired blue-eyed American woman like me.
But that's right, for a yearlong period from spring 2016 to spring 2017 I was a professional live streamer streaming on several Chinese apps including Momo, Yizhibo, Meipai, and Huajiao. I had a total following of over 400,000.
I first began live streaming on the popular video sharing app Meipai with the intention purely of growing an audience. Then an agency that worked with Momo, a dating app that has now become famous for its live streaming, recruited me to stream on Momo.
With the help of the agency, my following grew rapidly and within a couple of months, I had nearly 300,000 fans on the Momo platform. I was making a full-time income from my live streaming, usually 20,000-30,000 RMB ($3,200-4,800) per month, the majority of which came from virtual gifts from my followers. This didn't happen by chance; I took live streaming seriously and treated it like a job, streaming at consistent times, one to two times a day, for a minimum of 2-4 hours a day.
Yet, despite my success, I quickly realized Momo wasn't a good choice for me long term. Like many of the live streaming apps in China, the only way for streamers to earn money is through gifting.
The longer I streamed, the more I disliked the gifting model and felt it would not be a sustainable source of income. I decided to transition to a new platform and focus more on becoming an influencer that live streams as opposed to a pure live streamer, which, by the way, are two very different things.
In general, we can break it down into three types: entertainment, educational and e-commerce.
Entertainment live streaming is the most common type where viewers are watching purely to be entertained. It consists of gaming live streams (an industry unto itself), dancing, singing, chatting, comedy, etc. For these streamers, their main source of income is gifts from fans, and they rarely do brand collaborations.
The second type of streaming is educational, essentially meaning a live stream where people are coming to learn something. While this could be an actual live streamed class, it could also be a beauty influencer giving a make-up tutorial, a fitness guru showing people how to lose weight, or a food blogger teaching people a new dish. While these streamers will receive gifts from viewers, the majority of their income is likely to come from brand collaborations, or they might be using live streaming as a way to grow their following.
The last type of streaming is e-commerce live streaming, which has become very popular in China over the past year. This type of live streaming is very similar to QVC or the Home Shopping Network. Viewers tune into this type of live streaming because they want to buy things and learn about new products. In China, where e-commerce is rampant with fake items, live streaming provides transparency and trust. The most common platforms for this type of live streaming are Taobao Live, JD Live and also Yizhibo, which can host links to Taobao and Tmall.