The “king of lipsticks”, the star of the livestreaming Li Jiaqi, has completely disappeared from the Chinese search engines after showing on video a cake with a small tank on it

Zeyi Yang

Nobody predicted how quickly three of China’s most powerful influencers would fall. On June 3, Austin Li, a 30-year-old livestreamer with over 60 million followers on Alibaba-owned e-commerce platform Taobao, abruptly stopped streaming content after a video of a cake topped by a small tank.

Although in his next post he spoke of “technical difficulties”, most people think of a government censorship, which interpreted it as a reference to the anniversary of the June 4 Tiananmen Square protests and massacre. Li’s account remains active, but it is believed that he is no longer authorized to stream.

In China, live streaming e-commerce is an industry worth over $ 180 billion. Combining QVC-style TV marketing with the live interaction and convenience made possible by smartphones, streams attracted 388 million Chinese viewers in 2020. It took the industry half a decade to reach its peak, and influencers like Li fought bitterly to become stardom.

The central government called them innovators and acknowledged that they created numerous jobs. The ability to promote retail buying has given them immense power over sellers, including giant multinationals. But in the case of Li and two other influencers, these online empires have been overthrown overnight in what appears to be a repressive government policy dating back to late 2021..

At the end of that year, Taobao’s most followed livestreaming influencers, Huang Wei (known as Viya online) and Zhu Chenhui (known as Cherie), were fined millions of dollars for evading a local tax in Hangzhou. Despite their official apology, their Taobao accounts went missing and they never streamed again.

Before that, influencers at their level were considered too important for tech platforms and the industry to contest them in any way., but the harsh answer that came suggests that this was not the case. The consequences of these “falls” are economically serious, even though Austin Li, in good standing with tax returns, was a major beneficiary of Huang and Zhu’s missteps, absorbing the turnover of his competitors. At least, until this week.

The downfall of these mega-influencers means a reshuffle of power within the industry, as money and consensus could now be diverted to smaller players. Taobao, the platform hosting most of these businesses, also launched a campaign in January 2022 to help middle and low-level influencers with financial support.

The events have profoundly changed the dynamics between influencers and brands. For one thing, it’s likely that the bargain prices customers used to get through highly successful influencers won’t stay that way if corporate brands are making deals with livestreamers who have much smaller follower groups. And instead of relying on the huge reach of influencers, many companies are now building their own live streaming channels.

The fate of major influencers is also a clear signal that live streaming e-commerce cannot escape government control. “The famous KOL (Key Opinion Leaders) of big names have evolved into a huge business and are now essential in e-commerce. But along with money and visibility comes the risks of obsessive social media scrutiny, ”says Franklin Chu, US CEO of marketing firm Azoya International, who has worked with Austin Li in the past.

Along with tax controls and content censorship, e-commerce influencers in live streaming are faced with increasingly stringent regulations that hold them responsible for aspects such as product quality control, correct reporting of sales and participation of minors in livestreams.

While influencers like Huang and Zhu have disappeared from the internet, their marketing and business teams are struggling to stay in the industry. Their former collaborators have become influencers themselves, claiming that they have nothing to do with the companies that supported the lapsed celebrities, but the Chinese media claim that they are in fact the same teams that operated previously.

If that tank-shaped ice cream ends Li’s career, the same fate will befall her company, Mei One. But nothing is official yet. His followers will not be the only ones to rejoice if he can return to his daily streams, but they will be joined by the salespeople and marketing agencies who have benefited from his popularity.

Image: AP

Dida: A poster by Li Jaiqi in a Shanghai subway station


The post China, what happens to influencers? first appeared on Technology Review Italia.

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