And the events have changed the overall dynamics between influencers and brands. For starters, the high discounts customers used to get from big influencers probably won’t last if brands make deals with live streamers who have much smaller followers. And instead of relying on the vast reach of influencers, many brands are now building their own live streaming channels. “This can be good news for brands, as customers can attend their own live sessions,” said Jialu Shan, a research fellow at the Global Center for Digital Business Transformation, “but definitely bad news for customers, as they can’t enjoy of the cheap deals that only live streamers like Li and Viya can offer.”
The fate of key influencers is also a clear signal that live streaming e-commerce cannot escape government scrutiny. “Big name KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders) have grown into a huge company and are now essential in e-commerce. But along with multimillion-dollar payouts and high visibility come the risks of microscopic examination and social media backlash,” said Franklin Chu, the US president of marketing firm Azoya International, which has worked with Austin Li in the past.
In addition to tax responsibilities and content censorship, live streaming e-commerce influencers also face increasing regulations that hold them accountable for things like product quality control, proper reporting of their sales figures, and underage participation in live streams. Since 2020, the government has released multiple regulatory documents covering various aspects of the business, keeping the industry under close scrutiny.
While influencers like Huang and Zhu have disappeared from the internet, their marketing and business teams are struggling to stay in the industry. Their assistants have become influencers themselves, claiming that they are no longer involved with the companies their famous former bosses supported, but Chinese media have reported that they are almost still the same teams.
If that tank-shaped ice appearance turns out to be the end of Li’s career, this is probably what his company, Meione, will do as well. But no statement has yet been made by his team, the tech platforms or the regulator, leaving millions of his fans with an anxious waiting game. They won’t be the only ones happy when he can return to his daily live streams: the salespeople and marketing agencies that have benefited from his popularity will join them. “Azoya has worked with him successfully in the past and would likely do so again, assuming his marketing effectiveness doesn’t drop dramatically,” says Franklin Chu.