Everybody’s a Broadcaster (Part 2)

Live-Streaming Video: How to Get Started and Keep It Interesting

In part one of this two-part article, I talked about some of the most popular live-streaming platforms available. Well, a couple of weeks have elapsed and things have changed. Most notably, troubled Meerkat has decided to abandon live streaming, leaving the fight to the major social networks. While the unsupported app still works, Meerkat will move on to greener pastures, acknowledging that while live streaming has become an “interesting feature” for other social networks, it’s not quite ready to be a self-sustaining business.

If you’re using a mobile live-streaming app, the only effort required is to launch the app and push a button.

While Meerkat bows out of the live-streaming race, Facebook Live is picking up its pace. Facebook Live launched its live-streaming feature on the iOS version of its app in December, and at the end of February it released the Android version. It’s also increasing the number of countries that have access to its live-streaming services. Although there are some reported issues, like needing a solid, speedy internet connection, one of the benefits of trying Facebook Live is that live-streamed videos receive higher priority in the News Feed than nonlive videos.

VIPs Only

Both of the examples above reflect the fact that live streaming is still very much in the infancy phase. While Facebook is throwing a lot of weight behind live-streaming video, the marketplace is still very much in the exploration phase. In a letter to investors, Meerkat’s CEO Ben Rubin stated that “the value proposition of being live is just not clear to people who are not celebrities/media/news.” Facebook apparently recognized this issue early on when it rolled out Live, making it only available to “public figures.” While Google/YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter/Periscope have made it possible for all of us to be a broadcaster on some level, we certainly aren’t guaranteed an audience.

Badger - live streaming tips

To Live-Stream or Not to Live-Stream

Rubin’s comment above certainly would make anyone who isn’t a “public figure” stop and think twice about whether it’s worth the effort to live-stream. But then again, if you’re using a mobile live-streaming app, the only effort required is to launch the app and push a button. This is a process that even the most uninitiated can perform, provided that they have a smartphone. Given that the barrier to entry is so low, I would say that most brands should at least consider experimenting with live streaming and particularly using mobile platforms such as Periscope and Facebook Live. But before you jump in head first, you should consider a few points in the following paragraphs.

What’s My Schtick?

Even though live streaming is still in its infancy, we are past the novelty phase. In other words, simply broadcasting something, regardless of substance, is unlikely to draw a significant audience—unless you are a “public figure.” Sure, platforms like YouNow allow anyone to live-stream anything (including, as I’ve mentioned before, sleeping), but I doubt that you’ll gain much of a following. If you’re content to broadcast to a few people who might discover you haphazardly, I encourage you to continue to do what makes you happy. However, for most brands, your time and resources are too limited to engage in acts that will reach very few people in an untargeted way. Brands need to be more deliberate about their content and how they go about reaching their audience. The first step is asking the question, what am I going to broadcast?

live streaming on mobile device

There are several topics from which to choose as the focus of your live-streaming broadcast. The most obvious is to parallel television by streaming company-sponsored live events in real time. This is a perfect way for your audience to view an event they are unable to attend. Typically, capturing a live event for television is a big production, requiring lots of planning, people, equipment, time, and of course, money. Now you have the capacity to simply broadcast the event with your smartphone. Will it have the same production quality? Not even close, but ask yourself if it matters. If it doesn’t, go for it. It’s a means to expose people to an event they would otherwise be unable to attend.

 If your broadcast is critical, you might want to stream it on a couple of platforms, which may mean multiple phones, etc.

Keeping in the spirit of informality, behind-the-scenes (BTS) broadcasts are particularly well-suited for live streaming. Whether it’s backstage at a special event, a tour of your office or facility, the filming of a commercial or a photo shoot, a company picnic, or any other opportunity to share the “making of” your brand, consider a live-stream broadcast. It’s an authentic way to give your followers special access to your brand.

You can also cover some of the same ground that would typically be covered with an on-demand video, such as a product demo or a how-to video. Perhaps you can spice it up by having a celebrity, influencer, or corporate leader perform the how-to or demo. Speaking of access to key corporate leaders, you could also provide a Q&A session, again providing your audience access that typically wouldn’t exist. Also, you could perhaps even try a contest or giveaway to grow your audience and attract new followers.

Regardless of the type of broadcast, make certain that you are careful to reflect the tone and personality of your brand. Other attributes that work well with live-streaming broadcasts include being authentic, natural, playful, and entertaining. Often, much of the success of a live television show falls to the host, who is usually both likable and adaptable. Find a live-streaming host who will fill the same role for your brand.

Like the many media channels before it, live streaming is not a replacement for existing channels such as on-demand video or television broadcasts. 

Chances are you’ll have a more successful stream if you acknowledge and interact with your audience. They have the opportunity to post questions that you should monitor and answer, if at all possible. Interaction is a key benefit of these platforms—consider using it whenever you can. Finally, experiment with length. Most platforms have a maximum length that you will be unable to exceed. As with all content, try to determine the likelihood of keeping your audience’s attention, which will mean that most of your videos will probably fall in the two- to 30-minute range.

Work Out the Kinks

Once you’ve established the live-streaming platform you are going to use, you should thoroughly learn about its features. Before you go live with any broadcast, you should perform a couple of test broadcasts to gauge what’s working and what’s not. While your audience isn’t expecting a high level of production value, you want to minimize distractions as much as possible. A dark or unclear picture and garbled or noisy audio will distract from even the most interesting event. Most apps offer limited control of image and sound quality so controlling both of these parameters will be more a factor of your environment. That’s why testing at the location in which you plan to live-stream is so important.

desktop live streaming

Another factor to consider is how important this broadcast is. While using major social media platforms ensures a high level of reliability, these platforms are not immune to outages, planned or unplanned. If your broadcast is critical, you might want to stream it on a couple of platforms, which may mean multiple phones, etc. It will be up to you to determine if the extra effort is necessary.

Also, be sure you make the most of your live-streaming broadcast by recycling it. If it isn’t automatically uploaded to your chosen platform, make sure that you find a way to capture and keep it. Also, editing the finished video is sometimes an option. Take advantage of this feature by enhancing your video with additional comments and URLs, but be careful what you remove as it might affect your audience’s view of your brand’s transparency.

Content Is Not Advertising

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard about someone uploading a video to YouTube or a website, only to be surprised that it’s received very few views. Unless you are creating a broadcast commercial; a pre-, mid-, or post-roll; or a banner ad, chances are your video is considered content—not advertising. Advertising is strategically placed in front of eyeballs, and we see it in places that we naturally visit. When we create content, we have to find some means of making it discoverable. For instance, while hundreds of millions of people visit YouTube each day, there are millions of videos from which to choose. How will people find your video? Will they find it based on your title or description? Will it be recommended to them by a friend or will they find it via a link? How will someone discover your video without help?

View live streaming as a new way to communicate as a brand, and subsequently, to invent unique ways to take advantage of this exciting platform.

Even if you’ve created the most viral video ever, it will gain even more traction through promotion and good SEO practices. Whenever you have the opportunity to attract the attention of your audience, consider promoting something that benefits your brand. Send people to your website for additional information. Have them view a video about a new product. Give them a chance to read a case study. In other words, promote your content. The same holds true for live-streaming video events. Promote your event prior to the broadcast. Let people know when and on what platform it will take place, and most certainly, what it’s going to be about. Also, make sure that you write a good, eye-catching title and description of your event, since it’s often the main way that people will discover your live stream on their own.

I Broadcast, Therefore I Am

As I mentioned earlier, although anyone with a computer or smartphone can broadcast, we are certainly not guaranteed an audience. Or at least we are not guaranteed a significant audience. Meerkat’s Rubin also mentioned that while we have plenty of examples of what a good photo looks like, we have fewer examples of what good live-streaming broadcasts look like. I suspect that will change this year. As more celebrities, influencers, brands, and individuals experiment with live streaming, it will not only solidify successful broadcast models, but it will also help shape future features for existing platforms and provide guidance for future platforms.

Like the many media channels before it, live streaming is not a replacement for existing channels such as on-demand video or television broadcasts. Therefore, while you can take cues from existing channels, I encourage you to view live streaming as a new way to communicate as a brand, and subsequently, to invent unique ways to take advantage of this exciting platform.

Photos: Alexey Boldin for Shutterstock, Shutterstock

Dennis Balgavy

Dennis Balgavy

Dennis Balgavy is a serial career changer: audio recording, product development, marketing communications, IT, research, video production, web development, and writing—and, oh, yeah, there was that time he flipped hamburgers.

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