Since the introduction of Periscope and Meerkat (RIP), there have been thousands of articles and blog posts hyping live streaming video as an essential tool in the PR and marketing toolkit. Facebook and Google (YouTube) introduced live video with much fanfare. And then, people started to notice that a lot of live streaming video content was pretty bad. Meerkat folded, and many businesses reevaluated their use of live video as part of their marketing/PR mix.
What we want to do in this tipsheet is discuss the relevance of live video content to PR professionals:
- How live video amplifies earned media.
- How journalists use and favor the live streaming format.
- The benefits and disadvantages of live streaming video.
- General best practices for live video, and best practices by platform.
There is an opportunity in the live video space for strategic content given an understanding of your earned media assets, content promotion and proper equipment/connectivity.
How Live Video Amplifies Earned Media
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges for PR and marketing professionals is to understand what true value their earned social media has. For example, 10,000 Twitter followers aren’t equally valuable to you as advocates or prospects, nor are they organically accessible to you. This is true across all social platforms.
Live video adds an additional wrinkle to this process. While you may have x number of followers or fans that you can reach through earned media channels, there is likely only a percentage of those who are open to a live stream event.
Additionally, there are likely people who would participate in your live stream event but may not be online when the event occurs. This means that promotion is key to successful live video streams. Leveraging other social channels, and particularly email subscriber lists, is key to getting fans and followers to participate in a live video event.
Apart from the promotion of a live stream event, the actual content of the event (what you are doing during the live stream) is a crucial aspect for customers to decide whether to participate. Writing for Marketing Profs, Aleh Barysevich describes the following types of content as most effective for live video:
- Live Interactive Tutorials and Q&As
- Live Events
- Interviews and Discussions
- Announcements and Live Launches
- A Peek Behind the Scenes or at Company Culture
Zulily is an example of a company that leverages live video well for outreach. Their live video content focused on fashion trends is highly engaging and topical for the audience that they intend to reach.
Live video has some constraints, specifically, that content selection is very important (especially given the resources necessary to produce this content) and that cross-platform promotion is a critical component to have an audience when your live video event happens.
How Journalists Use And Favor The Live Streaming Format
Here comes the unwelcome news when it comes to live streaming and journalists — they use it but you probably can’t directly create your own live streaming content that will be helpful for them. Specifically, journalists use live streaming for breaking news or for unique perspectives about the news/content that they write about.
The biggest opportunity for live stream video with journalists is if they are generating live stream content themselves (and this is a small percentage of all journalists). For example, The Economist is successfully using Facebook Live Audio for podcasts, generally getting about 250 live listeners at peak. So, it might be more feasible for you to contribute to a journalist’s live stream than to expect them to promote a live stream video that you are producing.
This compartmentalization for live streaming video isn’t unique to journalists. According to Koeppel Direct, social users prefer live video for the following uses:
- Sporting Events (29 percent)
- Family and friends (30 percent)
- Music concerts and events (38 percent)
- Breaking News (41 percent)
- Funny and Entertaining videos (53 percent)
Two items of optimism being that there are other reasons that consumers watch live video besides breaking news and that these content forms are so new that consumers perhaps haven’t fully realized how they will find live streaming helpful in the future.
So, while journalists use live streaming and have audiences that appear to be amenable to the format, the ability for PR to use earned media relationships to influence or contribute to live video may not be as viable as other forms of outreach.
The Benefits and Disadvantages of Live Streaming Video
When discussing live video, it may be helpful to consider the benefits of pre-recorded video first:
- AdWeek reports that video content is disproportionately favored for Page reach on Facebook than traditional image or text content.
- According to Buffer more than 50 percent of videos are watched on mobile.
- 93 percent of Twitter videos are watched on mobile.
- 65 percent of people who watch the first three seconds of a Facebook video will watch for at least 10 seconds, and 45 percent will watch for 30 seconds.
- A recent study found that engagement is higher with video content than with any other type.
- Syndacast reports that including the word “video” in an email header may increase open rates up to 20 percent.
Video is obviously an area of emphasis across all platforms, an especially important insight for businesses and brands trying to optimize content reach to their earned social media audiences. Expanding those insights out to live streaming video:
- According to Adweek, Facebook’s algorithm disproportionately emphasizes Facebook Live Video, but also disproportionately promotes personal posts over brand posts by 700 percent.
- In their annual report, Twitter explicitly stated that their focus is live video through Periscope and native Twitter.
- According to Facebook, Facebook Live Videos are watched three times as long as regular videos.
- According to Digiday, 85 percent of Facebook Videos may be watched without sound. This may not be the case for live video, however – perhaps allowing for better communication through video content.
- According to Buffer people spend, on average, more than 3x more time watching a Facebook Live video than a video that’s no longer live.
- Facebook users comment 10X more on live videos than they do on regular videos.
- According to Twitter, video of a live event increases brand favorability by 63 percent.
- According to Livestream, customers prefer watching live video to reading blog posts by a large margin (>80 percent).
From these statistics, one might conclude that live video is a pretty great content form (and it is in context). However, the challenges of live video are daunting.
- There are limited types of live streaming content that people are most excited to view (recall from above that they were sporting events, content from family and friends, music concerts and events, breaking news, funny and entertaining videos).
- Technical aspects of live streaming complicate this content form substantially, specifically the reliability of equipment and bandwidth/connectivity (more about this in best practices).
- Timing of live video requires promotion within earned media and possibility requires paid to increase awareness and to generate interest in the event. It is improbable that a live video event would have a sizeable audience with (most businesses’) earned social media audience alone.
- The nature of live video doesn’t allow for any editing or re-dos, so this type of content either needs to be rehearsed or acceptable in a raw form (an example of this being breaking news).
Live video content is perhaps no different than most other types of social content: it is better utilized for specific purposes and requires deliberate, thoughtful planning to be successful. It is probably fair to characterize live video content as more niche than other forms of content, but there is clearly a demand and purpose for live video in your communications/marketing mix.
General Best Practices for Live Video
There are three broad categories of live video best practices: promotion, content and technical. Let’s consider how all three contribute to a successful live stream event:
The promotion aspect we’ve already touched on. Because live video is time-specific, live video events need to be publicized repeatedly through owned media channels leading up to the event. All owned media channels are probably worthwhile to activate, although email perhaps is best suited to last-minute promotion as it can provide timely reminders that have a higher likelihood of being seen.
One study concludes that an average mobile viewer watches a live video for 2.6 minutes, an average tablet viewer watches for 7.1 minutes and the average desktop viewer views a live video for 34.5 minutes. Giving viewers a chance to prepare for an event and suggesting that a live video is best viewed on a desktop may earn you an extra half hour of viewer attention. For those of you targeting the 18-34 demographic, laptops and smartphones are the main devices used to stream for these viewers.
A recent study on engagement with social video found that while the ideal social video length is short, the optimal length for Live Videos is longer. Another recent study demonstrates the capability for longer form content to improve engagement. Either way, longer form live video hits a sweet spot for engagement and for demand (not too many people would likely tune in for a 90-second live sports event).
To bring some clarity to ideal length, content marketing expert Bree Brouwer suggests that “dwell time” may be a more precise way to measure the impact of live video. Given that a mobile user may watch three minutes of a video and a desktop user might see thirty, using a metric of overall views is misleading (particularly for longer videos). Dwell time is perhaps a better metric because it calculates the average of time spent watching a live video per viewer, although with such possible extremes in viewership it might be helpful to look at viewer concentrations in quartiles to understand the concentration of viewership engaging the videos for shorter and longer periods.
Pre-live stream, rehearsal (when possible) is advisable. Nearly all scripted content is rehearsed and honed prior to shooting, so expecting a first-take piece of live content to engage an audience sufficiently and keep their attention is hubristic and (probably) wasteful of your resources.
All of the video platforms allow you to archive your live stream as a video on your page. So, post-live stream one of the most essential things you can do is to make sure that your live stream event is archived and discoverable to people that missed it . This means contextualizing it well with description, hashtags and with a written transcript of the video if possible.
Up front there are no editing opportunities or re-dos for live video, so the technical aspects of a live video need to be working well and fully tested. All live streamers should understand that even though all live stream platforms allow for you to stream through apps on mobile devices using Wi-Fi and cellular data, there isn’t a reason to. Here are some essential technical aspects of live stream video:
- Reliable, high-speed connectivity is a baseline essential component for the success of a live stream. Because mobile is slow and wi-fi is sometimes erratic, connectivity should be through a reliable, ethernet connection where available.
- Facebook Live Video supports up to 1080p video with 128 Kbps audio, so you should have the equipment that captures and delivers the highest quality of video and audio that you can. Especially since your most engaged users will likely be on a laptop or desktop computer.
- You must do technical tests using your equipment and connection prior to streaming. Additionally, marketing expert Margot da Cunha says that one of the most crucial considerations for live video is lighting, so in addition to perhaps being able to see and hear your stream, you also want to consider optimizing the space for the most enjoyable video and audio experience.
Whatever you think about football, from a PR perspective you probably should appreciate the Seattle Seahawks. Their coach is one of the most accessible coaches in the league, and their entire staff conducts press conferences throughout the week, with (for the most part) insightful and open answers to any questions that they are asked. And all of the press conferences are live streamed on Periscope. And despite their experience and the quality of their content, a recent press conference on Periscope demonstrates the challenges to the format. The audio is off, and the connection fails after a couple of minutes leaving the viewer feeling a bit short-changed. The fact that technical issues like this happen to practiced, experienced PR professionals is a pretty compelling argument to make sure that the technical aspects of a broadcast are solid before a live stream video event.
Best Practices by Platform
There are five big players in the live video space:
A sixth, Twitch is huge but is primarily used by gamers to broadcast games and probably isn’t a worthwhile platform to discuss outside of gaming (yet, at least). Vimeo also recently introduced a live streaming product, although perhaps a bit late to market given the association of live streaming with other platforms.
Magid Advisors reports that Facebook Live has 45 percent market share of live streaming, YouTube Live 44 percent, Instagram 28 percent, Twitter 19 percent, Twitch 12 percent and Periscope 9 percent. Once you understand the capabilities of each (and depending on your earned media audience), you may decide to stream on multiple platforms. There are many opinions about which platform is best for businesses, but the ideal platform likely would be the one with the most earned media that can be leveraged — or it could consist of a multi-platform approach.
Let’s consider the high points and best practices for each of these platforms:
Facebook Live Video
Despite its predecessors, Facebook is the brand most synonymous with live streaming video at the moment. According to TechCrunch, Facebook says that 20 percent of all videos on Facebook are live streams. And as mentioned earlier, Facebook appears to allow greater Page reach to video content than to other branded content.
Some of the key benefits of Facebook Live Video are:
- Scale – No platform is bigger than Facebook.
- Capacity for high resolution live streaming – natively and through the Facebook Live Video API.
- A great complement of features, including fundraising, screen sharing and 360 degree live video.
- Archived live video
- Facebook’s targeting tools also allow for deeper insights into earned social media audiences than other platforms provide. For example, brands and businesses may be able to use the new Insights tool to get better information on brand followers by many of the targeting criteria (and there is a lot) that Facebook keeps for its users.
To elaborate on some the features:
Fundraising is a relatively new feature that allows you to use live video to fundraise for a registered 401(c)(3) charity through Facebook Payments. The Sacramento Kings are a high profile example of fundraising on Facebook Live, recently using the platform to broadcast a special halftime concert to benefit the American Red Cross.
Facebook recently introduced a native screen sharing feature for Facebook Live, allowing users to share their screens during a Facebook Live broadcast. This appears primarily to appeal to current live streaming gamers at Stitch but can have some practical application for businesses and brands as well.
Facebook’s 360 degree live video is an immersive product that allows streaming of 360 perspective using specialized cameras. 360 degree live video offers additional technical challenges, not the least of which being more specialized interest, equipment and connectivity.
Additionally, Facebook has a live streaming API that can enhance some of the features of its standalone product. Like Periscope Producer, the best practice for capitalizing on these features is to broadcast using one of Facebook’s Live Stream API partners.
Relative to other live streaming platforms, there aren’t a lot of downsides to Facebook Live. If anything, the erratic Page Reach could serve as an impediment more than other platforms, but the relative benefit would correlate with the scale of your earned social media on any platform.
Some ancillary things that you might hear about Facebook live streaming:
- According to AdWeek, Facebook has shown concern about bigger publishers live streaming pre-recorded content and has stated a willingness to restrict reach for offenders, although it is unclear if they are enforcing this for smaller publishers. The FAQ section actually notes that interjecting some pre-produced content into live streams is okay, but it is something to be cognizant of.
- You may hear about Facebook Watch and wonder about the differences between Facebook Live and Watch. Facebook Watch is basically a Facebook TV channel (perhaps akin to Hulu). It differentiates from Facebook Live Video in that it has regular programming (which can be live) and is only open to limited people.
Twitter / Periscope
It is worth restating that Twitter says that their current focus is live video through Periscope and native Twitter. Twitter and Periscope are interchangeable since their interface is the same (Twitter adopted Periscope’s features directly when Periscope’s growth stagnated). The experience and features are essentially the same for both platforms.
Relative to Facebook, the key benefit to Periscope/Twitter is the audience that you have on these platforms. Twitter does not have the scale of Facebook or offer the capability to mine insights about your earned social media audience as Facebook does. It does have the capacity for high resolution streaming and partnerships to add features to live stream content through its Periscope Producer API. Periscope and Twitter likewise archive videos after live stream. So, the difference between Facebook and Twitter live video (as it is for their main platforms) is scale and features.
The relative benefits of Facebook over Twitter and Periscope’s features are ancillary: no fundraising, no screen broadcasts, et cetera (although Twitter and Periscope can broadcast 360-degree video). You can live stream nearly any content with Twitter or Periscope that can with Facebook. So, the decision to use Twitter or Periscope probably is less feature-driven and more audience driven.
YouTube Live Video
YouTube Live Video is the oldest of the (big) live streaming services, allowing live streams since 2011, and integrating the popular Google Plus Hangouts On-Air live streaming product into YouTube Live late last year. Perhaps not coincidentally, it may also be the most user-friendly of all of the live streaming options, likely due to its exclusive focus on online video. The Live Video feature is available directly from its Creator Studio and intuitively archives to YouTube after each broadcast. YouTube offers integration with a number of inexpensive or free encoders and also will integrate with “non-certified” encoders quite easily.
YouTube’s advantages are perhaps in discovery (because of its exclusivity to the video format), and its simplicity. YouTube also has monetization options for live video, although it’s hard to foresee a scenario where you put the effort into getting an audience to your live video only to show them third-party ads.
The disadvantage of YouTube may be the lack of bells and whistles and its lack of social audience. An impromptu live stream on Facebook may get a small, targeted audience by chance, but with YouTube Live you have no nascent (target) audience to tap into.
There are some content differences between YouTube and the other platforms as well. Tubular Insights reports that the average length for YouTube live videos is greater than Facebook Live videos, consistent with general video trends (although less pronounced). This probably is not actionable for the content that you’re creating, however, and is probably more suited towards content creators relying on YouTube for discovery.
For additional information, read YouTube’s Live Streaming Tips here.
Instagram Live Video
Instagram Live Stories are part of the “Stories” feature. It is a bit unintuitive for followers to see a live stream happening but is an often-used feature for users. Instagram recently added face filters to its Live Video product, and IG is currently beta testing a feature that allows Live videos to be split between two users. So Instagram is a fun way to do live video. But there are two big impediments to doing live video on IG:
- Instagram live videos can only be shared with Instagram connections. There is no way to provide a link to let other people see the stream.
- Instagram live videos can only be replayed for 24 hours after broadcast.
So, a brand or business that wants to do an Instagram live video has to be confident that the audience will be online and has to exclusively broadcast to their audience. This isn’t an ideal situation at first glance, but for a brand that has a lot of earned media audience and interest in Instagram, this could be a good fit.
Another idea for an Instagram feed would be as a secondary live stream, using its native features to create a kitsch (filtered?) stream.
Aside from the platforms noted, there are other live streaming features being introduced on different platforms. For example, LinkedIn is experimenting with live video for influencers (albeit in 30-second increments), and Tumblr enabled the feature last year (like a tree falling in the forest with no one to see it). So the content form is growing both in scope and in familiarity the public.
What PR professionals and marketers need to understand about live streaming video is that it is a viable content form in specific contexts – namely, the contexts that would motivate people to watch you do something live. The live aspect and questionable reach of social platform require promotion, and the promotional aspect of the event coupled with very similar features across platforms allows you the latitude to determine the best platform for streaming based on your earned social media audiences. Creators should consider using more than one platform if you have the technical ability to do so, to see if you can expand your live audience with the same content.
Live stream video is a very special content form due to its interactivity and the participation in an event. If you can make this content exciting, it may be an important aspect of your communications / marketing mix.