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Suddenly, everyone’s talking about everyone going live


By Chris Hamilton, Editorial Director for McCann LIVE

April 19, 2016 | 6 min read

For decades live video was almost exclusively the preserve of television networks, the only organisations with the technical capability to capture and distribute live images to large audiences.

Even though the digital revolution gave millions the ability to create and widely share their own content, until recently that content was mostly text, images or pre-recorded video. Live video remained niche, requiring the right kind of video-capable device, a very good network connection, and a specialist website like Bambuser or UStream, the creative opportunities were limited.

Then Meerkat and Periscope delivered live video functionality at scale, first via specialist apps, then through the latter’s integration with Twitter. And now there’s Facebook Live.

Supercharged by Mark Zuckerberg on his return from paternity leave in February, when a 150-strong engineering team was reportedly built in less than a week to introduce new features, Facebook’s live video product is yet another game-changer from Menlo Park.

They’ve delivered the basic technology, they’ve delivered snazzy bells and whistles (some looking not unlike features of rivals like Periscope and Snapchat), but – crucially – Facebook Live also delivers a vast, already highly engaged audience in the form of Facebook’s existing 1.6bn monthly active users.

Celebrities, publishers and broadcasters have enthusiastically jumped in. BuzzFeed recently attracted 10.5m viewers to a 45-minute video of two staffers popping a water melon with rubber bands, and reportedly have a live game show in the works.

What does it all mean for brands?

Many will be wary of what might be seen as another technologically-driven fad with uncertain ROI. The word ‘live’ and its assumed high costs will add to nervousness. But the reality is that for the right brand, with the right message, live video is much more than a fad, and can be a compelling part of a successful content strategy.

When it comes to cost, although live video production needs to be properly resourced, it should be remembered we’re talking about concentrated ‘hits’ of liveness, limited in duration, and not necessarily an always-on live campaign.

Of course, the potential reputational risk of live video is higher than pre-planned content. The impact of things going wrong - or at least not going according to plan - is exponentially higher. The key is in the planning, and rigorous testing.

You need to plot out what you'll show, in what order. How will you start, introduce participants, and your subject matter? If there's movement, how will you get from one place to another, and what will you show or talk about whilst getting there? What are the key messages you want to land during the event? How will you wind-up, and avoid the dreaded and all-too-common abrupt ending? You’ll need contingency plans for technology failure or an overwhelmingly hostile audience response, giving you a quick but smooth route to pulling the plug.

As important as planning might be, for most purposes it’s crucial that the video itself remains human and authentic. It will depend on what you're trying to achieve and who your audience is, but always remember this is video for a social, predominantly mobile audience. Aping a full scripted TV show or ad, even most made-for-social/digital video, won’t be the way to go.

We know consumers are more likely to engage with brand content if it sounds human, not like a traditional advert or corporate communication. That means natural presentation style and tone, an ability to 'go with the flow', and even a sense of humour. You’re aiming for what I call 'polished informality'.

Simplicity is key, not just in terms of content, but in terms of format. We’re already seeing how live video products gain new functionality all the time, and no doubt there will be an increasing number of high-end, innovative treatments.

But there’s no need to aim for the stars when you start. Much more important is to make sure the content is compelling and the broadcast goes without a hitch.

To that end, a good quality, up-to-date smart device plus tripod/mount, microphone, lights and battery pack are essential. Don’t forget a good network connection. Don’t worry about higher spec ‘broadcast’ quality kit unless you’re further down the track and attempting something more ambitious.

So when we talk about compelling live video, what do we mean?

A good starting point is to ask yourself what you or your peers would find compelling. What would you willing to give up some of your precious time to watch on Facebook? Remembering, too, that there has to be a reason for it to be live, rather than pre-recorded.

Think real-life, behind the scenes, product demos, expert or experienced insight, and experiential events. Q&As can generate especially engaged audiences.

Whatever route you take, make sure to use the functionality of live video products to interact with your audience. Watch what they’re saying, and respond in real-time. It adds value in itself, and underlines the live nature of what you’re doing.

Plan, test, experiment, learn – then try again, refining as you go.

Video is fast becoming the dominant format for web content. Live is the icing on this enormous and growing cake, and although it won’t be right for every brand, it would be foolish not to consider how to take advantage.

Chris Hamilton is editorial director for McCann LIVE at McCann London and was previously head of social media for BBC News.


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