Not long ago, a friend of mine traveled to a remote part of Kenya to serve on a medical mission trip. I assumed that would he have the capacity to communicate back home via Skype or FaceTime while there, but it didn’t occur to me that he could actually “go live” on social media from a place that did not have electricity or running water — until he did — and he is certainly not alone.

People around the world have started live streaming #allthethings, all the time and viewers have an insatiable appetite for more.

It’s no wonder that brands have jumped on the live video train and are learning to leverage this brave new world of (free) live video broadcasting to boost their bottom lines. The creators of the online social platforms may not have intended to become a virtual library of brand videos and marketing content, but as long as the dollars keep flowing between these platforms and the brands who build on them, it’s safe to assume that this is not a flash in the pan. Rather, it’s becoming increasingly more urgent and necessary for all brands, businesses, and organizations — anyone with a message to share and a product to sell — to figure out how live video plays into their marketing strategy, because you can’t change the channel on consumer engagement on social media.

Since live online video isn’t going anywhere, we think that it would be useful to provide an overview of what this is all about, the varying forms of live stories and other social content, and how brands, businesses, and organizations can start to engage audiences with live video and take their engagement to the next level. Let’s begin with the basics:

What is Live Social Video?

Live video in the social media context takes on a number of varying forms and outputs. This is not traditional live streaming you would see from a network or cable television channel. Live video on social media is always:

  1. community generated, meaning you have to have an account on the platform to broadcast.
  2. interactive, allowing audiences to participate by viewing and commenting on the action.
  3. in some cases, temporary, meaning the videos disappear after 24 hours.

Once an account is created, broadcasting live becomes very simple, in most cases point and shoot.

Social media giants such as Facebook, Instagram and Youtube each offer their users the ability to broadcast live. Newer platforms such as Periscope and Snapchat are solely devoted to live video content. Additionally, sites like Twitch.tv appeal especially to gamers who can set up their own live channels for their “fans” to watch them play and comment on their game with others, real time. What is required? An account on your preferred social platform, a video camera with an internet connection (either phone, tablet, or pc), and checking the terms of service box when creating your account.

Each of the various platforms offer their own twist on live broadcasting capabilities but what they all have in common is:

  1. simplicity and
  2. 2. the ability to whisk the viewer into the action so that they feel like they are really there — not just watching but actively participating alongside — not just an audience but a community.

Brands, businesses and organizations use the live capabilities of their social media to build relationships with their audiences through unscripted, unedited, and behind-the-scenes views into the more personalized aspects of the brand. Sometimes a live demo with a time for Q and A from the audience is particularly effective.  

Live Video vs. Stories

Another social media product that feels live but isn’t always truly live is what Instagram and Facebook are calling “stories.” Originally introduced by Snapchat, the stories functionality allows users to capture video and still clips throughout their days and post them as a continuous story on their account. Live video is also an option through stories, and is the primary way one would “go live” on Instagram. The catch with stories is that they only last for 24 hours before they are deleted (Same as Snapchat).

Facebook and Instagram do offer the ability to broadcast live and save the live broadcast for future playback. But you have to share the live video as an update, if you leave it in the story only it will disappear in 24 hours.

Who is Using Live Video?

Honestly? Everyone.

Once upon a time, we lived in a world where live video broadcasts were only reserved for network and cable broadcasting channels; primarily sports broadcasts and the news channels with reporters “live on the scene.” Just less than a decade ago, people associated “live video” with “television” and that was it. Slowly and steadily, internet video began to grow and, as technology put video cameras in more hands, now anyone can “go live” from anywhere in the world with an internet connection. Basically, the power to broadcast to the masses — worldwide — is in the hands of anyone with a social media account and a computer with a camera. Let that reality sink in for a minute…

Practically all of the big brands are already playing at this level, because live video is a proven-business generator. And as Facebook continues to give deference to video content, the ad spend on that platform will continue to grow. But the medium and small brands, businesses, and organizations are starting to take notice and online video content is set to dominate digital marketing in the coming years. When you also factor in user-generated content to the mix, you can clearly see why online social videos are an urgent and necessary addition to your marketing mix. Brands who invite their customers to become advocates through user generated content are launching a mini-sales force into the social sphere (for free!).

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Which Social Platform is Best for Live Video?

This is the big debate with lots of heated opinions on all sides. Knowing your personas will be mission-critical information to help you decide which platform is right for your video marketing strategy. Snapchat is the true pioneer of live social video but Facebook and Instagram have a larger and stronger multigenerational audience (Snapchat’s is mostly Millennials). The buying power is still with the Baby Boomer and GenX audiences but not for long. Snapchat is the clear favorite among the upcoming target demographic so brands that successfully legitimize their Snapchat presence may find themselves ahead of the curve when these users become the big spenders. Hootsuite has done a fabulous job of breaking down the three platforms and their use of social video — particularly stories — and is well worth the read. Again, a strong understanding of your personas should underscore your online video efforts on an social platform.

Live online videos may be the single most significant shift in marketing today. As we have already established, putting video into the hands of the masses was bound to change the landscape, and just how far reaching is the impact of live video? We can’t say for sure but stay tuned because live video is definitely here to stay.

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