Whenever Facebook announces a ‘New Big Thing’, every digital marketer worth their salt should sit up and take notice. The current flavour of the month is Facebook Live, a video streaming service that allows Facebook users to share content as the event is actually unfolding.
Facebook isn’t the only tech company investing heavily in live streaming. Both Twitter (via Periscope) and Google (via YouTube Live) are betting big that live video is a great way to grab the users’ attention.
Unsurprisingly, digital marketers are already getting in on the act: according to an Adweek poll, 44 per cent of executives have live-streamed content. Buzzfeed’s live video of a watermelon being encased with elastic bands until it exploded (yes, you read that right) attracted 807,000 real-time viewers (and 11 million since).
But as anyone who watched the 2017 Oscars knows, live streaming can go very, very, wrong. Should digital marketers risk it?
Live Video Is Incredibly Popular
Marketing 101 is to present your material in a way your target customers will be drawn to, and live video fits that bill.
Part of the appeal is simply the visual nature of video itself: 59 per cent of decision-makers would rather watch a video than read a block of text, and the average American watches five and a half hours of video content every day. But the live aspect is also important. Research suggests that when footage is live, viewers watch it for three times longer than they would otherwise have done.
Live Video Drives High Engagement
The cliché that humans are social animals is borne out by modern marketing tactics, where maximising and personalising interactions between company and customer is key to driving customer engagement.
Few marketing forms can achieve the same level of connection as live streaming. Viewers who comment and tweet while the broadcast is playing can alter and direct the flow of the video, as well as seeing their questions and comments addressed in real time.
Live Video Is New And Interesting
The fact that the internet allows marketers to quickly copy and replicate successful marketing methods can be advantageous, but it also means that once-novel ideas soon become seen by customers as overused, unappealing and even intrusive. Pop-up ads and mass email campaigns are now often thwarted by ad blockers and spam filters, and a similar fate may be in store for more “native” content marketing.
Live video, in contrast, is still a relatively unsaturated market. Consequently, good content is more likely to both catch and retain customers’ attention.
Live Video Feels Authentic
The idea that brands must appear “authentic” is popular amongst Millennials, who are a key target group for most marketers. Thanks to the lack of editing (and, usually, no script and low production costs) live video tends to confer this authentic feel.
Most company live videos depict employees, brand ambassadors or associates of the business. Such “real” humans (as opposed to actors playing characters) tend to go down well with viewers. Likeable brand ambassadors build customer trust in your brand in a way that generic logos and company info cannot.
Live Video Has Urgency Appeal
Limited-time offers have long been used by marketers who understand that human psychology makes us instantly prefer something if it is designated as transient or rare. Live video has the same effect. Being time-sensitive means viewers are more likely to sit and watch it as soon as they become aware of it, rather than putting it off and subsequently forgetting about it.
The effect is compounded by the “in the moment” feel of social media, in which live video is often embedded.
Live Video Combats Complaints
No matter how well-run your business is, there will be times when things don’t go to plan. Unfortunately, every mistake and problem runs the risk that customers affected by them will retain a negative image of your brand, take their custom elsewhere, and perhaps even influence other customers against you.
As a crisis-management technique, live video has had some success in mitigating customers’ frustrations. When Southwest Airlines’ fleet was grounded by bad weather, they used live video streaming to show in real-time how hard their staff were working to resolve the problems. 100,000 customers watched the video, which helped them both understand the extent of the problems and bred sympathy for the human personnel involved.
But! Technical Glitches Wipe Out These Benefits
All technology is prone to bugs and faults, but live video leaves little to no room to correct such errors if and when they occur.
Buzzfeed learned this lesson the hard way when they interviewed President Obama over Facebook Live. Glitches made the audio inaudible and viewing numbers dwindled to barely 15,000 viewers (remember: this is the same company who attracted almost a million for an exploding watermelon).
Live Video Is Uncontrollable
Technical glitches are undesirable, but a far worse possibility is that someone featured in your live video will say or do something that is off-brand, idiotic, or – worse of all – deeply offensive. The old adage that it takes a lifetime to build a reputation and moments to destroy one has been borne out by a series of high-profile marketing disasters, and consumers are not always quick to forgive and forget.
Ultimately, marketers who invest in live video have to put a lot of trust in people they cannot control. Even if you feel confident in your presenters, the ability of strangers to comment on and otherwise interact with your video presents a heap of potential problems.
But although marketers are right to be wary, there should also remember that there is no reward without risk. Live video is going to be big news. Can you really afford not to jump on the bandwagon?
Beth Leslie is a career and lifestyle writer, and editor of the Inspiring Interns blog, which provides graduate careers advice. Inspiring Interns is a graduate recruitment agency specialising in matching candidates to their dream job or internship. Click here to browse their London-based graduate jobs, and here for their graduate jobs Manchester page.