The Key to Social Streaming Success

I often find myself so immersed in the world of online media that I need a reality check. When you spend all your time reading and writing about trends in digital media, it's easy to forget that most of the world doesn't know or care about the technology that seems so present in your world.

This spring, I found myself sitting in several conference sessions about social streaming video--think Facebook Live and Periscope. According to the experts, viewers will watch live streaming video for 20 to 30 minutes on average. Compare that to just 3 minutes or so with prerecorded video, and you understand why content creators are excited.  I got excited about it. I wondered how I could use this to engage our Facebook fans. (The consensus seems to be that Facebook is winning in the social streaming space.) I left the conference, which was filled with online video enthusiasts, and went home--where I quickly realized I had never seen a single one of my friends--even the most "socially" active friends-use Facebook Live. Ditto for Periscope.

I even did a little informal poll. I asked my Facebook friends if they knew about Facebook Live and if they had ever used it. Only three friends responded. They all know what it is, have watched videos on it, but have not streamed anything themselves. Two are in marketing, and one owns her own small business (which basically makes her a marketer as well). One specifically said she likes using Facebook Live to watch conferences she can't attend. Another said he streams on Periscope.

My completely unscientific conclusion is that people outside of the marketing and media game are probably still pretty ignorant about a lot of these social streaming platforms. If it isn't your job to know about it-or it doesn't behoove you to use it as a branding tool-you probably don't pay much attention to it. When Facebook Live launched, I remember that a few publications I follow notified me that they were live streaming. I don't think I ever clicked on one. And until I went to that conference, I'd more or less forgotten about it.

I don't say any of this to discount the popularity of social streaming video-or its usefulness. If people are watching these feeds for 20 minutes or more, clearly they're effective. In this case, my friend's comment about watching conference presentations is key to understanding how to use this particular form of video. It's about quality-and bringing an experience to your audience that it would not have been able to see otherwise. It is not about cats on Roombas or screaming goats-don't expect to go viral.

But there's something else here that keeps viewers engaged for longer periods of time: interactivity. On Facebook Live, viewers can comment as you stream. In return, the content creators can respond with shoutouts. You can ask a question and get a response. In other words, it's kind of similar to being there. That is integral to the success of live streaming video. Otherwise, why wouldn't I watch it when I can pause it and come back at my leisure?

As I was writing this, a friend tagged me in the comments of a live interview between Real Simple magazine and author Ann Leary (who, I learned, is married to the comedian Denis Leary). I watched for a few minutes-long enough to abruptly remember I was supposed to be writing my column. I eventually had to click off the video and get back to work. But if the interview was with an author I love, I probably would have stayed glued to my screen-column or no column.

Your content doesn't need to be that highly produced-it just needs to be good. After the conference, I immediately emailed some friends in the nonprofit industry with ideas as to how they could use live streaming video to engage their social media followers. One works in the arts, and the other in animal rescue-two industries overflowing with stories to tell and content to share-and social streaming may just be the best platform for them yet. We just need to continue to spread the word.