Live streaming: Five lessons from the ground


By Tim Parsons

Flying in the face of the digital revolution, broadcasting live events to mass audiences has long remained a bastion of traditional media dominance.

The advent of live streaming apps at the beginning of the year is really the first meaningful stab at digital challenging TV in this space – the potential of the idea is enormous, hence the all the excitement post-SXSW.

During July we were involved in a fairly vast global campaign, covering sixteen markets across five continents, and culminating with a series of seminars and workshops taking place around San Francisco. They were held for a select group of attendees, featuring some of Silicon Valley’s best and brightest as session leaders.

Our brief: How could we use digital channels to bring these events to a wider audience?

Live streaming seemed like the obvious solution. It offers a far more immersive experience than say, a running Twitter commentary. Rather than reading about what’s going on in the room, the online audience can effectively be in the room.

In the end we settled on Periscope because the project itself was so tied to Twitter. (Sorry Meerkat, there wasn’t much in it).

As you would expect from a platform in its infancy, there was not much practical advice available, less still any kind of playbook.

Like most community managers, I’m fine with a bit of trial and error. Social platforms are in a near constant state of flux, and experimenting with new formats and features is nothing out the ordinary.

However, when you contact Twitter (who own Periscope), asking for a case study or two, and they come back saying they don’t have any, but if you could let them know how it goes that would be great, you know you really are sailing into unchartered waters...

I held a few practice sessions on my own channel, which was of some help, showing a small audience of total strangers around my hotel room, and then kicking up the action a notch with some live ironing.

I say total strangers, to my surprise a friend of mine started commenting halfway through. He was mostly interested in why I was live streaming my laundry, which seemed like a fair question.

That was my first lesson in live streaming – do not assume anonymity.

There were many more to follow. Here are my Top 5 gleaned from the sessions themselves:

1 - Don't attempt alone

I don’t know how to describe the madness of that first session adequately. In my head before the event, I could happily be filming, noting down the questions coming in, (which disappear quite quickly), and have my TweetDeck open for a few choice quotes, replies, images, etc.

As it turns out, this was not the case. My head was wheeling between screens so quickly I got dizzy. By the time I had written one question down, three more were fading from the screen. Typing whilst making sure the protagonists didn’t wander off screen also proved monumentally challenging. I had to lie down for an hour or so afterwards…

When I had recovered, I decided to revise my approach. By the time the second session started, a colleague back in the UK was primed to assist, sending me choice questions, noting down quotes, and crafting appropriate tweets, while I concentrated on capturing the action and actually asking the questions.

In summary, it worked much better as a two man job. (Many thanks to Alex and Jake).

2 - Don't stop moving

Stay still for too long and people will complain. My rig was a basic travel tripod, with the end of a selfie stick serving as the mount. It was great, however simply capturing the speakers without wobbling around was not enough.

What live streaming lacks in production values, it makes up for in experiential value. That the chief selling point over and above traditional media formats, and as such what live stream broadcasters should be striving towards.

As per the above, the audience want to feel like they’re in the room. The tripod was great for keeping the camera steady, but that doesn’t mean the audience want to look straight ahead the whole time - nobody does that, no matter how rapt their attention.

If someone in the audience asks a question, turn round to film them asking it. If the speaker points to something, wheel around to film it. If the protagonist moves around the room, take up thy travel tripod and go with them. Basically try to mimic how your average audience member would react, as that’s how these experiences become truly immersive.

3 - Ask live questions as quickly as possible

You may not want to interrupt anyone, but again to the above point, the audience want to feel involved. If you wait too long to ask their questions, they may have left.

Most presentations/ seminars will allow time for questions – treat your broadcast in the same way, and put online participation at the centre of how you structure the action. For the latter sessions, I would approach the session leader beforehand to ensure they regularly appealed for questions from the online audience, and suddenly the Q&A format became much more seamless.

4 - Use tactical media around the event

This seems obvious, but in practice it took us a couple of goes to get it spot on, (again, the glamorous assistant is key). In summary:

You can’t promote a broadcast on Periscope, so Twitter is the best option as the user journey is relatively painless. (Desktop users simply click on a link, mobile users have to download the app, should they not have it already).
Define your potential audience and promote the event before it happens, right up until it happens.


> Push the live link during the event – this is where the bulk of the spend should go.

> The broadcast is available for 24 hours afterwards (Periscope only), and we gained a significant number of retrospective views by promoting during this time. (Using an image from the live stream seemed to be an effective tactic).

> I should also stress, don’t schedule anything in advance. Don’t assume anything will go to plan, because it probably won’t.

5 - Kit up

The sound quality was actually pretty good using just my iPhone, but if the microphone that I’d brought along had actually worked, it might have been even better... Same with lighting – you don’t need a full rig, but a simple floor light ensures that your audience will be able to make out what’s happening.

Think of it like a mini-set that you can carry in a backpack, and transport very quickly should you need to. There’s a bit of improvisation involved, but the lesson (which I’m sure live-TV people learned long ago) is to bring spares.

Go forth and live stream...

Be sure to send anything else you learn to Twitter, I’m sure they’d appreciate the info. From my own experience, I would suggest for following:

> A transcript feature for the broadcaster – good questions can easily get lost
Some more interesting analytics afterwards – it’s quite basic at the moment.

> Viewer location would have been very useful.

> Some kind of sound check feature – I was having to get feedback from people watching the session.

For a more strategic view on what to live stream, check out Paolo Nieddu’s piece for Marketing Magazine.