Giraffes and “Reactions” polls have taken over Facebook Live.
With a medium that appeared to have limitless possibilities when it took over the social media world about a year ago, it’s hard not to be a little disappointed when scrolling around on Facebook’s awesome live video map to only see April the Giraffe standing around and maybe thinking about starting to give birth, or a static-image live vote of whether people prefer Reese’s to Snickers as determined by the total number of “Hahas” versus “Wows.”
Facebook Live is an amazing tool that broadcasters are uniquely suited to take advantage of with their existing investment in equipment, but creativity has given way to cheap engagement grabs and following the leader on the latest fads. In the case of static-image or looping “Reactions” polls, not only are they not newsworthy, they’re not interesting. For that reason, Facebook said last December the platform is taking steps to reduce the visibility of that type of content (though a quick scroll through a Timeline following lots of Pages confirms they remain abundant and often rack up big engagement numbers).
So, what is a broadcaster to do? Facebook Live videos can quickly amass large audiences and engagement, but how can content producers take advantage of that in a way that is both entertaining and good, ethical journalism?
Rest assured, there are ways to do so now and there will be many, many more in the future. As more broadcasters get involved and think creatively about the possibilities of the medium, we believe the novelty of some of those early uses will wear off and audiences will seek out more original or engaging content that is presented through the Facebook Live format. With monetization of content posted on social media becoming a tangible, valuable source of revenue, it’s not hard to see a near future in which high-quality, interesting content is the rule on Facebook Live, not the exception. Some of it will be as well-produced as live on-air products are now.
Hopefully by that point, April the Giraffe has welcomed a beautiful giraffe calf into the world, and we’ve determined once and for all which Thanksgiving side dish is most popular (according to “Wows”). But for today’s social media mavens, here are five recent examples of using Facebook Live in ways that have a little more value to your audience:
Broadcast news organizations get to talk to interesting or news-making people all the time – that access is a big reason why people tune in. Next time you have an interview scheduled with someone that people will want to hear from, see if they will agree to do a portion of the interview on Facebook Live. It makes a great tease for an on-air product and a great mid-day surprise for your followers. In this example from The New York Times, they got singer Nadine Sierra from the Metropolitan Opera to sing for their social audience while they were asked to leave their questions in the comments. The NYT reporter asked some questions from the audience and presumably some questions for what he was working on, while the audience enjoyed the show and Sierra got the exposure of being featured live on a Facebook page with 13+ million followers (and was tagged as her own professional Page in the copy of the post). That’s making the most of an interview opportunity for all involved.
Al Jazeera America may no longer be with us, but Al Jazeera Media Network’s foray into the new media landscape, AJ+, is still doing some high-quality, thought-provoking work for an audience of millions. One example was their recent “24 Hours of Guns in America” project. It is a six-part video series that was linked to this Facebook Live video that continuously tabulated an average day of guns in America, including gun violence, gun manufacturing, and background checks. It is a meaningful, shareable piece of content that visualizes an issue in a way most people had not seen before.
Ever have a teacher tell you to, “Show, don’t tell,” when writing a story? It’s a good point, but for today’s broadcasters, it should be more like, “Show, don’t write.” The Washington Post often does this effectively in its Facebook Live videos. If a reporter is sent on assignment to show their audience what it’s like to be a snow plow driver on the morning of a major snowstorm, they can sum up the most-interesting portions of the day in an edited video package. But in today’s non-stop media consumption world, there’s also a market for taking the audience on an experience – even if it wouldn’t seem like the world’s most interesting topic. Depending on the story they’re covering, reporters and photographers can bring the audience along to see and experience things they may not have access to yet (like this museum exhibit), something they may never get to see (like behind the scenes at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show), or something they didn’t even realize they wanted to see (like a pastry chef icing a cake).
Often a big challenge in broadcast news is getting across nuance and detail in packages or live spots that have a very defined and capped time limit. Not so on social! There are many ways to delve into further detail in the four-hour maximum length of a Facebook Live video, but we like examples like this “bracketology” video from The New York Times’ sports desk for its use of quirky visual aids along with a knowledgeable voice behind them who can answers questions from the audience as he walks them through his picks. And, this approach is good for more than sports – here’s another one from the NYT about the U.S. corporate tax rate. Imagine walking viewers through the questioning and arguments made in a complex trial with visuals of who was on the stand and what each side said. Imagine taking the audience through a sports team’s salary cap and possible fits in the offseason. Imagine an expert on infrastructure explaining to your audience what the risk is if a dam or bridge fails and what stresses are creating that risk. If a journalist’s goal is to get their viewers to understand a topic, these show ways to do that without spending a fortune on the production that can be adapted in all sorts of ways.
The White House daily press briefing, local news conferences, speeches at political events, and testimony at public hearings have all become routine fodder for Facebook Live video for broadcasters across the country. There are simple reasons for that: they’re scheduled, they are typically set up for the broadcast media in a way in which it’s easy to get a good shot and a feed out, and they usually have a clear news value for the audience. But now that many competing stations are streaming the same events, how can you set yourself apart? Here’s a good example from The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, digital-first news organization that covers public policy, government, and statewide issues in the state: They live streamed testimony on Texas’ “bathroom bill,” but the stream also included live analysis from one of their reporters by adding her Twitter feed in the lower third. Like the live fact check of last year’s presidential debates, getting your news team involved adds context to the arguments and highlights big moments in a way that gets the audience to respond in the comments. It also adds some visual flair to what can be somewhat straightforward affairs. If you don’t have the production capability to place tweets over your live stream, it can still add value to your posts to have an on-camera reporter sum up a press conference or speech after it concludes and try to put any new information into the larger narrative of a story. With so much similar content on Facebook Live these days, setting your outlet apart from the crowd is key.