It seems like everyone is going live. Whether your dad is showing off his barbecue skills or BuzzFeed staffers are exploding a watermelon, real-time video has become the latest social medium of choice.
The norms are still taking shape, especially as Facebook and others assess how to handle recent unexpected, visceral content like Philando Castile's final moments after being shot by a police officer.
But the ability to connect so immediately and urgently will continue to attract users—and marketers trying to reach them.
Why Go Live?
Digital video has been a preferred means for many brands to communicate with and entertain consumers for some time, with the ultimate goal of going viral. Live streaming takes digital video one step further, letting marketers have a two-way conversation with consumers.
"The real-time nature of it allows marketers to hit in the heat of the moment, which is compelling for users," said Diana Gordon, senior partner-group director, search and social, Mindshare North America.
A Facebook Live video is watched three times longer than a video that isn't live, according to a Facebook spokeswoman. Live videos on the platform also receive 10 times more comments than regular videos.
"There's an immediacy and rawness that adds to the excitement," said Natalie Monbiot, senior VP-managing partner, strategy and innovation, UM.
While social platforms like Instagram allow for perfecting moments with filters and other tools, live video is unadulterated, Ms. Monbiot added.
While all eyes were on Periscope and Meerkat last year, Facebook Live is now dominating conversations. After debuting live broadcasting for celebrities last August, Facebook began rolling out the technology to the masses at the end of 2015. The social network has since invested $50 million in deals with 140 publishers and stars to create live video and elevate it in the news feed.
What makes Facebook Live attractive is its potential reach and the ability to hit most demographics, Ms. Gordon said.
Twitter is pushing live video by adding a Periscope button to its mobile app, letting users stream directly from Twitter instead of having to hop over to Periscope. The company is also plunging into live professional content, broadcasting commentary, highlights and replays from Wimbledon this month as a tune-up before showing 10 "Thursday Night Football" games this fall. It has announced plans to live-stream CBS News' CBSN coverage of the Republican and Democratic conventions this summer, three Bloomberg TV series in the fall and at least 150 Pac-12 sports events in the coming school year.
YouTube announced last month that its mobile app will support live streaming. While the company has offered live broadcasting since 2011, it required a computer and webcam.
Players including Tumblr, Twitch, YouNow, Live.ly and Live.me are all in the game too.
The Ad Model
Although there are plenty of platforms for live streaming, there are just a few opportunities for advertisers.
Twitter is selling ad packages for its "Thursday Night Football" games for a reported $2 million to $8 million, which gets marketers a limited number of commercials within the game as well as pre-roll ads. Twitter will also sell pre-roll and in-stream ads in non-live clips on the Bloomberg series.
But not every live stream on Twitter will include ads. Facebook doesn't sell ads on its users' live video, but observers expect the company to test commercials within such streams soon. And marketers can always try generating their own live video.
A Facebook spokeswoman said that the priority for its Live product right now is the consumer experience. "Over time we explore ways for businesses to use these new services and connect with their consumers, and when appropriate, we build and test ad products that support the new ways in which people connect,"
she said via email. "When it comes to live video on Facebook, advertisers should watch live content that resonates, see what's working for publishers and try out Live themselves."
More ad opportunities could emerge this fall if Al Roker's new media company succeeds with its Live Fronts, an event to connect creators of live content with marketers and media buyers. Most of the potential deals are expected to come in the form of product placement and show sponsorships, said Ronald Pruett Jr., chief adviser, Roker Media. It's unlikely live video will include pre-roll, he predicted.
Ads on consumers' personal live streams are a trickier question. If there is ever an opportunity to advertise in Facebook users' broadcasts, it will certainly require a more delicate hand than advertising within streams from media companies.
How Brands Are Going Live
Kate Spade went live on Facebook from New York Fashion Week in February, and Applebee's last year used Periscope to stream a music festival it hosted in Times Square to promote a new menu item.
Live streaming is best for giving consumers special access or sneak peeks they otherwise wouldn't get, UM's Ms. Monbiot said.
Dunkin' Donuts used Facebook Live in February to take users inside "Dunkin' Brands University," where the doughnut chain creates its products. The post got 4,000 likes and drove 31,680 views, according to a Facebook spokeswoman. Since it aired, the video has received 37,000 views and about 4,000 engagements.
In May, McDonald's hosted a Facebook Live event to celebrate National Hamburger Day. The fast-food giant streamed an art show, unveiling paintings that were later auctioned on eBay to raise money for the Ronald McDonald Charities. The video stream, which highlighted the Big Mac and the Quarter Pounder, reached 884,300 people in 40 minutes and saw 43,200 engagements, according to Facebook.
And when Candace Payne went viral by live-streaming herself trying on a Chewbacca mask she'd just bought at Kohl's, the retailer took advantage by quickly creating a video response. In the two-minute (non-live) video, Kohl's brought gifts to Ms. Payne and her family at home.
The most compelling reason for brands to use live video is to engage directly with viewers. So they need to have a strategy ahead of time for responding to comments, Ms. Monbiot said. Responses don't need to be in typical comment form and can include videos or GIFs, she added. They should also be sure to use tools like surveys and polls. And when possible, they should let viewers influence what's going on in the stream, she said.
While the cost to host a live stream is relatively minimal, there are still expenses to keep in mind, like hiring a social influencer to be a part of the broadcast.
Live streams also require some marketing muscle to build anticipation and create urgency for viewers to tune in.
On the technical side, marketers need to ensure they've got a strong 4G or Wi-Fi connection. Subpar video quality can deter viewers, Ms. Gordon said.
There are multiple layers of approvals a brand needs to consider before going live, said Robert D'Asaro, director-enterprise partnerships, Omnicom Media Group. They could include talent rights and stadium or venue approval for sporting events, along with league approval. And for an event such as an awards show, the brand may need to work directly with the network that owns the linear and digital broadcast rights.
Live video also isn't for every marketer. It requires a level of comfort with spontaneity and the unexpected. "Prepare for the worst-case scenario," Ms. Monbiot said.