With the introduction of Facebook Live in April, 2016 became the year that real-time streaming really took off.

In our yearly roundup on social media, many industry experts cited it as the one of, if not the biggest trend.

So why was has live video become such an important medium for brands? And what exactly should they be doing to capitalise on it in 2017?

Let’s delve into the topic a little more.

(Note: Despite other platforms introducing live video features, this article mainly focuses on Facebook)

Why are brands using live video?

When Facebook Live launched last year, it certainly wasn’t the beginning of live video being used as a content marketing tool.

We'd already seen many brands experimenting with Periscope for about a year or so, including early pioneers like Red Bull and Mastercard.

However, with the arrival of the live video functionality on Facebook, the opportunity for brands to reach a bigger demographic came into play. 

With many already having an existing and well-established audience on the platform, it certainly made sense to start using it as the main output for live streaming.

This year, we've also seen Instagram rolling out two new features, following on from Instagram Stories in August.

The first, Instagram Live, allows users to live stream (before the video disappears for good when the broadcast comes to an end). The second feature is an update to direct messages, meaning that users can also send disappearing photos and text when communicating in a thread.

Of course, we can't ignore the continued popularity of Snapchat either. Currently, the platform is said to generate a mammoth 10bn video views a day (up from 4bn a day in 2015), overtaking Facebook's last count of 8bn. When you take into account that Snapchat has a fraction of the daily users that Facebook does - 60m compared to 1.18bn - this is all the more impressive.

Unsurprisingly, live video is now being taken seriously by brands of all kinds, with the medium becoming a core part of social media marketing strategies.

Mastercard was an early adopter of live video.

Why is live video so effective?

Firstly - and forget the live aspect for a moment - more people are watching videos on social platforms than ever before. According to Cisco’s Visual Networking Index, video will account for 80% of all consumer Internet traffic by 2019.

Video is easier to consume than written content, with increased data and faster load times also resulting in people watching more videos on mobile - and sharing them too.

68% of users are said to share the videos they watch on their smartphones, meaning that the most-used apps are ideal spaces for brands to infiltrate.

Secondly then, alongside a desire to access the medium, live video also opens up an interactive and instantaneous connection with brands and well-known personalities.

Allowing brands to broadcast live and ‘in the moment’, it means that viewers can also feel part of the action, creating a strengthened bond and connection.

What’s more, it also allows for instant feedback, with viewers even more likely to comment and engage if there’s a chance the creator might also respond or say their name in real-time. Mark Zuckerberg himself has suggested that people watch live streams three times longer and comment 10 times more than on regular videos.

Facebook Live also has a few additional features which has ramped up brand-involvement.  Users can watch a stream even after it has finished and privacy filters mean brands can pick and choose the people they want to see a video. This adds an additional ‘exclusive’ element for fans, as well as a more tailored experience all round.

Types of live video

Brands used live video for a variety of different reasons in 2016.

Lets’s take a look at a select few...

News and politics

Another big trend in 2016 has been the politicisation of social media, with both the Brexit referendum and the US election causing huge spikes in political-related content.

Putting aside any controversy over the platform’s involvement with fake or biased news, we can certainly see how brands and publishers jumped on these timely events to reach users in the moment.

CNN was one broadcaster to make use of the opportunity to stream live, with its election results video resulting in 24m views, making it one of the top ten most-watched live videos of the year.

Education and communication

Live streaming is also very effective for conveying what’s going on behind-the-scenes.

ZSL London Zoo is a great example of this, using the medium to communicate the work being done by the zoo as well as by its conservation scientists out in the wild.

By combining three elements that it knows its audience is interested in – the cute, the wondrous and the weird – it ensures user interest.

Similarly, by capitalising on Facebook Live’s autoplay function and integration into newsfeeds, it has found far bigger reach than when it was previously using Periscope.

Humour and fun

For brands that make content merely to delight and entertain an audience, Facebook Live is an ideal medium.

LadBible in particular is a good example of how to captivate users with light-hearted and cliff-hanger style content.

It builds on the notion that views won’t be able to tear themselves away from a live stream because they’re hooked into what’s unfolding – regardless of how ridiculous it is.

Case in point, this July live stream of a line-up of melting lollies…

Of course, we can’t fail to mention Buzzfeed’s watermelon video, which drew 800,000 people at the time - a figure comparable to live TV.

Since then, it has gone on to generate over 11m views in total.

Regular series

While many take a one-off approach, other brands have been using Facebook Live to create a new kind of serialised content.

Makeup brand Benefit hosts a weekly series called ‘Tipsy Tricks’, which is usually held on the same day and the same time each Thursday.

By sticking to a schedule, Benefit is banking on viewers getting into the habit of tuning in, much like they would a TV series.

What’s more, the brand also builds on the interactive element by using viewer comments and feedback to inform the direction of the content or what will be discussed in next week’s show. 

What’s next for live video?

With many of our experts also predicting live video to be big news in 2017, it’s clear that this year has been a case of trial and error.

For Facebook, it certainly hasn't all been smooth sailing. Concern over the platform’s graphic content censorship policy arose after it streamed footage of the aftermath of a fatal shooting, before the video also disappeared due to a supposed ‘glitch’.

Facebook has since reiterated its stance on graphic content, however, it surely remains a sensitive issue. 

For brands, the potential earnings from advertising will undoubtedly continue to be a big draw. In June, it was revealed that Facebook had paid 140 media companies a combined $50m to create videos for Facebook Live. The list – including everyone from Gordon Ramsay to Mashable – demonstrated the brand’s intent to promote the product.

As we head into 2017, there's also the announcement that Facebook is to expand its broadcast feature to enable 360 degree video.

It's an interesting development, which will ultimately combine the immersive aspect of 360 technology with the instant and engaging features of live.

So, keep your eyes peeled this time next year, as we'll undoubtedly be looking back at how the biggest brands capitalised on it.

Nikki Gilliland

Published 20 December, 2016 by Nikki Gilliland @ Econsultancy

Nikki is a Writer at Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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