The risks and rewards of live streaming

A Benefit Cosmetics live stream Image copyright Benefit Cosmetics
Image caption A growing number of firms are taking to live streaming

If you have ever had a go at "live streaming" and made your own real-time video on Facebook you'll know it can be tricky to make it look good.

Filming with your smartphone, the resulting images are often more than a little shaky, and if you are speaking to the camera, you quickly run out of things to say.

Given live streaming's potential for such pratfalls, you'd imagine that large businesses would give it a wide berth. Shouldn't they stick to spending money on slick adverts rather than risk possibly embarrassing - and brand damaging - time on Facebook Live or Twitter's Periscope?

As it happens, a growing number of firms are indeed trying their hand at live streaming. According to experts, it is helping firms to better connect with customers who like the fact companies are showing a more spontaneous and down-to-earth side.

Image copyright Nissan
Image caption Nissan live streams from car shows

"We want to go where the people go," says Scot Cottick, senior manager in charge of digital and social media for Nissan.

The carmaker has run more than 26 live streamed videos over the past few years, mainly on Facebook Live.

Mr Cottick adds that the company aims to live stream from as many car shows as possible, and that during the videos "we want to have product specialists educate the public on what they're seeing".

He regards Nissan's live streaming investment as another building block in its social media strategy.

Image copyright Nissan North America
Image caption Nissan's Scot Cottick says that live streaming is another way to build brand awareness

Live streaming is also a pillar at Japanese sportswear and footwear company Asics.

It regularly live streams from events it sponsors, such as the New York Marathon, or beach volleyball tournaments.

Instead of getting sports reporters or Asics employees to present the broadcasts, it employs sports stars, such as US Olympic hurdler Queen Harrison, to guide viewers through the events, often providing behind-the-scenes peeks.

Mia Mendola from marketing agency Red Door Interactive, which is employed by Asics to run the live streams, says it is helping viewers to feel more involved in the sporting events.

Image copyright Asics
Image caption Asics has used US Olympic hurdler Queen Harrison to present its live streams

"The millennial generation has FOMO - the fear of missing out," she says. "We want to ensure we tap into those audiences to give them an experience they can't get themselves."

She adds, though, that to prevent potential errors brands shouldn't live stream for hours on end, and instead should go for short segments.

But what about the concern that too many live streaming videos from companies look amateurish?

Jeff Bullas, an Australian digital media blogger and speaker, says it generally doesn't matter.

"People like to see authentic content on Facebook," he says. "People don't want stock images or polished stuff. So sure, the risk is a faux pas by an employee on air, but the pros are a lot stronger than the cons."

UK digital marketing consultant Naomi Timperley also says that companies shouldn't focus too much on having the best quality videos.

"If you want something to look polished, Facebook Live is not for you, but I would bet that most brands who have a customer base that use Facebook wouldn't be bothered by the amateur look."

Image copyright NAomi Timperley
Image caption Naomi Timperley says firms should not worry too much about the quality of their live streams

Some brands do, however, work hard to ensure that their live streams are as high quality as possible, such as US business Benefit Cosmetics.

It has now broadcast more than 31 live videos on Facebook, and they often feature a talk show format.

Offering tips on cosmetics they can garner up to 60,000 live viewers.

Claudia Allwood, Benefit's senior director of US digital marketing, says they decided to go into live streaming to help them answer customers' questions more quickly.

"From a content standpoint we want to ensure it's fun and engaging, but it can also get serious," she says.

"We've fielded questions from women undergoing chemotherapy, on how to best apply cosmetics, and that's when the show might pull at the heartstrings."

However, while experts say that viewers can cope with a less-than-perfect live scream, even the biggest companies can get into difficulties, more often due to a technical problem.

Earlier this year a fault meant that thousands of people couldn't view US media group CBS's live streaming of the 2016 Grammy Awards, while technology firm Apple had a similar problem in 2014 when it was unveiling the iPhone 6 and its watch.

Image copyright AP
Image caption CBS's live streaming of this year's Grammy Awards was hit by technical woes

Even the White House was hit by a live streaming glitch back in May during a speech by President Obama.

Another problem that politicians or businesses have to watch out for when streaming is people posting mocking or malicious comments beneath the videos. French President Francois Hollande found this out to his cost in March when people accused him of being overweight, and worse.

The comments section on Facebook Live and the like can of course be disabled but that rather negates a main point of live streaming - the opportunity for increased interaction with voters or consumers.

Yet despite the risks, large companies such as Benefit and Nissan now have entire teams at their disposal to run their live streams.

An increasing number of sole traders and small firms are also trying their luck, without many overheads - often they just need to buy a tripod to keep their smartphone steady, and an external microphone.

Amanda Rivera, a PR strategist and live streaming expert from New York, says: "I think it is an excellent opportunity to build up the know/like/trust factor with your community.

Image copyright Amanda Rivera
Image caption Amanda Rivera live streams to a Facebook group called Millennial Thought Leaders Mastermind

"You don't have to do an hour-long Facebook Live or Periscope every day, you can do five-minute sessions."

But does live streaming directly lead to an increase in a company's sales? As firms invariably do other marketing work, it is very difficult to say.

Naomi Timperley says firms have to take a longer term approach.

"A lot of [live streaming] campaigns on social media have more to do with brand awareness than with bottom line sales," she says.

"Revenue comes after. It's not a quick win. You have to invest a lot of time in social, experiment, and see what works for your business."

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