Should Associations Care About Meerkat? Possibly

By / Mar 24, 2015 (Associations Now illustration)

If you’ve been keeping an eye on the tech media of late, you might have heard about a new video-streaming app called Meerkat. Being skeptical about buzzy social networks is understandable. But Meerkat, like Twitter, could become a natural fit for events. Here’s why.

Associations are still trying to get the hang of Instagram and Vine. Snapchat still flies over the heads of many people over the age of 25.

But maybe Meerkat—or something like it, at least—could become that rare breed of social tool that becomes relevant beyond the massive hype cloud that’s bound to dissipate in a couple of weeks. (Unless you’re an active Ello user, then I apologize.)

Last week, Meerkat took SXSW by storm, much in the way that Twitter did during the 2007 edition of the taste-making Austin, Texas, event. The app, just a few weeks old, has already been noticed by 2016 political candidates—with Jeb Bush and Rand Paul already using the tool to stream live events.

(If that last example seems surprising, keep in mind that political operatives are quickly becoming tech’s earliest adopters. You may or may not agree with the strategy, but politicians want to be in front of these tech tools now, lest they get blindsided.)

Meerkat, in a Nutshell

So what the heck is Meerkat, anyway? Long story short, Meerkat allows for live-streaming video on social media platforms—specifically, Twitter—at the press of a button. It creates a way to cover live events without extra steps. You won’t get the quality you might get if you’re using a fleet of RED cameras and videographers (which were also at SXSW, by the way), but you will be able to do it without much planning. And that, instantly, makes it awesome.

The idea of live-streaming events in this way isn’t totally new, admittedly: The platforms Ustream and Livestream have been mining this territory since 2007, and while their capabilities can scale up, they can be used in a way similar to Meerkat. The breakout moments that these services have become known for—live coverage shot by activists during Occupy Wall Street, Ferguson, and similar protests—certainly suggested there was an opportunity for a tool that was even simpler.

(Those apps do maintain a major advantage: Unlike Meerkat, they allow you to stream on those platforms after the fact. There are other apps, like Katch, that help add that capability to Meerkat, however.)

For the most part, this basic path from simple to simpler was the same one that led us from Flickr to Hipstamatic to Instagram. Flickr can conceivably be used for the exact same purposes as Instagram—sharing photos with friends and family—and it does a lot more, too. Likewise, Hipstamatic’s filter-focused approach, built off the strength of mobile devices, made a great argument for shooting snazzy filtered photos to share on the fly.

But Instagram made it simple and shareable. It does less, but what it does, it does really well. Meerkat brings that same strategy to live video, and that’s why people are excited.

The Value for Events

Meerkat’s early success proves that it’s worth keeping an eye on this edge of the social sphere. Like Instagram, they’re tools for the toolkit—not enough to replace the stuff you already use, but it’s a great way to build upon existing offerings.

A few things it might be particularly great for:

Keeping people interested at home. You might remember that last year the Washington Restaurant Association tried to keep a live stream of its event going through a Google Glass device. As my colleague Katie Bascuas put it: “What if you could livestream your tradeshow or annual meeting to give people a firsthand, real-time view of the event?” Glass is a way to do that, but it can get pretty clunky, requiring new hardware and the user to wear a goofy device on their head. In a more-simplified format, Meerkat could be perfect for a live tour of the tradeshow floor—at the very moment where that content is going to matter the most. Just imagine what you could do with a selfie stick!

Capturing “insider” moments. There’s a lot that goes into your conference—the planning, the building, the conversations. Showing off the decision-making process could prove interesting to viewers at home. With the right amount of scheduling, you can even build a live audience around these moments.

Highlighting something off the schedule. Sure, the education element is great, but a lot of attendees may be at your conference because they’re looking forward to meeting interesting people in your same line of work. Meerkat creates the potential for some of your event’s most brilliant moments to be captured on the fly.

Anyway, I’m curious: How are you currently using live-streaming in your own offerings, and do you see potential in this kind of offering? Throw up your take in the comments.

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »