How Big Should Your Livestreaming Footprint Be?

Sometimes it makes the most sense to host livestreams of your events on your own platforms—but the livestreaming space is evolving and you could be missing opportunities by not changing things up.

One of the biggest livestreaming keynotes of the entire year is happening on Tuesday, and unlike in prior years, that event isn’t sticking to its own walled garden.

This year, Apple is streaming its annual Special Event—the September one where they generally announce the new iPhones—on YouTube. But a while back, Apple heavily restricted where the streams could actually be watched. There was once a time, about five years ago, where Apple would only let people stream its event on its own software—on its own domain, in Safari, a browser that Apple made.

Slowly, though, the company has started to expand its horizons. In 2015, the event made it to Microsoft Edge in Windows. Eventually, it came to Chrome and Firefox, and at last year’s iPhone keynote, the company started streaming the event on Twitter (a platform that Apple uses really strangely, by the way). This year, they’re finally adding YouTube to the mix—a place pretty much every major streaming event appears. It took them a while, but the widely watched keynote finally opened up to a digital world Apple doesn’t traditionally own.

Livestreaming is pretty hot right now, and not just for events. Popular consumer social media outlets, including Reddit and Discord, recently added livestreaming features. And then there are platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Twitch that have embraced streaming for years. And streaming is even creating celebrities big enough that they can leave one service, go to another, and get their audience to follow.

But to associations, talk of livestreaming might actually feel a little old school. In many ways, it is an example of a technology associations might have actually been early to, in the form of webinars, fundraising events, member hangouts, or even as substitutes for an annual meeting. Heck, one association put its annual meeting on Google Glass when that was a thing. It’s a natural thing for associations to do, but the field has changed significantly over time as the concept has grown mainstream.

And that mainstreaming of livestreaming creates questions that groups with a live video presence must consider when building out their respective offerings. Among them:

How big of a production are you aiming for? Livestreaming once required lots of expensive equipment and planning to pull off correctly. Now, it’s something that can be done with a smartphone or even a laptop webcam. There are benefits to going big (higher production) and going small (more personal, easier to manage), and sometimes what works for one event doesn’t work for another. Also worth considering is the cadence: Is the idea that you’re going to create a livestream on a weekly basis, or are you just trying to blast your big events out into the world? In an article on the marketing site Convince & Convert, contributor Kathy Klotz-Guest makes the case that too much polish might actually be a bad thing. “Streaming is not about produced video, and it’s not the place for polished webinars,” she explains. “Brands are afraid of being imperfect. Ask your followers questions, listen, and then have them talk to you. People want to see who you really are.”

Is your goal exposure or focus? Livestreamed events often serve different masters. A webinar, for example, might have the goal of deepening engagement with your members, which means you want to keep that livestream locked down. The announcement of a new initiative, however, is a form of marketing and would benefit from a maximum number of eyeballs—which means you might be missing a potential audience if you limit the stream to your own site instead of using tools like Periscope or Facebook Live. In the case of the Apple keynotes, the company for many years took a more insular approach to its ecosystem, something made up for by the fact that it was so big that users would come to it. But eventually the approach left people out—including potential customers who didn’t use an iPhone or Mac already. Which explains why a company that once focused on its own platforms is now putting itself elsewhere.

Does multiway communication make sense for you? Simply putting a livestream on a website reflects a one-to-many form of interaction like television—but in many ways, that’s actually a bit old school for livestreaming. Networks such as Twitch and Periscope are actually designed to encourage creators to send messages back to their audiences—which may be a little bit more control than you might be willing to give up and may also create moderation considerations that you have to staff for. And this format also works well in more insular formats, too. Since 2017, for example, Patreon has allowed its creators to host livestreams through its partner Crowdcast, with the goal of encouraging deeper engagement with its community. If you’re thinking about launching a livestreaming strategy in 2019, two-way interaction has to be part of the discussion.

Ultimately, what makes a good livestream differs from organization to organization, but the key thing here is that you need to be open to adapting your strategy to the type of event you’re covering.

Myths about the livestreaming process have long existed—and most of them are, ultimately, not true. But one thing that is true is that, as the market matures, expectations of what a good livestream does are changing.

And you should be willing to make changes, too.

(izusek/E+/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!