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For Facebook Live, Preparation and Social Engagement Are Critical

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Over the past 6 months, I’ve begun to see 20–30 Facebook Live alerts per day. Some are from people I know, others are from news pages that I’ve liked or followed (or that my friends have reacted to), and there are still others that I bypass too quickly to categorize. Since so many of my Facebook friends are in the event video industry, I see a lot of what could generously be called “behind the scenes” (BTS) streams from a randomly placed iPhone at their events in progress. I also see a lot of personal testimonials and professional political commentaries, which I find more effective than the impromptu, pseudo-BTS streams (provided the speaker has something interesting to say).

My feed also delivers a smattering of C-SPAN-type material from political press events and legislative sessions. These broadcasts, designed for other media, are interactive only in allowing live exchanges among viewers, rather than leveraging the platform with responsiveness from the presenters.

In a presentation at Streaming Media West last November, Chad Sisneros of the Humane Society discussed in specific terms how his organization works to maximize the impact of streams delivered to its 2.5 million Facebook fans. “This list really works for us, so we try to take advantage of every time we do a Facebook Live stream,” Sisneros said. “We practice it. We block it out. We focus on the visuals. We promote it ahead of time, tweet it out, put it on Facebook a couple hours ahead of time to let everybody know what’s coming.”

Most important, Sisneros says, is to engage with commenters during the presentation. Again, preparation is key. “Every time we do a Facebook Live, we try to figure out what questions are going to come up in the comments. We come up with a top 10 list of questions that we know we’re going to get, we work with our experts who know the answers, and write out the answers in advance. Then we have somebody else outside of the live stream working to answer those comments during the live stream.”

In the interest of seeing how other organizations are tailoring their efforts to the platform, I chose a Facebook Live show that came across my feed just before I sat down to write this column. I watched to gauge the level of professionalism, preparation, and attention to the platform’s strengths. The program was a biweekly, 32-minute, real-time cooking show called “Cook’s Science,” presented on Facebook (and co-branded) by Mashable. This episode focused on creating cultured butter in a live test kitchen, and demonstrating how to use it on a pan-seared steak. It wasn’t exactly content I’d been craving, but was worthwhile as an example of a professionally produced program designed expressly for Facebook Live.

The show featured three lav-mic’d hosts in an active kitchen. It was shot with two cameras, one a static shot showing the three hosts, the other a close-up camera that usually focused on the food, with quick dissolves between shots.

The show began and ended with a still title screen and intro-outro music. It featured Cook’s Science and Mashable branding in two places: the chef’s apron and a semi-transparent overlay in the lower-right corner. The hosts also intermittently plugged several items via verbal mentions and pinned comments: a newsletter, recipes for the foods they were demo’ing, a giveaway for the Cook’s Science book, and the next episode, coming in 2 weeks.

The show featured animated lower-thirds with profile pictures for the hosts and occasional commenters, including commenters whose questions they took. The comment lower-thirds were a particularly nice touch, giving participating viewers temporary costar status. Questions were relayed aloud (somewhat clumsily) from an off-screen staffer before appearing in a comment lower-third.

Besides a compulsively chatty non-chef host, nothing about the show seemed designed to prize entertainment or flash over content. But in addition to frequent references to the audience, the commenters, and the stream itself, the show felt live and audience-engaged, providing a solid example of how to leverage the Facebook Live platform without distracting from the primary content of the show.

This article appears in the April/May 2017 issue of Streaming Media magazine as "A Cook’s Tour of Facebook Live." 

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