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Singing in the Digital Subway: How Livestreaming Bridges Our Need for Connection

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An article published in the New York Times in the heart of the pandemic asked readers to submit videos of what they missed most from when “things were normal.” One New Yorker, Jeremey Wallace, submitted a video he took following a Celine Dion concert in Brooklyn. While waiting for a delayed train, concert-goers broke into a spontaneous chorus of Dion’s power ballad, “It's All Coming Back to Me Now.”

The harmonies that echo off the grey-tiled subway station as strangers sway in unison, belting acapella, are quintessentially New York. Anyone who has lived there will tell you that watching a crowd break into song is expected at best and mundane at worst. What may have once been considered an annoyance as live-music fans trickled back uptown to their individual dwellings, eager to move onto the next thing, transformed into a cherished memory for Wallace, and serves as a reminder of what we missed most during COVID-19: connection.

In response to this pervasive feeling of isolation, online platforms grew exponentially during the pandemic as a means to connect us when we couldn’t be physically together. Once such platform, Twitch—known predominantly for its live-streaming of gaming and e-sports—reportedly grew more than 80% between March 2020 and March 2021.

Livestreaming is a Passion Economy

Post-pandemic, people have returned to the thrum of their regular, busy lives, but streaming has remained on a steady upward trajectory. Thriving at the intersection of the digital world and our desire for connection, streaming continues to grow as a place for users with niche interests (like art, chess, music, makeup GRWMs, cooking, etc.) to convene. This online community thrives on engagement and to sustain it, creators will need to continue to evolve how they communicate with their audience.

The Future of Livestreaming is Conversational

Few things are more frustrating than a one-sided conversation. Listening to someone drone on about themselves without pause to ask anything of their conversation counterpart is exhausting, frustrating, and leads to disconnection.

The same is true online, but few platforms create meaningful opportunities for two-way engagement. Largely, the only way for streamers to connect with their audience on an individual level is to acknowledge a comment or answer a question, but beyond that, there is little appreciation for the viewer.

Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, Twitch's most-followed streamer, emphasizes the value of making individual connections in his “Become a Streamer” course on MasterClass. According to Ninja, individual engagement is as simple as remembering comments from top followers from stream to stream and asking them follow-up questions the next time you see them in the chat. 

But at scale, or with hundreds of comments pouring in at once during popular live streams, this isn’t realistic for all creators.

Creators are increasingly leaning on new tools to make streaming feel personal for each user. For example, chat-powered polls, interactive maps, and question aggregators turn cascading comment sections into engaging visuals that acknowledge users' inputs as more than just fleeting statements.

In the coming months, data will become instrumental to streamers’ decision-making and community expansion. Streamers looking for a strategic approach to measured growth should turn to data that helps them understand and engage their audience. Using new tools to track most engaged users and stream performance over time helps creators to know what’s resonating in their communities.

The advantage is two-fold. Viewers feel more engaged and enriched and streamers reap the benefits of higher engagement, enabling them to continue to produce quality content. Wash, rinse, repeat. 

Turning Conversation into Community

In the long term, streamers across platforms are striving to cement communities of like-minded hobbyists, encourage dialogue and foster connection. But to do so requires intentionality and a dedicated strategy to sustaining conversation—not only from the creator to their audience but also between audience members.

One way streamers can develop enduring conversations is to adopt a multi-platform approach, utilizing different platforms to cater to various aspects of their community. For instance, they might use Twitch for live streams, YouTube for edited highlights, and Discord for ongoing conversations and community-building activities.

This strategy not only broadens the creator's reach but also provides alternative ways for the audience to engage with the content and each other, fostering a more robust and interconnected community. Creators should prioritize tools that integrate easily across all of their channels, keeping the experience consistent no matter the platform.

Creators can also leverage the power of storytelling by incorporating interactive elements into their streams. By allowing viewers to influence the direction of the content through making choices or giving suggestions in real-time in the chat to open-ended prompts, creators can craft an immersive experience that resonates more deeply with their audience because they have bought into the narrative. This collaborative storytelling approach not only keeps viewers engaged but also makes them feel appreciated as co-creators of the content. It simply requires implementing existing technology that visualizes live chat responses as users engage.

Creating Connection

Building a loyal following takes time—just ask Taylor Swift, who’s been at it for nearly two decades. But by bringing the right combination of technology and structure to livestreaming, creators can cultivate relationships that feel as authentic as friends sitting over a dinner table or New Yorker’s singing Celine Dion. In a new world, where digital connections are poised to become a central part of our lives, creators eager to grow with their audiences should prioritize creating individual relationships, making space on their platforms for two-way dialogue.

[Editor's note: This is a contributed article from StreamAlive. Streaming Media accepts vendor bylines based solely on their value to our readers.]

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