Facebook's annual developer conference took place in mid-April and showcased the company's ambitions for a social media future powered by video, for good reason: Social video generates 1,200 percent more shares than imagery or text combined, according to Brightcove.
And Facebook has been quick to harness the power of live-streaming.
Facebook's future is going to include virtual reality, Surround 360 and AI -- all cutting-edge tools for users to share their experiences. But while these are exciting options for entrepreneurs, step one in leveraging the platform's innovations should be mastering the functions it already offers.
Facebook Live is a feature that lets users watch and broadcast livestreams through an app. By allowing its nearly 1.3 billion users to share experiences in real time, the social giant is keeping users glued to their devices. For entrepreneurs, specifically, Facebook Live represents a springboard to truly authentic customer-brand communication.
The catalyst to relationship-building
Using Facebook Live brings multiple benefits. For example, it can show the value of your product, its functions and its aesthetics. When you're rolling out a new service or product, a video can show a customer's unadulterated reaction to its release. Video keeps your brand relevant by showcasing interesting topics and creating a desire to dive deeper.
I just wrote a book and launched it earlier this year, and Facebook Live has been an effective tool to drum up interest and increase my potential customer base. I also created several Facebook Live posts for my author Facebook page, a strategy that has helped me steadily build a bigger followership and add subscribers to my email list.
Although more people watch my videos now that they're no longer live, research by Facebook shows just the opposite: that people spend three times more time watching the videos live rather than after the fact. I believe that this discrepancy stems from the fact that most of my particular audience members are at work during the day, so they view my videos after hours.
Regardless of when your video is watched, the viewer feedback is invaluable. How many likes and views did you get? Did viewers share your video to their walls? The metrics show your organic reach, as well as your paid reach if you choose to boost the post.
Facebook Live, then, is a significant opportunity to strengthen relationships with viewers. If you're planning an expert interview at a conference and want that interview to have strong viewership, a Facebook Live stream can get the job done in 30 seconds -- at little-to-no cost.
The hardest part is approaching the expert himself (or herself), but it's worth the effort: That sound bite will be a nugget of easily digestible knowledge for your audience members. Engaging live content such as this makes them feel like they're part of the event, too.
Here are three more ways you can leverage Facebook Live to authentically communicate with your audience:
1. Speak your truth.
A personal perspective in a post is something people can relate to, and an approach that can build intimacy between your brand and your target audience. Luckily, intimacy is at the very core of Facebook Live.
Think about it: Viewers are typically about five inches from their phones, and the presenter is within a foot of the screen on the other end. It's like having a cup of coffee and a chat -- it conveys the same sense of friendship, honesty and trust.
The key to fostering these feelings with your followers is transparency. FleishmanHillard's Authenticity Gap report found that nearly 50 percent of consumers surveyed described huge expectations when it comes to a company's honesty.
They want to believe in you and, thus, your brand.
For added relevancy, you should also jump on opportunities to give your honest opinion on topical events. I tied one of my Facebook Live posts to the Fearless Girl statue controversy on Wall Street. Then, I wrote a companion blog post on the topic and linked it to that post to include a current event and contribute to the ongoing debate surrounding whether the statue should remain on display.
2. "Transport" your viewers.
Like TV, livestreaming transports the viewer to the scene. In that vein, BuzzFeed's "Dance Craze Battle: LIVE!" was the pinnacle of expert marketing. BuzzFeed got to show off and humanize its brand, educate its audience and engage viewers in a way that will have them tuning in for subsequent rounds of the site's dance battle.
You too can transport your viewers by giving them a glimpse into your "real" life. This way, they can see that you're a person, not just the head of a faceless company. In turn, you'll fortify the customer-brand bond you've already created. Indeed, McKinsey surveyed 27,000 U.S. consumers and found that positive customer-experience emotions, such as trust in a brand, are the biggest drivers of satisfaction and loyalty.
Last fall, I streamed the action at the Army-Navy Game, where my son was playing for Navy. Before the game started, the spectacle of the Navy Brigade and West Point cadets marching in full uniform onto the field was stunning, so I streamed the event with a running commentary on selfie mode. That two-minute play got a ton of engagement because it was a sight that people wanted to see and a place where they would like to be, and I had a personal connection to the events.
3. Keep your quality up.
BuzzFeed's Live dance battle may have been marketing gold, but when the media company hosted former President Barack Obama's first Facebook Live interview last year, there was a problem: the feed cut out before Obama could even take his seat. Video quality is so important because, as a Brightcove survey found, viewers are about 60 percent more likely to have a negative perception of your brand if its quality is low.
I myself experienced technical challenges recently when I was working with a new Facebook Live user. Fifteen seconds into an interview in which I was the subject, we realized the picture was displaying sideways. We finally figured out how to correct it, but we had to delete the post and start the interview over.
To ensure that your videos are of the highest quality, and to convey a personal feel, look directly into the camera and be sure it is stable throughout your video. I have an iPhone, and I use an adjustable, bendable tripod that holds and locks my phone in place. For maximum viewability, use natural light when you're filming.
Set up near a window, if possible, and have the subject face the window. Finally, keep the camera close so the sound is crisp and clear.
Facebook Live is a burgeoning tool for entrepreneurs and seasoned business pros alike. It allows you to connect with your audience in an intimate, authentic way. Done well, it will enable you to turn your occasional customers into repeat raving fans.