When CNN launched in 1980, the world was not aware that a 24-hour news channel was something they had an interest in or even needed. People were fine with their morning, noon and evening news. Most segments were locally focused and people liked it that way. Then CNN launched and the entire world was suddenly available to them. Visibility to international events increased overnight. However, even when events took place, it would still take days to reach national or worldwide awareness. For 25 years that was the norm.
Since its inception in 2005, YouTube allows users to film videos and upload them for all to see. This process quickly became the standard form of gaining glimpses into far corners of the world. Then, at the 2015 SXSW, Meerkat introduced live mobile broadcasting. Users could live vicariously through another’s lense in real time and even interact directly with the broadcaster. Soon after, Twitter acquired a similar live broadcast player, Periscope. Then came Facebook, first offering Live to celebrities. With platforms shifting to focus more on content and video than status updates and passing thoughts, live broadcasting was quickly becoming a game changer. Facebook’s original focus was to be the new newspaper, but on July 6, 2016 that changed.
Modern Newspaper to Broadcast Channel
Philando Castile was in his car with his girlfriend in Falcon Heights, Minnesota and were pulled over at a traffic stop for a busted tail light. Philando informed the officer he was legally carrying a firearm and was shot when reaching for his wallet. His girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, proceeded to live broadcast the aftermath, and it quickly went viral. The next evening, five officers in Dallas, Texas were shot in a Black Lives Matter protest and a bystander broadcast the events live on Facebook.
What had begun as a fun way for celebrities to provide fans with a more transparent and behind-the-scenes view of their lives was quickly becoming a way for citizen journalists to showcase what is happening in the world and report news. This shift is something that is only going to continue to grow in popularity, and brands are not prepared for how to both embrace and combat it.
Social media changed the way brands interact with customers, but brands could still somewhat control the message. Facebook Live is a game-changer because it gives broadcaster full control. Since viewers have no context, the broadcaster can portray the environment and subject matter the way they decide – sometimes to the detriment of a brand. In a world where customers are very vocal and opinionated, this is a scary proposition for brands.
With more than 1.6 billion users, Facebook is the most powerful place for social justice to happen. This means that Live is not only here to stay, it's set to explode. Popular brands that are in the public eye are always vulnerable to a Facebook Live moment. From a fast food restaurant to a local dairy farm, there is an angry customer or activist group waiting to strike.
Prepare with a Playbook
It is important that brands prepare ahead of time to minimize impact. This could be in the form of a social media crisis playbook (to proactively arm the social media and communications team), establishing social media standards and training all employees to be better prepared if confronted. The best time to fix your roof is when it is sunny, not when it is raining.
How Facebook will handle Live broadcasting moving forward is TBD. This was not the type of content it had foreseen getting from Live. Facebook shifted from being a modern newspaper to being a broadcast channel. As evidenced by the 55 million views it got for its live streaming of the presidential debate, it is working. When it comes to citizen-created Live content, Facebook clearly wants a lot more light and fluffy, real-time videos like Chewbacca Mom, but in true news fashion, it remains to be seen if preferential treatment will be given to the heavier content. Only time will tell. But as it stands now, Facebook Live is the next big news network, and if your brand doesn’t have a plan for how to approach a potential citizen journalism moment, your shortcomings will be broadcast live.