This is a guest post that originally appeared on Storyhunter’s publication The Video Strategist and is cross posted with permission.
Since launching Facebook Live in August 2015, Facebook has been aggressively pushing it for publishers — creating paid partnerships and releasing their Live API in April, which allows media companies to go live with professional cameras and drones. And, at least in terms of engagement, it’s been working well. According to Facebook, Live videos have ten times more comments than regular videos and live streams are viewed three times longer than non-live content.
Needless to say, newsrooms need to embrace Facebook Live as much as possible if they want to compete for the viewership and engagement they bring. The Online News Association recognized the importance of this growing medium and hosted a panel on using Facebook Live at their conference in September.
On the panel, we heard from representatives and producers at Facebook, The Huffington Post, Fox News, and NPR. Plus, we spoke to experienced livestream and freelance video journalist, Frank G. Runyeon, about what he’s learned from Facebook Live. Here are some of their best practices for sending video journalists into the field for livestreaming.
1. Create a standard set of guidelines.
Before hiring a freelancer or sending your journalist into the field, give them a clear set of instructions to follow, including what they need to do for pre-production and during the broadcast.
2. Put together a basic gear kit or require freelancers to have specific gear.
Frank G. Runyeon, who has hosted a number of Facebook Live streams for AJ+, says that he always carries audio equipment and two fully charged ASUS battery power packs. He also suggests making sure your iPhone has plenty of space in case you need to download files.
Frank R. live-streamed from a protest outside the Trump Tower for AJ+.
“[In live streaming,] there are all the considerations that go along with getting good video. You have to think about your lighting situation, you have to think about audio. The visuals in your live stream are frequently naturally crappy, because you’re going to be getting grainy video sometimes when there’s not a reliable uplink. So audio has to be to the best of your ability, and you need to get solid audio equipment — Rode makes great audio products.You basically have to build a rig around your phone. At the end of the day it starts to look like a pretty serious piece of equipment. The phone is just inserted in the middle of it. Those are the technical things to get you started.” — Frank R.
Beyond having reliable shotgun mics, try to send your freelancers out with an iRig and iOgrapher frame to hold the phone steady. You might also include lite panels for any situations where the light is low.
3. Plan as much as possible in pre-production.
For pre-production, you should ask your journalists to go early to the scene, set up key interviews for when they’re live, and have questions prepared in advance. Setting up interviews before going live will help the actual interview go more smoothly since the subject knows that they will be on camera and will have thought about what they want to say. And knowing who to interview before the stream starts is just as important as a journalist needs to get the people who are integral to the story. Having questions prepared beforehand will also help your journalist keep their train of thought in the field and conduct effective interviews, remembering to ask the important questions. Plus, being early at the scene will give them a feel for the situation and layout of where they’re livestreaming — whether it is a concert hall or protests on the street.
4. Send more than one journalist into the field.
If you’re sending a journalist out to live stream, you should try to send more than one — there should be one to hold the camera, one to be on camera, and one to handle the comments and questions coming in on the Facebook stream. According to Jason Ehrich, the Vice President of Social Media at Fox News, it’s important that the journalist on camera is able to take questions from the Facebook audience.
“Engage with the audience, and if you do that you let them know that you’re listening, and you increase the number of comments that you’re going to get. We get so many more comments on our Facebook Live than we do on our on-demand videos and these tend to be higher quality comments.” — Jason Ehrich, speaking at ONA’s Facebook Live panel
5. Understand when to go Live: engagement, immersion, and suspense.
During the broadcast, your journalists should reintroduce themselves and what’s happening in the scene every few minutes so that new viewers tuning in will understand what’s going on. You also might ask your journalists to go live five to seven minutes before the main action because it can take a few minutes to gain an audience. If you do this, however, be aware that the first few seconds of a Live video need to be visually interesting since over 60% of watch time happens after the post is no longer live. The first three seconds are the most important to catching a viewer’s attention when it auto plays silently in their newsfeed.
Once you’re live, remember that it’s all about engagement, immersion, and suspense. According to Patrick McMenamin, the Supervising Producer of Huffington Post Live, a Facebook Live stream needs at least one of these three key traits and preferably all of them in order to be successful.
“It has to be participatory at its core, and that’s the biggest advantage that you have of being online. If it’s not participatory, for us, then immersiveness is the second thing. You have to really immerse somebody in an area or place that they want to be but could never get to. They want to see what it looks like. The third one is suspense…what made the [Buzzfeed] watermelon video so good was the fact that it was just full of suspense. You had 45 straight minutes of ‘When is this gonna burst?’ If you have any one of those 3, you’ve got a live stream that you should be rolling with.” — Patrick McMenamin, speaking at ONA’s Facebook Live panel
The Buzzfeed Staff’s Facebook Live video on an exploding watermelon was a huge success with over eleven million views to date.
6. Remember story is more important than video quality.
Facebook Live streams depend so much on wifi, that they often don’t have the greatest video quality. However, the video quality isn’t why the viewer tunes in, though it should still be visually interesting. When a live stream catches the viewer’s eye as their scrolling through their Facebook feed, they click on it because they want to know more — they’re interested in the content.
“We can bring people into a moment, and really start to share and tell a story…Often it’s a story where we don’t know what the ending is, but that’s the beauty of it for you as a journalist — turning the camera to an event in real time and having an audience all around the world conversing under your video clip.” — Aine Kerr, the Manager of Journalism Partnerships at Facebook, speaking at ONA’s Facebook Live panel.
7. Consider using the Facebook Live API.
If your newsroom is interested in pursuing higher-quality live-streams, you might want to use the Facebook API. The API lets you integrate live-streams into your existing broadcast set-up and use more devices, such as professional broadcast cameras and drones. It also allows you to build live-streams that can mix video and audio sources as well as use special effects. Plus, combining the Live API with Facebook’s Graph API, lets you analyze viewer engagement in real time and create on-screen graphics based on engagement. This is an extraordinarily powerful tool for companies that want to take their Facebook Live videos to the next level.
Simone Kovacs covers media innovation and video production for The Video Strategist and In the Field as a writer for Storyhunter, the world’s largest network of professional journalists and filmmakers. A Magna Cum Laude in English from Harvard and a poetry student at New York University, Simone was a staff writer for The Crimson and an editor a Tuesday Magazine, a literary publication. She also runs Storyhunter’s social media. Twitter: @storyhunter Facebook: @storyhunterTV. Storyhunter, founded in May 2012 by a group of journalists, filmmakers and web developers, is a talent marketplace and network for video professionals worldwide.