TV newsrooms across the U.S. weigh in with their emerging best practices for winning audience engagement on Facebook Live. Those range from letting audiences decide how to follow up on a story to building an API connection between a newsroom’s digital content management platform and Facebook Live. Pictured is [email protected] WHAM, an example of how news organizations are using digital-only shows to stand out.
Facebook Live may be a relatively young platform, but it has gained a fast importance with TV newsrooms across the country. Many find it an indispensable complement to their broadcast product, at once reaching new audiences and deepening ties with longstanding viewers.
As that happens, a set of best practices has begun to emerge among enterprising newsrooms that recognize Facebook Live’s unprecedented engagement potential. A close, ongoing interaction with audiences underwrites every one of these practices.
“The thing about Facebook Live is the ability to engage as opposed to just [watch] a live stream,” says Tim Wolff, digital director for Cox Media Group Ohio. “That kind of group question/answering is hard to come by in a different format.”
Here are 10 standout tips culled from newsrooms that have been aggressively experimenting with Facebook Live. Each has shown early promise in audience and relationship building, and cumulatively, they point toward a path that helps broadcasters capitalize on the platform’s unique characteristics and strengths.
1. Know Your Audience
One of many meteorologists who interact regularly with devoted followers on Facebook Live, Jason Simpson has learned that those fans can be as temperamental as the weather itself. They want their questions answered — and fast — and they don’t want their time wasted, says Simpson, who heads the weather team at WHNT Huntsville, Ala. For that reason, Simpson reserves his use of the platform for important weather events.
He front loads his live streams with content for a minute or two before taking questions, then triages those questions based on those most common or (sometimes) frantically asked.
“You really have to know your audience,” Simpson says. “You have to work hard to know who they are or where they live.” That means recognizing frequently-returning viewers, addressing them by name in the live stream and making sure that he addresses their corners of the viewing area as he tracks storm or drought conditions. That translates into strong relationship building, and has helped Simpson become a key asset for the station for his emotional connection with audiences.
2. Share Meaningful, Important Facts
“Weather Talk Live” has only been running for weeks at Roanoke, Va.’s WDBJ, but the 20-minute Facebook Live show has pulled in up to 13,000 viewers in its episodes. David Hughes, the station’s news director, says that’s because the Brett Watts-hosted show addresses the region’s deeper weather dynamics.
“You have to be offering meaningful, interesting information,” he says, and that means weather information that viewers won’t find somewhere else. “They want to know not only what is going to happen, but they want to know why.” Hughes says it’s also important to maintain a professional look for the show — producers run it through the control room — while maintaining a more conversational tone than they would on air.
3. Let Viewers Help Direct How to Follow Up on a Story
WKOW Madison, Wis., tries to follow up important stories with a Facebook Live session often involving experts in the subject area. Those streams help the newsroom answer the question of “where do we go from here?” according to Jacki Witkowski, the station’s internet director.
“When you have a three-minute story, you don’t get to dive into every chunk of the matter,” she says. Facebook Live audiences “sometimes guide us to a new story,” as was the case with a recent piece on a mentally ill man who killed his mother, after which a live-streamed panel with mental health experts led to a new, well-received story on children and mental health.
4. Specifically Describe Your Content
There’s nothing worse than a vaguely-labeled Facebook Live video says Erica Hernandez, a digital reporter/producer at KSAT San Antonio, Texas. She says that too often live streams are contextualized broadly as an afterthought.
“For us, it’s all in the post we do above the video,” she says. “We’re very descriptive in our posts. People like to know what they’re watching.” She adds that viewers also like raw immediacy, such as when she recently live streamed local tornado damage PAGE … armed only with her phone and a selfie stick, getting 17,000 views shortly after the stream began (and reaching more than 91,000 views by last count).
5. Use Engaging Content from Network Partners
At WISC Madison, Wis., a second encoder goes into action almost daily to live stream to Facebook Live from CBS or CNN. Managing Editor Kyle Geissler says the station’s use of those streams can often be planned ahead, as both networks publish daily schedules of what they anticipate having on air during the day, though just as often the decisions are made on the fly.
The standard for choosing a network stream is potential engagement. “Is this an event or a visual where someone is going to hit a reaction button or leave a comment?” Geissler says. “It’s kind of a guessing game.” Election-related feeds were consistently popular, as are most streams involving the president.
6. Pin Live Streams to the Top of Your Page and Mine Metrics Constantly
Wendy Gatlin, social media manager at WRAL Raleigh, N.C., says stations should pin their live video posts directly to the top of their Facebook pages so they’re the first things viewers see. Most of WRAL’s streams pick up more viewers after they’ve been live than during, she adds. “After the Facebook Live ends, there’s still momentum and still people talking about them,” she says, so pinning them prominently enables a longer tail to the content, like these recurring “Carolina Beach Cam” videos that have amassed a loyal following.
Facebook Live’s ample metrics also make understanding content’s engagability more of a science than an art. “How long were they live? How many comments? How many reactions? Did we move some people into our paid platforms if we put a link in there?” All of those are now answerable questions, Gatlin says, and they’re helping to guide WRAL in its streaming decisions as it goes live on average three to four times a day.
7. Program For New Audiences
It’s hard to avoid Cox Media Group Ohio if you’re in Dayton, where the company’s large market footprint includes both the daily paper, the Dayton Daily News, and CBS affiliate WHIO. But Tim Wolff, the company’s digital director, says it can still find new viewers by using Facebook Live. “Everybody’s on Facebook, so it allows us to reach people in another way,” he says.
A high school prep sports show featuring a WHIO sports anchor and Dayton Daily News sports reporter is one of the ways Cox is doing that. The show began with local prep football coverage in the sports-ravenous market, expanded to basketball and now reaches a host of younger viewers and families. “It has become a great way to engage with the audience,” Wolff says, along with being a coup for both WHIO and the paper.
8. Drive Viewers to Digital-Only Shows
Chuck Samuels, GM of WHAM Rochester, N.Y., knows well the Faustian bargain newsrooms make when they let too much of their content live directly off-platform on Facebook. His station tries to strike a balance by using Facebook Live to stream a kind of “pre-show” to its digital-only “[email protected],” a 20-minute daily news and weather show that runs on its website.
“We don’t want to be responsible for our own demise,” Samuels says of the station’s disinclination to run the entire show on Facebook Live. Instead, WHAM teases it out for about four to five minutes leading into the show, sharing headlines and just enough banter to carry viewers over to its own, directly monetizable platform.
9. Treat Facebook Live Like “a Living, Breathing Research Project”
WHNS Greenville, S.C.’s WHNS uses Facebook Live frequently for breaking news and to convert Facebook followers into broadcast viewers leading into its newscasts. News Director Kelly Boan says newsrooms can only be successful when they treat the platform “like a living, breathing research project. You learn so much from both the positive and negative feedback.”
Newsrooms need to study that constant stream of feedback, she says, embracing the two-way street nature of the platform and the ease with which viewers can weigh in on content. Before Facebook, she says, “if somebody didn’t like the way something was done, they had to feel strongly enough to pick up the phone and call you. Now people will get fired up and go right on Facebook and let us know. It’s been very interesting to see how they hold our feet to the fire.”
10. Build an API for Facebook Live into Your CMS
One way to encourage frequent experimentation on Facebook Live is to make it easier, and Sinclair Broadcast Group did so across the company by building an application program interface (API) directly into its proprietary content management system (CMS), Storyline, last fall.
“We look at our publishing tools as something to enable our journalists to do more local reporting,” says Kevin Cotlove, VP of content and digital operations at Sinclair. “That integration with our CMS made it much easier to do that.” The API has made it simpler to take remote feeds and stream them directly to Facebook Live, which in turn has led to more video output on the platform, especially directly from the field, including footage from the company’s news drones. And all of that is generating a positive response for viewers, who’ve noticed the uptick in Sinclair stations’ presence there.
As the popularity of streaming to Facebook Live accelerates with broadcasters, the technical management and control of daily live streams at the station requires careful consideration. TVU Networks has worked closely with its broadcast customers to implement the integration of its IP video solutions with Facebook Live. TVU can take a live video transmission from any video source and output it as an IP live stream to Facebook Live through TVU’s Cloud-based Command Center application. Controlling and managing Facebook Live streams through the TVU Command Center web interface is simple with point-and-click controls to add Facebook accounts as well as instantly share video streams on Facebook.
“In speaking to our broadcast customers, we heard that the background and technical knowledge of the producer in charge of social media content is typically different than the traditional producer of news content for a station,” says Eric Chang, VP of marketing at TVU Networks. “We designed the control and management of Facebook Live within our Command Center interface to take into account the critical aspects needed to produce social media live streams within the digital media producer’s workflow.”
This Partner Perspective piece has been sponsored by TVU Networks, a market leading provider of IP-based live video solutions. Thousands of newsgathering organizations and live producers around the world use TVU to broadcast live events.