Video is having a bit of a well-documented moment. Apps like Twitter's Vine and Instagram's Hyperlapse have made it easier for companies and brands to capture all those existing and potential customer eyeballs glued to their smartphones. (Mobile video accounts for 50 percent of mobile data usage, and will grow to 60 percent by 2018, according to Gartner, an information technology research and advisory company.)
But a new app is shifting the way we think about video. Meerkat doesn't have any filters, layout wizards or seconds-long time limitations, and stop-action or quick-cut editing doesn't happen there. Instead, the currently iPhone-only app turns your phone's camera into a live-streaming device, broadcasting everything in its path to your Twitter followers with the tap of a button.
"It brings something more you can't necessarily bring through other means," says Meerkat community director Ryan Cooley. "There's nothing more authentic and genuine than live. There's no frills, there's no captions, there's no nothing. It's just video of what's happening right there and then."
Since its debut a month ago on Product Hunt—and its coming out party of sorts at SXSW—the app has reportedly attracted more than 120,000 users and the attention of the usual suspects: early adopters, celebrities and tech and entertainment media. It's also experienced some blowback: Twitter limited Meerkat's access to its social graph (meaning Meerkat users couldn't automatically create a following based on their Twitter followers) and on Thursday, released Periscope, its own live-video streaming app it acquired in January.
While it's still too early to tell if Meerkat, Periscope or any other mobile-first platforms will be more than a flash in the pan, live video clearly seems to be something businesses large and small are adding to their social media marketing efforts.
Why Meerkat, Why Livestream, Why Now?
Meerkat has made it simple and easy to broadcast the world around you live. Once you download the app and sign in using your Twitter credentials, you can immediately stream or schedule a stream to run later, typing in a brief description of what your followers are about to see. And the rules are pretty straightforward: Streams can only be watched and commented on in real time. "No reruns," the site cheekily states. While the company won't release how many users it has now, it claims it has grown 30 percent day over day since March 14.
The technology to livestream content has been around for years, but never has an audience seemed more primed for consuming it. There's a seemingly insatiable hunger for all types of content, all the time. Logistically, practically everyone is "walking around with Internet-connected cameras in their pockets," and local infrastructure can provide enough bandwidth to live stream to an audience, notes Cooley of Meerkat.
But the most powerful reason, according to Cooley, is the metric that customers want and companies want to project: authenticity.
"Let's be honest," he says. "People don't like to interact with businesses. It's not a satisfying interaction. They want to interact with people. They want to know what you're all about. The willingness to consume content like that plays a huge role in why livestreaming can really be a thing now."
While livestreaming and Meerkat may seem like yet another thing to keep tabs on, small-business owners would be wise to consider integrating the tool into their marketing.
"It captures a sense of community that brands and businesses are desperate to develop," agrees Ari Zoldan, CEO of Quantum Media. "They have Instagram, they have Twitter, they might even have private social media networks to foster conversations between customers. But there's nothing quite like having the customer next to you, so you can show and pitch them on something appealing. Livestreaming allows you to bring the customer to your home turf."
Going Live in 3, 2, 1 ...
As more people are engaging with video, and may be more inclined to interact with brands they trust, livestreaming can be an effective way to interact with your customers.
"My business is a very people-centric business, and a program like this allows people to get an inside view," says Jen Glantz, co-founder of Bridesmaid for Hire, a professional bridesmaid service provider for brides. "They think it's really cool and a great way to feel like an insider into the business."
William Bauer, founder of leather accessories company Royce Leather, finds the app gives his B2B company a more personal touch. "We create a more intimate experience because communication is in real time, with true transparency, rather than [hiding] behind a monitor and be essentially anonymous," Bauer says.
Being more transparent and leveraging human interactions is all well and good, but how can you actually do that? These four tips may help.
Practice. "Practice makes perfect," says John T. Meyer of Lemonly, a visual marketing firm that specializes in infographics, animated videos, and interactives. (Pro tip from Meyer: Invest in a phone tripod or stand for comfortable streaming.)
"The first couple of times [I used it], it was just the awkward two-minute, trying-to-figure-out-how-to-use-it [streams]," Meyer says. "Do a Meerkat with boring content no one watches [and] get comfortable with the platform." But be careful: Everything you stream gets broadcast immediately to your Twitter followers.
Know what you want to stream and why. The uses for Meerkat are only limited by your imagination. While company events seem like the most natural use, you can livecast product launches and demonstrations, company meetings or interviews, for example. "Ninety-nine percent of live content isn't good unless you bring some context into it, you bring a conversation into it," says Cooley. He's seen real-estate agents use it for live apartment showings and restaurants giving back-of-the-house tours of the kitchen to show how favorite dishes get made.
Meyer uses Meerkat to bring attention to content his company has produced elsewhere. "People don't always like to read, and attention spans are as low as they've ever been," he explains. "So if Meerkat is a different medium to get people to engage with our content, we’ll definitely experiment and try it out."
Produce engaging content. Keep this thought in the back of your mind: Would you want to watch the livestream you're creating? There's a potential added benefit of producing great content on Meerkat: You may see your account on the app's leaderboard, where the most engaging users vie for a top spot and visibility. Points are gained not by how many followers, but by how many people are really engaging with your content. "If you just pay attention to your audience and engage with them directly, and have a conversation rather than just broadcasting content for them to consume, then you will always get more points and you will always get on the leaderboard," Cooley says.
Promote your stream. Meerkat's scheduling function lets you schedule your streams hours in advance. This creates a URL you can promote on social media, email, your website—anywhere. People who follow you on Meerkat will get pinged when your livestream starts, and those who don't won't miss it thanks to your promotional efforts.
And don't worry: The awkwardness of amateur livestreaming is part of the medium's charms. After all, that's part of being human, the part of your business your customers want to see.
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Photo: Getty Images, Meerkat