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By Tracy Imm

Did you know that people spend three times longer on Facebook Live than other items in their Facebook news feed? Facebook acknowledges that they push up live videos in user news feeds, so when you are broadcasting, you get an organic traffic boost. Knowing this simple fact may change how you think about telling your PR story real-time. One organization at the forefront of this movement has been the Baltimore City Police Department, under the leadership of TJ Smith.

I attended PRSA-Maryland’s May monthly training session led by TJ Smith, Chief of Media Relations with the Baltimore City Police Department (BCPD) on Live-Streaming with Periscope and Facebook Live. I also heard him speak at the annual PRSA Maryland Chessie Conference about how his team dealt with the crisis communications associated with civil unrest in Baltimore during the summer of 2015. In both of these sessions, I learned more about the technology that is available to us as PR professionals. He also dished out a few tips and tricks that make him successful. [Editor’s note: TJ Smith will be a featured speaker at the upcoming Mid-Atlantic Marketing Summit Sept. 29 in Baltimore.]

I have to say, this man is a MASTER at live streaming on Facebook and Periscope. He was an early adopter of Periscope (way back in summer of 2015!) and now teaches others what he’s learned via trial by fire. His public relations team of Jaron Jackson and Jeremy Silbert are equally as talented and supported the PRSA training sessions. I found their collective crisis communications expertise to be impressive. I applaud them for wholeheartedly embracing technology as part of their secret weapon to fight crime on the streets of Baltimore and tell the public what the department is doing on a daily basis.

With more than 65 percent of all social media activity happening on smartphones these days, it’s no surprise that live streaming has taken off. In an effort to stay relevant in today’s marketplace, this training was at the top of my list and I wanted to study with the best teachers. Here’s what I learned from TJ and company about the benefits of live streaming to tell your story:

Why Live Stream At All?

From a PR perspective, live streaming allows you to tell your story globally on social media channels right from the palm of your hand. As the civil unrest broke out last summer, our city was in the spotlight internationally pretty instantaneously. While the team wasn’t live streaming then, they were posting video routinely to You Tube to get the story out. This paved the way to their early adoption of live streaming on social media.

In many ways, you cut the middle man out from telling the story – no need to coordinate live shots with reporters, wait to watch the reel at the 6 o’clock show and see a trailer. As the media relations team, you can break your own story. You can visually show your audience what is happening real time. It’s the ultimate way to be transparent. You are the reporter for the public, straight up. TJ routinely tells the media that he will be live streaming and if he is interviewing others on the live stream, he tells them so he gets their implied consent. He also makes sure that people can hear him as you are competing with the elements while you broadcast outside.

TJ was quick to point out that live streaming is not just for public safety oriented organizations but can be used to tell a story, showcase an event or highlight your organization doing good in the community. Engaging real time with an audience via video is where the world is today.

How Can You Mitigate Risks Associated with Live Streaming?

As with anything, there are risks associated with this proactive approach to telling the world what is happening as it unfolds. To help manage risk, TJ’s top tips included:

  • It’s important to be cognizant of what is happening in the world. Your live stream may not play well. Context matters. Choose your words wisely knowing what else is unfolding in the world and local news.
  • Make sure you charge your iPhone – live streaming for 10 minutes can run your battery down quickly! Keeping an extra charger on hand is always a good idea.
  • You can always block and ban your trolls. In many ways, the community will also flush out the trolls which eliminates the need to engage with them.
  • If you live stream outside, you will compete with the elements. Your sound quality will be impacted so having the right kind of cables and microphones will be important.
  • Lighting can be an issue if you live stream at night. You may need some extra equipment to help your video not appear so dark.

Which Platform: Periscope or Facebook?

The great debate on TJ’s team is the merits of Periscope versus Facebook. Each channel has benefits and can be effective, including reaching a global audience. In the end, go where your audience is hanging out. The bottom line is this:

  • If your followers are on Periscope, then that might make more sense. TJ started out experimenting with Periscope and found success quickly. He was one of the first law enforcement Public Information Officers to really dive in with both feet in the early days of Periscope.
  • According to the New York Times, people are spending an average of 50 minutes a day on Facebook. If your Facebook page has millions of followers, then Facebook may be a better choice for you. The Baltimore City Police Department finds that Facebook is a great place to deliver breaking news and stream their press conferences with the Commissioner. The team has been able to create Public Service Announcements to answer the community’s frequently asked questions about specific situations.

A few Facebook live streaming tips from Penny Sanservieri in her blog post entitled Harvest the Epic Marketing Power of Facebook with These Secrets (published in Bulldog Reporter on July 13, 2016) include:

  • The ideal length is 5-20 minutes
  • Use a short catchy video title, Additional descriptions can be used in the comments
  • After your live streaming concludes, update the post with a description, a call to action, and a new thumbnail. Hashtags are important.
  • Tag anyone you interview or chat with in the video to boost views.

As Snapchat and Instagram grow as live stream applications, we might find ourselves reporting on these social media platforms, depending on our audience demographics. Bloomberg reported in April that Snapchat users viewed as many as 10 billion videos each day, up from 8 billion in February. According to The Motley Fool, roughly one in four Americans is expected to use Snapchat by 2020. Most of Snapchat’s popularity is traced to the selfie filters and geo-tags that turn a user’s headshot into a cartoon animal.

What Content Makes Sense to Live Stream?

According to a 2016 social media survey done by Clutch (a premiere research marketing company) video and images consistently perform the best on social media channels ahead of articles, reviews and info-graphics. With that said, it’s important to think through your content strategy and figure out what will be the most impactful, especially if you have limited resources. Two types of story ideas to consider include:

People love “Behind the Scenes” stories – The BCPD created a series of live stream and You Tube videos to include what goes on in the office during a breaking story, what it’s like to ride in their helicopter over the city, and officers reading stories to children at inner city schools as part of their community outreach. One of the most successful YouTube videos that the BCPD did was a broadcast of Jaron Jackson on a flight in Foxtrot, their department helicopter circling Fort McHenry and the Inner Harbor.

Breaking News: The BCPD have become the “go to” source on breaking criminal activities in the city and citizen have come to just tune into their Facebook live feeds as well as hop on Periscope to get the on the ground action report straight from the PR team.

What Equipment Will You Need?

Don’t let the gear stump you or prevent you from getting started. Keep it simple. The gear is relatively inexpensive and easy to use.

In both training sessions, TJ shared with us his gear recommendations. He’s gotten so many questions, that he and his team have created several videos to walk you through the basics of microphones, settings on your phone and accessories such as camera rigs and lighting that make your job of live streaming easier.

Here are the “tutorials” that the Baltimore City PR team has created that you may find helpful in your live streaming journey:

After attending TJ’s session, I would say that learning how to live stream can be relatively simple. It’s a matter of starting and improving as you go. As a public relations professional it should be a bit of second nature on what content to live stream; we do it every day with our web copy writing, press releases, media pitches and internal communications activities. TJ and his team encouraged us to decide on which platform we want to use and build up our followers organically. We have now all become newscasters alongside our media brethren. Good to know we now have a new tool for our communications toolkit to tell our organization’s stories directly to the publics that we all serve.

You can follow me on Twitter @tracyi365 where I share tips, tools, and insights around social media, PR, marketing and more. My first live stream will be coming to you soon!

Tracy Imm is Public Affairs Director at Maryland Insurance Administration

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