Perhaps the greatest goal that a brand can have is to create a genuine community of people who feel like they are a part of something greater than themselves, and achieving that goal always starts with the people who work there. Great brands know this, and they consistently invest in the quality of the relationships that they build with their communities. As I’m writing, however, we’re currently in the middle of the greatest shutdown that this business world has seen since the World Wars. People are quarantined to their homes, no one is traveling, so there’s no opportunity to bring people together in any physical form. Companies are having to be creative about what it means to invest in their communities.

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In the face of cancellations, closed doors and uncertainty, community carries on. The bonds we have built don’t dissolve just because we can’t be in the same place. We are and have always been social by nature. Over the coming weeks we'll take #thesweatlife online. Providing digital workout classes, meditations and mindfulness practices to keep you connected—wherever you are. TUNE IN tomorrow Sunday March 15 at 8AM PST for an Instagram Live meditation with global ambassador, @GabbyBernstein. PS: We’ll save the meditation to our stories so you can participate no matter what time zone you’re in.

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When we break down how community is created, the core is actually not about physical proximity, it’s really about communication. We communicate when we advertise, when we publish to social media, when we host customers in our space, and even when we host meetings with our staff. People feel connected when they’re informed and they’re valued. Being a part of something is about contributing, and receiving value – the physical experience is just one powerful way we can create that. Effective communication, in whatever form, creates brand storytelling, loyal communities, and well-connected internal teams, all of which are the necessary ingredients to create a genuine community.

Bringing the whole staff together in one room sure creates the feeling (if not the reality) of togetherness, and hosting an event for customers sure looks like community, but when those offline gatherings are no longer available to us, then how can we maintain the connections that are necessary for us to thrive as brands, as communities, and as people?

Fortunately, this is 2020, and we have technology solutions that can help out. Live streaming video and interactive tools create near-seamless engagement between people regardless of their physical location. But, just like company meetings and live events, they’re just tools, and the actual connections created are only as strong as the ways in which those tools are used.

Consider this example from Vancouver-based social publishing platform Long before social distancing, they were using live streaming video to deliver a virtual conference that was attended by people around the world. Speakers were much easier to acquire because they didn’t have to get on a plane, they didn’t have to rent out space at the convention centre, and had no inflated catering costs. Instead, they were able to focus 100% on the value of the content and the virtual attendee’s experience.

Live streaming video happens to be a bit of a secret superpower of ours, so my goal in this article is to walk you through a few of the many options and opportunities that live video offers because I know that many of us are feeling challenged to maintain the connections that are so important to us.

We don’t talk about this side of our business very often, but nearly a decade ago, while we were still dabbling in a variety of different digital marketing services, we were hired by Vancouver Fashion Week and, shortly thereafter, the Wanderlust Festival in Whistler, to live stream their events out to the world. The technology was so new at the time that there weren’t experts out there to lean on, so we did what the rest of us were doing on the Internet at the time: We figured it out for ourselves.

Those projects led to a relationship with lululemon who, many years before most of the market, identified the need to use this new tool to deepen their connection with their growing network of staff. We were brought in to support them with what we had learned, and that relationship continues on to this day. Along the way we’ve helped YouTubers, news outlets, universities, and even the Vancouver mayoral debate, but we’ve chosen to keep that part of our business between us and the clients who we chose to offer it to because we saw it as a niche service, valuable only to a few select clients who were looking to invest in live video.

Today, however, it seems to us that the knowledge and skills that we’ve developed over those years could be significantly valuable for so many businesses (large & small) that it’s important that we share them as far and as wide as possible. So, here’s how we’re going to do that: First, in this article, I’m going to walk through some of the many opportunities for live video. When you’ve been thinking about streaming as long as we have you can start to see it applying to a nearly infinite number of opportunities.

Next, we’ve put together a simple guide for you that you’re welcome to download, share, and use however you like (except for selling it – please don’t do that). Your live video guide is linked at the bottom of this article.

And finally, we are opening ourselves up to provide our live video consulting services to many more clients. For most small to medium businesses, there are straightforward, out-of-the-box solutions available and you’ll simply need some guidance about what, how, and when to stream. For enterprise organizations where security and stability are much more important, you’ll require a more bespoke solution, and we’re happy to help you with that as well.

The Live Streaming Video Opportunity

The primary reason that live video is just now taking off as a communication channel is the availability of bandwidth. Much like the introduction of 3G networks helped YouTube to take off as a mobile video platform, live streaming services like Twitch, Facebook Live, Livestream, and YouTube Live have had their hockey stick growth just recently. For example, this year in China over 500 million people will watch live streaming video, and in North America, users are watching live video, on average, over 10x longer than they watch recorded video.

People now have the ability to receive live video in their pockets and they’re using it, but for most brands, the question of what and why they’d stream remains unanswered.

Nearly all of the most popular social platforms are becoming heavily invested in live video because they see the opportunity in the user behaviour. Twitch was early, amassing millions of game-streaming users before YouTube added a nearly identical feature. Periscope and Meerkat were too early because our connections weren’t yet stable enough, but Twitter acquired one, and Facebook just copied a version of the other.

Now, as much as 20% of the video consumed online in any given day is from a live video stream. It’s definitely not just for gamers anymore.

Why should brands stream live video?

Internal Communication

For nearly all of us, Zoom/Slack/Google/Skype calls have become a part of daily life. One-on-one meetings have been supplemented by video calls, and significant travel costs have been avoided because of the ability to meet and present over video. The same concept can be applied to larger company meetings, and for many companies it may mean that, for the first time, they are able to have regular all-hands touchpoints where that would have previously been logistically impossible. Companies like Google, Electronic Arts, and Hootsuite regularly hold Town Hall meetings where the senior executives are able to interact in real-time with employees from across the company, regardless of geographic location, and present updates, answer questions, or share news in a much more intimate way than a simple call or recorded video ever could.

Larger team meetings require more live streaming logistics than your typical Zoom call. For one, the scale deserves a higher level of production value. Have you ever noticed that when you’re watching a speaker on a webcam you tend to get bored and distracted very easily, whereas TED Talks keep your attention the entire time? It’s not just the quality of the TED speakers that draw us in – the production teams do a fantastic job of switching between various camera angles, and adjust light and sound volumes to produce a show that is interesting and engaging. If you’re an executive team that’s going to be speaking to a staff of hundreds, or even thousands, I suggest that a single-shot webcam just won’t give your message the weight that it deserves.

Similarly, training and onboarding that would typically be done in-person is likely not possible right now. Some businesses may be considering delaying sessions until after the distancing period, which creates a situation where, not only are your staff away from the support of their teams, they may not have to up-to-date skills that they need to be successful. Rather than putting off training and onboarding, instead consider interactive live video options where presentations, Q&A, screen sharing, and a variety of interactive options are available. Online training comes with a lot of advantages over in-person, such as live chat support and recording for review, the only hurdle is selecting the right software. My advice is to keep it simple – start with what you have, and perhaps explore the next paid tier of your software before looking elsewhere. If you’re starting from scratch, look at Zoom’s pro version – it’s easily the most seamless, feature-rich, and stable live video software and it lends itself very well to online training.

When it comes to internal communications in general, consider the value of connecting with teams on a regular basis, providing high quality, human interactions, and the added value that the company will receive when your messages, updates, and strategies can be passed on at a deeper level. The added effort and resources become some of the best investments that you’ll make when you consider the scale of the impact that you’ll have, and the connections that you’ll maintain with your teams.

External Communication

Just about every non-essential storefront is either closed or severely limited right now, especially those that exist to provide experiences and entertainment for their clients. That’s devastating to industries like fitness, tours, and theatres that rely on physical attendance for their businesses.

In order to salvage some value, businesses are using live video for one of two purposes:

  1. To maintain and grow their communities, investing now to ensure that the businesses are able to return later

    This is often positioned as a gift or an offering that the business is putting out to its community. For example, many gyms and fitness studios that are no longer able to host guests are choosing to use Instagram or Facebook Live to instruct live classes, meditations, or meal planning sessions. The savviest of these businesses are using this as an opportunity to drive people to small conversions that will pay off later – that could be an email list of people who would like to book later, online purchasing of gift cards or merchandise, or deferred purchases like annual passes that don’t kick in until the studio opens up again.

    Restaurants may use their Chef’s newfound free time to offer live at-home cooking classes, and retailers can go deep with their most loyal customers, providing insight into the buying or design process that wouldn’t be possible when everyone is running at full speed.

    Accountants and lawyers can become everyone’s favourite people by providing real-talk advice for those who need help navigating all of the new programs that the various governments are rolling out right now, and real estate agents can offer virtual open houses, where they use photos and video to “walk” people through their listings.

    For the business people who see this time as an opportunity to invest in their relationships and their communities, live video may be the easiest and most valuable way to make those connections.

  2. Creating additional revenue models that complement the core business offering

    Nearly every business person has, at some point or another, considered offering an online version of their services. For many, the Covid-19 crisis is just the push that they needed to make it happen. For those people, recorded video can be the right option, but it lacks the personal touch and customization that many people have used to build their businesses to this point. Additional revenue models are being generated when service-based businesses create live, online experiences that people are willing to pay for because they go beyond what’s possible in a recorded video. A few ideas for service-based business to offer value through live video:

    • Nutritionists can help groups to prepare healthy meals based on what they have in their pantries
    • Yoga instructors can host small classes where they’re still able to offer personalized alignment corrections
    • Interior designers can host sessions where they help people to make the most of the personal spaces that have suddenly become their home, office, and social spaces all-in-one for the next few weeks

Regardless of the specific opportunity for your business, consumers are already spending almost 100 minutes consuming online video content per day. Live video gives you an opportunity to provide some of your unique value to your community in a way that recorded video never can. The key is that you must determine that value before launching a live broadcast because, without it, your stream will be undifferentiated from the millions of YouTube videos out there. There are already enough online nutrition tutorials, yoga classes, and decorating tips – your live video will be valuable because it’s timely, because it’s interactive, and because it’s personal.

If you’re putting your content out to the world as a gift, then make use of the places and spaces that people are already hanging out: Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube Live (note: on YouTube Live you can also receive donations from your viewers).

If you’re looking to generate revenue, then you’ll want to set up either some webinar software like Webinarjam, or an industry-specific platform like GymGO. Some of the more tech-savvy entrepreneurs are even putting their own solutions together by hosting the stream through something like Vimeo, then embedding it in their sites behind a paywall.

You may find yourself with a bit of extra time on your hands over the next few weeks, and whether your goal is just to maintain your connection with your community, or to try to supplement some of that lost revenue, live video may be the greatest opportunity that you have to continue to deliver what makes your business special to the world.

Click Here to Download The Live Streaming Playbook