While Facebook is continuing to push Facebook Live, and the offering is seeing more and more people (and brands) broadcasting on the platform, there's a problem that's come up with the authenticity of Live videos. Or maybe not the authenticity, specifically (though that is a problem), but with what qualifies as "live" content, the measures used to judge a broadcast's popularity and whether it matters or not that a live video is actually live.
The biggest example of this is the prevalence of live broadcasts that are nothing but a static graphic image, or images, with users prompted to use Facebook's Reactions as a voting mechanism.
This has become a popular option - and for good reason, it drives active engagement, which, as we all know, is what helps your posts get more reach in Facebook News Feeds. The process itself somewhat artificially boosts the response to such posts, which then ensures they're seen by more people. So it's a win-win - the publisher gets more reach and viewers get a chance to interact with the content.
But is this a 'live' video?
We posed the same question back in December when Facebook released a listing of the top ten Facebook Live broadcasts of 2016 - five of the top ten were static graphic posts like this one from BuzzFeed, which has now had more than 55 million views.
And while none of those in the top ten used the Reactions as a voting mechanism, it is possible that Facebook excluded such posts from the list because they'd actually made it against the rules to do so in their posting guidelines.
But the fact is that these posts are hugely popular - they're not live, in the sense that they're not broadcasting footage of something happening in real-time, and those Reactions votes are likely not a real indicator of audience interest in the subject. But evidently people are watching them, and people are responding to these 'vote by Reactions' polls.
So what should Facebook do? Should they discourage such use of Live despite its popularity?
Given the potential engagement they generate, Facebook's not likely to take that route - instead, they've actually changed their regulations on the use of Reactions.
Instead of making it against the rules entirely, Facebook has now softened their stance and created a new set of rules around how publishers should use Reactions for voting.
So now you can use Reactions as a voting mechanism, so long as the relevant Reactions aligns with the relevant 'emotional intent'. How that relates to Facebook's back-end data, I'm not sure - what difference using each reactions makes in relation to each option presented wouldn't appear to have an immediate impact on how that action translates, in terms of a users' interests.
But Facebook does offer one specific qualifier on how such polls are used in Live content.
"Don't use Reactions for polls in video where the whole stream consists of static or looping graphics or images."
So Facebook still doesn't want people using Reactions as a measure to vote on static live-streams. Which is good, as these seem like a cheap way to generate clicks. But then again, if it works, people are going to use it. Even if Facebook advises them not to.
Really, these alternate use-case for Facebook Live highlight the need for us to re-consider what live-streaming is, exactly, and what people want from it.
We might think that you shouldn't be able to broadcast a static image like this and generate engagement, as it seems to be gaming the system.
But that video has had 102k views. It's hard to argue with the results.
In terms of the BuzzFeed example, the engagement with that post is primarily in the comments and discussion (1.3m Reactions, 168k comments), which is not necessarily in response to the visual content, or at least, not in response to what's happening in the video. It may be that we need to also consider live broadcasts as a conduit for real-time discussion, as opposed to just video broadcasts.
Is that what Live was made for? Probably not, but that's what people are using it for. Facebook could crack down on this and take the videos down or reduce their reach. But if so many people are engaging with such content, should they?
Facebook does need to combat copyright infringement via Live, which they are working on - this week, they introduced a new warning which pops up when their system detects possible copyright violation in a stream.
Infringement is definitely an issue which requires action, but these alternate use-cases for Live are something different. They're not live, as such, but people are watching them. And that, essentially, is each users' decision.
This was not the intention of Live, it's not what it's 'meant' to be. But it's getting results.
That's not to say you should use this option in your marketing efforts, or even that Facebook won't change the rules again and ban such uses outright. But it's an interesting consideration in live-streaming, a new way of looking at what the option is and what it can be used for.
How your businesses chooses to interpret that is up to you.