There's a problem with Facebook Live videos.
Or maybe not a problem so much as a frustration, an issue that may be impeding the wider adoption of live content because if confuses the idea of what live content actually is. But then again, based on the viewership data, maybe we've been wrong in our thinking about what live content is meant to be, or we're limiting our understanding of it's uses.
Okay, that's a bit confusing - here's the issue:
Back in November, The Next Web published an article which outlined how Facebook Live is being abused by some publishers who are either re-posting pre-recorded content and presenting it as live, or they're broadcasting static graphics, or things like countdown clocks, in an effort to game Facebook reach.
You see, Facebook Live content gets preferential treatment by Facebook's algorithm, so any Facebook Live broadcast - whether it's actually live or not - gets a reach boost, which helps the broadcasting Page get more viewers while also giving their future posts a reach increase based on past performance. Facebook even advises Pages to broadcast longer to boost viewership.
Because of this, Pages are publishing these types of questionable broadcasts in an effort to use Live as a means to claw back their ever-declining reach. And it's totally within Facebook's rules. From Facebook's perspective, judgment on stream quality is in the eyes of the viewers - Facebook might show Live content to more people, but it's up to them whether or not they watch it. But at the same time, the widespread use of such tactics has forced Facebook to acknowledge some problems with this approach.
First off, Facebook has identified that one of the ways publishers are mis-using Live is by running polls in which Reactions are being used as a voting mechanism - Facebook has already moved to stamp this out, updating their guidelines to reflect this.
Facebook also recently sent a letter to Page admins who are using the Facebook Live API warning them against mis-uses of Live.
The warning email Facebook is sending Page admins caught using FB Live to post:- Matt Navarra (@MattNavarra) December 8, 2016
- Pre-recorded content as if 'LIVE'
- Graphics-only polls pic.twitter.com/wLrD2NGhkj
So Facebook has recognized this is a problem, but given the viewership numbers of such posts, it's not hard to see why Pages might look to use these tactics.
This week, Facebook released a listing of the top 10 most watched Facebook live-streams of the year. Of course, 'Chewbacca Mom' came out on top with a massive 163 million views, but looking through the list, half of them are actually static graphics-type posts, similar to those noted above.
For example, this one from BuzzFeed - a countdown to the 2020 Election - had more than 51 million views.
This is no criticism of BuzzFeed - they understand how to work with the News Feed algorithm as good as anyone - but it does raise a question over whether this is what live content should be. But then again, it attracted 51 million viewers. With those numbers, Facebook's not going to tell them not to do it - and really, maybe they're onto something, it's clearly hit onto an audience niche. Maybe this is what Pages should be looking to broadcast.
Here's another - this came in at number seven on the top ten list with more than 25 million views.
Now, granted both of these are very topical, but watching a live counter seems to go against the ethos of what live-streaming is supposed to be. But again, given the view counts, maybe this is what Live is, maybe this use case makes perfect sense.
A big part of both examples is the comments that go with them - the BuzzFeed one had 165K comments, while the one above had 61K - users exchanging thoughts and opinions on the topic. And maybe that's just as valuable, the capacity to generate live conversation around a center-piece, giving your community a forum for discussion in real-time.
Here's another one - 23 million people tuned in to watch this broadcast of a flaming map of the US on election day (101K comments).
On one hand, these kind of static graphics go against the idea of the medium as providing a means to share an experience. But on the other, they've resulted in huge viewership. So maybe this should be a consideration in your own live-streaming strategy - maybe going live doesn't have to be as complex as you might think.
I'm sure Facebook would prefer users look to broadcast informative, interesting, unique content, but given the performance of these posts (in total, five of the top ten performing streams displayed basic graphics with no commentary), maybe you don't need to be so creative. Tapping into a major trending topic is obviously a key theme in these examples, but there are other, similar streams that have performed well using the same tactic - check out this one that I found which was live at the time of writing, and has already had more than 90K views.
And live content obviously doesn't have to be what would generally be considered 'interesting' - the Newcastle puddle saw thousands of people tune in just to see how people would get around a puddle in the street.
Maybe, if you were looking to use live-streaming for your business, you don't have to come up with a TV show-style format or be engaging or camera-friendly yourself. Maybe there's a way you can make a more simplistic stream that'll attract viewers just the same and give your Facebook Page a boost - viewers looking for a place to connect in real time and discuss a central issue, for which a basic video can be your gather point.
I don't know that this is how Live is supposed to be used, I don't know that it's good use of the option. But the numbers tell the tale - while Pages are seeing huge viewer counts with content like this, they'll continue to use such tools.
So in the end, it's less a commentary and more of an observation - some of the best performing live-streams of the year were static graphics or counters. They inspired related conversation - and maybe that's the key objective you should be focused on, above creating great, informative content. Really, as most would advise, creating helpful and engaging streams would seem to be the best strategy, content which benefits your target audience and gives them new access to you and your business.
But there are still some quirks to Live that can be exploited. Or maybe we've been looking at live-streaming all wrong.
Will such uses help or hinder the wider adoption of live-streaming?