Marketing, PR & Advertising and Technology

Should your brand use Periscope or Meerkat?

April 15, 2015
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By now you’ve likely heard of Meerkat and Periscope.

They’re names of the first two entries in a new category of mobile app that allows users to instantly live-stream video from a mobile phone. Like other social media platforms, they allow users to follow and engage with each other (which primarily occurs in the context of viewers liking and commenting on the video as it streams).

Interestingly, both platforms were developed when the founders witnessed political protests and wished they had something more robust to broadcast them. The value of these tools for activists and journalists is very apparent, but not as clear for brands selling products and services.

Unlike mobile video apps such as Vine and Instagram (which limit users to six seconds and 15 seconds, respectively), there is no time limit for a Meerkat or Periscope stream. Users are also able to download the streams to share later.

Right now both apps are only available for Apple’s iOS. Though streams from both apps are supposed to be visible to non-users from desktop computers, I’ve only ever been able to get Periscope streams to load on a desktop browser.

Initially founded under other names in 2012, Meerkat entered the market first, debuting at the South By Southwest festival in March 2015. It quickly achieved the coveted “buzz” that tech products yearn for and began to build an audience (and captured $14M in venture capital funding).

Periscope was founded in 2014, but rocketed past Meerkat in popularity in Apple’s App Store when it was announced that Twitter purchased it for $100M shortly after SXSW. The access to Twitter’s audience of nearly 300 million monthly active users, combined with a more intuitive user interface, makes Periscope a much more attractive proposition (rather than growing an audience from scratch on a nascent platform like Meerkat).

I teach a class at Grand Valley State University on technology in advertising and public relations, and recently we discussed the use of these live-streaming apps. We started by launching Periscope and watching one of the trending streams at the moment: TV personality Maria Menounos getting into hair and makeup to cover the red carpet at the premiere of “Furious 7.”

The verdict? Boooring! After what seemed like an eternity, Menounos finally was able to prop her phone up on the vanity to capture a very static image of her seated in the makeup chair. She was then left to vamp as her stylist hovered behind her. One student wistfully remarked that she wished it was a sped-up time-lapse of the process. Another pointed out that hair/makeup tutorials are very popular on YouTube, so the video had a possible benefit as a contribution to the “how-to” category of content. But we decided that the benefits of live-streaming in this case were outweighed by the benefits of editing the video (distilling it down to the best parts, and overlaying text prompts enhancing the tutorial). Still another student proposed the idea of live-streaming the process of walking into a store to purchase a product for a live “unboxing” and test.

As a thought exercise, my class and I brainstormed ideas for how different organizations might be able to use Meerkat or Periscope. When we evaluated all of the ideas proposed, common themes emerged for the best and most practical use of these tools, which are detailed below.

If you decide to try out these apps and you don’t already have a well-established following on social media, to be successful you must make sure that your strategy is able to satisfy these criteria:

  • Visual: The more dynamic your visual, the better candidate it is for live-streaming. The flashing knives and boiling pots of a kitchen are much more interesting to watch than a talking “selfie” (or worse, a press conference). Moreover, basic video production technique is important. Bad audio is unforgivable, so you’ll need to make sure the camera’s microphone is able to pick up the sound, and you’ll have to work hard to avoid creating shaky, disorienting shots as you pan and tilt to capture the shot.
  • Exclusive: To use these apps to grow an audience, you need to deliver something they can’t get elsewhere. In the world of marketing, that usually means one of the following: celebrities; universally-loved subject matter (think animals or children); sneak peeks of highly-anticipated products; or special access to a space the public can’t readily visit.
  • Immediate: Doing anything live is a challenge for many reasons. For example, it can be difficult to stay on message (without rehearsing beforehand), and the environment around you can interfere with the audio and visual. This means that whatever you’re shooting must be so timely that broadcasting it right now outweighs the benefits of polishing/editing the video and posting it to YouTube or Facebook later. The immediacy must also outweigh the considerably larger audiences that video-sharing platforms like Facebook and YouTube can deliver.

Even if you decide these tools aren’t for your brand, you’ll still need to be aware that they exist because they enhance the unprecedented level of transparency in our world.

It’s only a matter of time before someone uses Meerkat/Periscope to document a galling example of misbehavior from a public servant (think Ferguson protests), or poor customer service. These apps also increase the threat to privacy and sensitive corporate information (think of someone streaming from a hospital or inside the R&D center of an innovative company).

For anyone who is a parent, consider also the inevitability of these tools being used for “adult” content (currently Meerkat is rated for ages 12+; Periscope is rated ages 4+).

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