How to Love Facebook Live

To engage with Facebook Live, you're going to need to have a tolerance for testing and learning. But that said, you could make the experience more effective by being mindful of some lessons learned.

Brands have jumped on Facebook Live with a sense of urgency, and for understandable reasons. Facebook is not only the world’s largest social network, it’s also a media monster.

Both businesses and individual brands such as Robert Scoble are capitalizing on Facebook Live in a variety of ways, from showcasing new virtual reality technology to offering a behind-the-scenes tour of new exhibits at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Since Facebook Live became more widely available in April, I’m already seeing some big-time successes, but also failures, such as BuzzFeed‘s technology-marred interview with President Barack Obama. Here are some lessons to learn from how brands succeed with Facebook Live.

First, a public-service announcement is in order: It’s important to understand what Facebook Live is and is not. It is a rapidly changing media for sharing short-form video–and I mean rapidly changing. Features change quickly, and if you’re going to use it, you’ll need to stay on top of them.

It is certainly not a static platform, and neither is it perfect. To engage with Facebook Live, you’re going to need to have a tolerance for testing and learning. But that said, you could make the experience more effective by being mindful of some lessons learned.

Do what’s right for your brand and your audience

Facebook Live is like every other content format in one important respect: It’s best used to support your brand rather than to be a platform for randomly generated content. Don’t fall into the trap of using Facebook Live just because you can. Have a purpose. And that purpose starts with your brand, whether corporate or personal.

For instance, Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg and Metallica use Facebook Live in radically different ways. Sandberg uses Facebook Live as a thought leadership vehicle. She interviews luminaries ranging from Arianna Huffington to Gloria Steinem, oftentimes to support Sandberg’s own Lean In agenda. Metallica recently used Facebook Live to share a performance from Rasputin Records on Record Store Day, thus giving fans around the world a chance to watch the band live while simultaneously raising awareness for the value of independent record stores.

Both approaches work. Sandberg’s interviews are not particularly sophisticated from the standpoint of production values–she’s often simply sitting in an ordinary room having a conversation–but she keeps the focus on the exchange of ideas and relies on her own stature as Facebook’s COO to give audiences access to interesting people who we otherwise not meet. But Metallica is all about the performance and uses Facebook Live accordingly.

Mind the production values

Facebook Live doesn’t need to be a medium for slickly produced content. In fact, part of its charm is its organic, you-are-there vibe. But you still need to master the basics of production, most importantly adequate camera placement and sound. The BuzzFeed debacle with President Obama demonstrates painfully how a lapse in basic production values can create embarrassment:

BuzzFeedObamaFacebookLiveGlitch

For a Facebook Live interview, don’t let a smartphone become your A/V source. Find a resource who understands what kind of equipment you’ll need and ensure that you have a professional on hand to manage the live stream. Also, coach your participants on some of the basics of live streaming, such as addressing the camera.

Be social

One of the trickier aspects of Facebook Live is that you not only need to address viewers via the live stream, but you also need to be mindful of social comments being made on your wall in real-time. It’s especially important to mind the social interaction because questions and comments appear alongside your actual feed, well organized for all viewers to see.

Ideally, you should dedicate a team member to monitor the social feed, especially if you are live-streaming a presentation or question-and-answer session in which questions are expected. The dedicated team member would be responsible for moderating questions so that you are not distracted by looking at your own monitor or smartphone for questions or comments. You’re going to witness a wide range of comments–you don’t need to address them all, but be judicious about addressing remarks and responding. But do respond.

Guy Kawasaki and Scoble are particularly effective in responding to viewer comments, which is especially impressive because often they are flying solo, talking to viewers while watching for their remarks.

In fact, Kawasaki has used Facebook Live as a format explicitly to obtain audience feedback, such as when he recently purchased new audio-visual equipment, delivered a presentation from his home and invited viewers to critique the quality of the equipment he was using. In doing so, he got feedback from viewers, but also delivered something of value in return.

Create your own opportunities

By now, you know that Candace Payne, a Dallas-area Kohl’s customer, created the most widely viewed Facebook Live video ever, consisting of her laughing hysterically as she tried on a Chewbacca mask in a Kohl’s parking lot. Kohl’s wisely seized the moment by creating its own Facebook Live video of Kohl’s employees showing up at Payne’s home to present her and her family with free Kohl’s merchandise. Kohl’s has enjoyed strong brand lift by creating its own moment.

But here’s the thing: What worked for Kohl’s probably won’t work for you. If you simply imitate the Kohl’s approach by trying to find your own “Chewbacca Mom” moment, you are just chasing someone else’s tail. Try to avoid the temptation to create a Chewbacca Mom moment. Your audience will detect a cheap imitation.

Facebook Live is an exciting platform and opportunity for you to build your brand. Especially as Facebook becomes a media giant, you owe it to yourself to consider its value and relevance to your brand.

Jay Hawkinson is a digital marketing professional with 20 years of sales, marketing and merchandising experience including organic search optimization, paid search advertising, local search, mobile and social media. Jay joined SIM Partners in 2006 as an equity partner and currently oversees mobile, social media and emerging technology as senior vice president of client success.