Exposure. Engagement. Interaction. Trolls calling you horrible things in real time. You can have all of these buzzwords and more through the magic of live streaming over the Internet!
It’s not all that bad, actually. In a world where video has become increasingly dominant online, more and more people are going one step further by consuming their video live. It’s kind of like television, only it’s easier to find stuff that’s relevant to your most obscure and eccentric tastes. Want to watch someone categorize feathers? There’s probably a stream for that. Want to watch kittens just doing their thing all day long? There are a bunch of streams for that, and at the risk of losing you all forever, here’s one of them.
The benefit for any business or Internet venture is that streaming allows you to find and interact with your most passionate fans and/or customers. It has some utility as a place to advertise, and as a direct source of revenue; but it’s probably best if you think of live streaming as a community-building tool. No one wants to watch a stream that’s all ads, unless it’s E3.
So should you be streaming? If you have something interesting to share on a regular basis, if you have the time and resources to stream online, and if your customers generally have the resources to watch online streams, yes. Why not? You can always save the footage to post it on your YouTube channel, later. Here’s how to get started:
1. Choose Your Topic
So what are you going to discuss on your stream? What are you going to showcase? A woodworking business might show off their process for different pieces they build. A web designer might review other people’s websites. You do not want to just go live and wing it. Even if it’s not scripted, you need a plan. Even an outline of notes on things you want to talk about that day can do the trick.
Are you going to discuss your industry as a whole? Talk about industry news? Or are you going to focus on one specific part of your field of interest? Knowing what you want to share will affect basically every other decision you make. Finding out what viewers actually want to watch will change everything, too.
2. Choose Your Format
Many streams just have one person sitting down to talk about stuff they like. Others have two or more discussing things panel-style. These two formats are by far the easiest and cheapest to produce. More complex formats with sketches, graphics packages, or what-have-you are generally best left to professionals.
Another popular (and fairly easy) format is to just live stream yourself working. This is especially popular with creative work, and yes, coding counts.
3. Choose Your Host/Presenter
Not everyone is made for public speaking or live streaming. I’ve done both a fair bit, and I still get nervous and choke out my words half the time. It’s a skill that takes time and effort to master. If you have anyone in your organization who already has experience with public speaking, you’re in luck.
If you don’t, you’ll want to start practicing right about now. I’ve noticed that people usually don’t expect you to be orator levels of smooth. You can “ummm” and “ahhhh” a bit, but you still want to practice.
4. Graphical Assets
You can start without these, but eventually you’ll want to produce some graphical assets for your stream. These include things like:
- Avatars and banners for your streaming platform of choice;
- Standby graphics for when your stream is just starting, ending, or for when you need a minutes-long break;
- Graphical overlays to show extra information, or just to add a bit of personality and flavor to your stream.
If you don’t want to make these yourself, you can download some free or premium graphical assets to use. Sites like Twitch Overlay usually have a bit of both.
5. Get a Stream Director (Maybe)
Many streams are a one-person show, and they have to do everything. It’s stressful and it’s a pain, but it is doable. However, if you have others working with you, it can help to have one person working the streaming equipment and software. If your streaming setup is any more complicated than a webcam and a microphone, you’ll almost certainly need someone for this.
They can switch cameras, activate and deactivate the graphics at appropriate times, perhaps even trigger sound effects. Having an extra person around always makes streaming a bit easier. It can get real lonely when you have to do everything yourself.
6. Get a Moderator (Always)
Depending on your resources, this person may or may not also be the stream director. In short, the Internet is a wonderful place that can sometimes quickly turn horrible. As your stream grows its audience, you’ll need a moderator to keep the peace in your chat room (all the major streaming services have at least one per stream). Even if your viewers are all the nicest people on Earth, you’ll need someone to sort through the large volume of information and pick out the most relevant questions and comments.
7. Choose Your Platform
Now you really should decide where you want to stream, exactly. The platform you choose should be convenient enough for you, and relevant to your audience. Here are a few of the options:
Twitch is mostly for gaming, but has also has categories for creative content. It’s also probably the world’s biggest streaming platform, so there’s a lot of potential viewers there, and a lot of potential competition.
Then there are the social streaming platforms. Facebook actually has pretty solid streaming capabilities, and works with professional streaming apps like OBS. Instagram has integrated streaming, and Periscope integrates very closely with Twitter. These are intended for more personal streams, though, which are usually broadcast via phone. But hey, if you already have a large social media audience, you should consider these options.
YouTube offers a fairly robust platform, and you can stream just about anything you want, under any topic. As a bonus, all streams get saved to your YouTube channel.
8. Set a Schedule
Once you’ve tried live streaming a few times, and have gotten a feel for how much it costs you in terms of money, time, and effort to create a stream you’re proud of, it’s time to come up with a schedule. You shouldn’t stream if you have nothing to show off, share, or say, so it’s alright to have a bit of a slow-paced schedule, so long as it’s fairly regular.
You should also advertise your stream via social media (and perhaps via your email list) well before you go live, and you should do it every time. This will help people get a sense of when you’re live, so they can plan accordingly.
Bonus Tip: Be Ready to Suck at It
“Dude, sucking at something is the first step towards being sort of good at something.”
Jake the Dog is right, of course. Streaming is a commitment, and it’s not easy. And chances are good that if you haven’t done it before, you’ll be terrible. But if you can stick with it, the communities built around streams can be tight-knit, loyal, and even incredibly helpful. So give it a shot, and find out if streaming is right for you.