This article by Kim Garst is part of our Blogtober event, which features blog posts written by industry influencers in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

It feels like live-streaming apps, such as Periscope and Meerkat, have been around much longer than just 6 months. While live video has been around for many years, these apps have brought live-streaming into the limelight.

In just a few short months, Periscope alone has accumulated over 15 million registered users. While this may seem like a drop in the bucket compared to Facebook’s 1 billion users, consider this: 12 months after Mark Zuckerberg registered thefacebook.com, they had just over 1 million users registered. True, that was a different time—all we knew of social media back then was MySpace.

Still, consider how quickly a much newer network has grown: Launched in October 2010, Instagram reached the 1 million user mark in just 2.5 months. It reached 10 million users in one year.  Periscope took just 5 months to reach 10 million users.

The trajectory Periscope is on is incredible. Remember, too, that these numbers are just for Periscope, not live-streaming apps as a whole. If Periscope has already reached 15 million users, you can imagine the total number of users of all live-streaming apps in 2016 and beyond.

A Brief History of Live-Streaming

Live-streaming isn’t new; in fact, it’s been around in one form or another since the 1990s. Sites like Ustream and Livestream have been around for years and offer many of the same functions as Periscope and Meerkat.

This isn’t even Meerkat founder Ben Rubin’s first foray into live-streaming. Rubin first entered the live-streaming market in 2013 with an app called Yevvo, which he shut down shortly after reaching the 300,000 user mark. In its place he launched Air, another live-streaming app that offered the ability to broadcast privately, rather than to the general public. While Air still exists, it certainly hasn’t reached the level of notoriety of its sister app, Meerkat.

So what’s different now? Why did these similar apps not quite make it into the mainstream just a year or two ago, while Periscope and Meerkat have taken off at breakneck speed? One possible reason is the perfect storm of technology and accessibility. 

Never before have we experienced the perfect overlap of smartphone technology and the existence of social networking sites. It makes live streaming almost effortless. The prevalence of high-quality smartphones with front-facing cameras have made it possible for users to shoot excellent live video from virtually anywhere. And the integration of Periscope with Twitter has almost guaranteed a built-in audience for users—at least for those users who are already on Twitter.

This overlap seems to have laid the groundwork for live streaming to explode in popularity after so many years of trying. In a New York Times interview, Chris Sacca, founder and chairman of Lowercase Capital and an early investor in Twitter, summed it up perfectly: “All of a sudden, the world’s pockets are full of good cameras and good screens with good data plans and good social platforms to let everyone know you’re broadcasting.”

But what is it about live-streaming that’s so appealing to people? Even with the convergence of technology and accessibility, there must be something more. How has it gained such incredible momentum in such a short period of time? To answer these questions, we need to look at the unique benefits and challenges that come with live-streaming.

Benefit: It humanizes people and brands in a way images and recorded video can’t.

Facebook seems to be a place where people share only their best, most polished moments. Images are cropped, edited, and perfected before being uploaded, and 36 per cent of people admit they alter their selfies. Only the best and most enviable moments of life are shared, giving the illusion that what’s shared on social media is a glimpse into what a user’s life is actually like.

Live-streaming, on the other hand, doesn’t allow for editing or “cherry picking” the best parts. What you see is what you get, and there are no second takes. I think, as a culture, we’re ready for a bit of reality! We want to know that the people we’re watching “behind the screen” are real. That they aren’t perfect, just like the rest of us.

Benefit: It allows us to participate in something bigger than ourselves.

To illustrate this example, a three recent history-making live streams come to mind, and they’re all from a rather unexpected source: NASA. Typically when I write and talk about social media, NASA doesn’t factor into the conversation. But the administration has become a live-streaming powerhouse:

  • The July 14 live stream of New Horizons passing Pluto
  • The September 27 live broadcast of the supermoon (blood moon)
  • The September 28 announcement that Mars has the potential to become habitable
     


In the past, we read about or watched these events after they happened. There was a certain sense of community knowing that millions of people had read about or watched the same announcements or events. But actually watching, participating in, and taking part in history at the precise moment it happens, at the same time as rest of the world? Now that’s a global community.

Benefit: It provides an unprecedented opportunity for a business to engage with its audience.

Each social networking site provides a slightly different opportunity for business owners. Take Twitter, for example. It has been described as the RSS feed of social networking, the network for sharing breaking news, and the best network for sharing micro-content. The benefits of using the platform for business are huge, including instant marketing, reputation management, and customer service, to name just a few.

What makes live broadcasting unique from a business perspective? It humanizes a brand in a way images and recorded video can’t. But what does this look like in actual practice? Here are some of the unique ways businesses are leveraging live streaming to connect with their customers and prospects:

  • Behind-the-scenes videos
  • Broadcasting live from events like conferences, tradeshows, or speaking engagements
  • Product tutorials or demonstrations
  • Live Q&A sessions
  • Sharing breaking news as it happens
  • Flash sales
  • Live customer support


Challenge: It’s forcing us to confront unique privacy and safety issues.

Live-streaming may be the next big thing in social networking, but it doesn’t come without its own unique challenges. For instance, companies that live stream in public places and at events will often inadvertently show others in the broadcast. Does your company need permission from people who appear in your live broadcasts? While broadcasting someone in a private setting may be illegal, the law is trickier when it comes to public broadcasts. According to CBS News legal analyst Rikki Klieman, "If someone wants to go streaming you live scratching your ear or snoring, that may be just too bad… We have this idea that, even when we're in a public place, that somehow no one is watching, or if they're watching, they're certainly not broadcasting. Not so anymore."

There have also been reports of bullying and sexual harassment on Periscope. Beyond keeping broadcasts private, there isn’t much users can do currently to protect themselves from unwanted attention. As a company, make sure you have a strategy and clear policies, as well as a full understanding of applicable laws, when it comes to live-streaming and using these apps.

Conclusion

As someone who has been using Periscope religiously since the day it was launched, I’ve experienced firsthand the benefits that can come from live streaming. It feels as if we’re on the cusp of a new era of social media: A time when anyone, anywhere can broadcast live and receive nearly instantaneous feedback.

While live-streaming isn’t without its challenges, I see the benefits outweighing the potential negatives. The question at this point isn’t if live-streaming is going to stick around, but rather which apps are going to claim the market share, and how they’re going to keep live-streaming safe and effective for all users.

Kim Garst is a social selling pro, best-selling author, and the co-founder and CEO of Boom! Social, a social selling training and consulting firm. If you would like to start live streaming, grab her Periscope Jumpstart Guide to get started quickly. You can find her on Twitter at @kimgarst.

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