Live-streaming has become the thing to do on social media, whether you're using video to share your thoughts with friends or the entire world. You’ve probably seen some notifications that a friend is live-streaming — or watched the live stream itself on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others. But if you haven't yet dipped your toe into the new format, we've provided you with a handy guide.
The good news is that live-streaming is easy, especially since we're all carrying around cameras in our smartphones. Things can get tricky, however, when you're trying to pick which service to use. Different companies with mobile streaming options have different characteristics. What may work for one person may not work for another, and a live-streaming experience that doesn't work may frustrate you so much that you swear off the whole thing.
That's why we're here to help.
Before we dive into some of the major live-stream platforms, there are some tips that are always good to follow. With the help of Jason Aldag, a video editor at The Washington Post, we came up with the following:
- Make sure the brightest source of light is behind the camera. If you're filming yourself, that means the light should be in front of you. If you're filming something or someone else, it should be at your back.
- Don't move the camera. Keep as steady a hand as possible to keep your viewers happy.
- Be aware of background noise, particularly in an interview.
- Remember that your phone is filming. It's surprisingly easy to forget you're broadcasting every moment. Don't let muscle memory send your viewers looking at the floor while you browser their comments on screen. Don't get distracted by your notifications.
- Stay charged and try to have a good connection. People are willing to forgive live mistakes, but it's still best to avoid unexpected blackouts.
With some basics under your belt, here's a rundown of the major platforms and some GIFs that show you how they work.
Best for: Those aiming for Internet stardom by reaching a broad audience of strangers.
Why is that? YouTube doesn't ask you to make an account to view something, which is a plus for viewers and creators. YouTube just rolled out its mobile live-streaming option last week, and right now it is only open to people with more than 10,000 followers. But it should roll out to everyone later this year. When it does, it could end up being a great live soapbox.
One good tip: The fact that YouTube is opening this first to established creators indicates that it probably thinks it will be most useful for people who want to build a following online. If you want to make money off YouTube streaming, be consistent. YouTube channels that don't keep to a schedule tend to burn out faster.
Best for: People with a strong following on Facebook.
Why that is: Live Facebook broadcasts can reach people on and off the network — and arguably give the most people the biggest potential audience of any live-streaming service right now. But you'll have the best chance of reaching people who are set up to get notifications when you go live, a.k.a. the people who are already following you. You can stream for up to four hours.
One good tip: Respond to your comments from the live-stream video rather than typing in your responses. This a good tip for all live-streaming, but particularly on Facebook where you're probably reaching an audience that's already interested in what you're saying and wants to have a conversation about it.
Best for: Trying to show your friends and followers something cool right at that moment.
Why that is: Instagram Live videos can last up to an hour and are not saved — once you're done broadcasting, they're gone. That can add to the fun and spontaneity of a broadcast, and give them a friendly and exceptionally informal feel.
One good tip: Don't use it for something you'll want video of later.
Best for: Sharing an experience with your followers.
Why that is: Twitter, via Periscope, was the first main social media network to embrace live-streaming — and it retains its early, experimental feel. People expect Twitter, and by extension Periscope, to be a little loose and informal. That makes it a great platform for sharing first-person, on-the-ground events that you can then go back and relive.
One — actually, two — good tips: You can also live-stream straight from the Twitter app by hitting the “Live” button that appears when you make a new tweet. And it's particularly important on Twitter — which moves fast — to let people know by tweeting a few times that you're going to go live before you actually start recording. That gives you a better shot at building an audience.
Best for: One-to-one conversations.
Why that is: In terms of true live-streaming, Snapchat only lets you go live to one user — it's basically a live video chat. Your friends have the option to either “Watch” your live stream — that is, see your broadcast but only chat through text — or “Join” you, which functions more like an ongoing video chat.
You can simulate a true live stream by uploading several clips to your account's “Story,” which can then be seen by your followers. This is how a doctor in the U.K. “streamed” himself removing a tumor from a patient's colon while wearing Snapchat Spectacles — by joining together 10-second clips.
One good tip: Sometimes Snapchat does have “Live” events that anyone may contribute to, as long as they're in the area. You'll need to have location services and filters turned on to participate. If you do, you can contribute clips to an option that says “Our Story,” which then may be put in a bigger compilation of clips from an event.