If you have a phone, you can bring the world to Scotland. Live broadcasting is an increasingly popular platform that gives you an immediate, personal link to a potentially large and international audience, yet relatively few in the heritage industry have given it a try. I understand why – it’s perhaps the most intimidating type of social media, because you’re putting yourself on the line in real time. In my experience, however, it is perhaps the most effective way to substantively engage with people through social media. Here I’ll share some of the things I’ve learned from doing it so far.
Live broadcasting, in my case through Periscope (linked with Twitter), is now a standard part of the package that I offer heritage organisations when participating in campaigns. The audience size for live broadcasts can be somewhat unpredictable, but when a video gets featured on an app’s main page – which happened recently at Ardrossan Castle while promoting Dig It! 2017’s ‘Scotland in Six Hidden Gems’ campaign – it can be game-changing. Getting featured is actually very accessible, and there’s a definite element of random luck. We’ve got an advantage, though. What I’ve observed is a huge appetite for all things historic (and especially all things Scottish and historic!) with many of my videos having in excess of 20,000 views and some well over 100,000, even when I only had two hundred or so followers.
I’ve been at it for a little over a year, with one false start and a few breaks. In that time I’ve built up one of the largest history-themed live broadcasting accounts in Britain. I didn’t imagine that would happen when I started – why it did, I think, comes down in part to my enthusiasm for the subject, the fact that I treat viewers like friends, and that I am lucky enough to be able to broadcast regularly from cool historic sites like castles, standing stone circles and historic cities and towns.
In that spirit, here are my tips for anyone considering incorporating live broadcasting into their social media toolkit:
- It’s absolutely fine if you are nervous during your first few broadcasts – I sure was! People do not want flawlessly executed, BBC documentary-style commentary and are much more forgiving than you’d think. Audiences enjoy the personal touch, and laughing or being a bit self-deprecating when you stumble over your words or when you don’t know the answer to a question will increase audience engagement, not drive it away. It gives your broadcasts personality, and crucially it makes the process participatory; you’ll find that people laugh with you, not at you, and that forms a bond that brings people back again and again.
- Speaking of answering questions, try to address as many as you can but don’t feel beholden to them if you need to tell a story. Regularly addressing members of the audience directly and acknowledging inquiries and observations makes it feel a lot less like they’re at a lecture and more like they’re on a tour with a friend. On that note, and I know this can be scary, make sure at that at least once during a broadcast that you turn the camera around and say hello! Audiences want to meet you, the person showing them this cool thing, even if just for a minute.
- Be prepared to block a few trolls. While the vast majority of viewers will be engaged and genuinely invested in your broadcast, every now and then someone shows up and rocks the boat. Don’t panic – I generally let people know I’m on the case of vanquishing the troll (you can block them from within a broadcast which immediately stops them from commenting further or watching your broadcasts again). Viewers, especially regulars, will get on your team to help you root out the baddies.
- Not everything needs to directly relate to the subject matter. In fact, it’s best if it doesn’t. Remark on beautiful (or dismal) weather, get sidetracked by unexpected opportunities or views…basically, take it in stride like you would in a conversation.
- Especially when starting out, but as a general rule, talks and seminars almost never work. Why? There’s no interaction between audience and broadcaster, and that totally defeats the point of live broadcasting! Try this only once you have an established audience, and even then sparingly at most.
- If people are enjoying your broadcast then they’ll want to know where they can see more of you or your organisation. Don’t hesitate to shamelessly promote a project, share links and other sources of information, or to tell people where they can go to get involved. I usually do this when I turn the camera around and am chatting with the audience face-to-face, and I try to limit such content to around a minute or two. Go on much longer and inevitably you will see a drop-off in viewers, but that’s just the reality of promotion regardless of the medium. You’ll find that live broadcasting is also really good for gaining more followers on other social media platforms, as many viewers follow the ones they like across the board.
I would love to see more heritage organisations doing this, so hopefully this guide is a nudge in the right direction if you’re wondering what your next social media step should be. I’m happy to help and answer any questions, so please do get in touch!