Ten months ago, the Hindustan Times began to focus on content creation through mobile journalism, looking at how it could adapt its newsroom using smartphone technology to source, produce and share stories in the most efficient way, while improving its audience engagement.
Although the use of shooting and editing apps was encouraged, a third of journalists in the newsroom found they struggled for time to produce video packages for social media alongside their day-to-day reporting.
As a result, the Indian publisher now has a new strategy to "just push the red button", asking its reporters to go live on Facebook for every story they do, finding it a quick and creative tool to engage with audiences, and a useful way to get footage back to the office where it can be re-packaged and uploaded for further use.
"We're doing a lot of Facebook Lives because we are seeing such incredible results," said Yusuf Omar, mobile editor, Hindustan Times, who noted the top three most-viewed videos on the publisher's Facebook page last week were all live, shot on smartphones.
"In the age of fake news, of not being able to tell what is and isn't real on your timeline, live video offers a really raw, authentic experience – and that is fundamentally what it's about," he said.
With 40 members of staff having direct access to the Hindustan Times Facebook account, Omar explained the mobile newsroom is constantly finding new ways to develop its practices, but has now established 10 core elements it believes form the perfect live stream.
1. Create suspense
Viewers stay tuned in to live streams for longer when they don't know what's going to happen next, explained Omar, so journalists need to work out creative ways of building suspense into their narrative, whether they are shooting a breaking news story or a less-dramatic feature piece.
"Can you create an atmosphere where even you, as the content creator going live, doesn't know what is going to happen next?" he said.
"That makes the most compelling Facebook Live – the reporter shouldn't know how and when that live is going to happen."
Of course, this is a challenging thing to do when you're not reporting on breaking news, but Omar noted that the audience can create that suspense themselves, by being given control of the live stream from the presenter, allowing them to tell them where to go, what to do, and what questions to ask any interviewees.
Can you create an atmosphere where even you, as the content creator going live, doesn't know what is going to happen next?Yusuf Omar, Hindustan Times
"You're forcing an engagement, you're forcing a conversation – that is what Facebook Lives are about, it's about putting the audience in control of determining where that story is going to go."
2. Be creative to boost engagement
"Anyone can go viral with something big happening, such as a guy climbing up Trump Tower, a car chase or a protest, those are the easy Facebook Lives," said Omar.
"The difficult ones are the ones where you go viral by virtue of your creativity, on something that isn't the big breaking news story of the day."
Omar explained that not only will this give your news organisation an opportunity to look at a story from a different angle than other news organisations, but you'll have more of an opportunity to personalise the content for specific audiences who can play the role of director within the stream.
For example, Hindustan Times were informed that a record number of flights were landing at Delhi airport, so instead of simply streaming the news from outside of the site, they showed the audience a flight tracker of real-time air traffic in their areas. The community then requested which cities around the world the presenter should check out.
3. Get out of the studio
"Every single Facebook Live that we did that has achieved over half a million views has been out in the field, it has never been in the office," Omar said.
"If you are talking about a film, be at the cinema, if you are talking about cricket, be at a cricket stadium – you are on mobile, you should act mobile, be mobile.
"You go out there and no matter what story it is, whether it's the most visually appealing or the most dull, you take it live."
He adds that in order to do this, his reporters ensure they have good internet connectivity at all time, whether that is making sure Wi-Fi connections are strong, carrying around a dongle, or ensuring that satellite connections won't cut out halfway through.
4. Change the format
"There is no reason why you need two anchors framed with their head and shoulders giving a report – you can be totally wild with a Facebook Live," Omar said.
Indeed, although the mobile newsroom has experimented with a range of formats, from Q&As and panel discussions to heavily produced streams with text and pre-recorded footage, the news organisation has found that the most successful Facebook Lives that it has produced over the last 10 months have all been singular phone, shaky, handheld, out in the field, nothing fancy – they often don't even use an external microphone.
"They just have a compelling story or situation – it speaks to a YouTube generation that have never been more forgiving of all the production elements, they don't need it to be crisp and perfect, what they actually want is authenticity."
5. Schedule your live streams
"Ideally, you should put out tweets and Facebook posts hours in advance to let people know you are going to go live," said Omar.
"When you go live, copy the Live's link and push it into that scheduled post – everyone who has liked and commented will get a notification saying the post has begun."
There is no reason why you need two anchors framed with their head and shoulders giving a report – you can be totally wild with a Facebook LiveYusuf Omar, Hindustan Times
He noted that he hasn't seen a fluctuation in engagement if multiple live streams are scheduled or broadcast at the same time, as different streams usually target different audiences.
6. Re-introduce and reset the stage
Omar explained that there is no problem with repeating yourself over and over again, because viewers join in at different points in the conversation, most likely after it has already begun and been shared and engaged with many times.
"Every couple of minutes, reintroduce what you are talking about, don't assume that the person watching it ten minutes in is the same person watching it 30 or 40 minutes in because it's not - retention is not high, the viewers come and go really quickly."
7. Add text to add value
"About 80 per cent of your audience are not listening to the audio on video, we've known this for a long time, but on a Facebook Live, 90 per cent are not listening to the audio," he said.
"Finish your Live, create an SRT file for your subtitles, add that onto your footage, and suddenly you've got subtitles on that video and you've added value to your story."
Additionally, Omar advises creating Facebook Lives that don't rely on sound, such as their so-called ‘whiteboard live’ around demonetisation when India issued new banknotes.
"There’s something so engaging about handwritten coverage and this time we got over 200K views by simply highlighting the 17 security features of the bills."
8. Don't worry about time
"If you look at our Facebook analytics, the best times for Facebook traffic is at 1pm and 9pm, but that doesn't matter – the most successful lives we've done have been at the most ridiculous times," he said.
In fact, the most-viewed live that Omar has been a part of was at 1am on a Saturday morning, where he interviewed people in a queue outside an ATM machine after India had decommission a range of banknotes.
"We found a dead spot where nobody else was publishing. Just ignore conventional wisdom – the longer the better, we say, if the content is engaging and the concurrent viewers keeps climbing."
9. Be cautious
With no checks in place or compulsory risk assessments to complete, Facebook Live has been used to broadcast anything from fun games with exploding watermelons, to serious crime such as murder and sexual assault.
But there are many risks that should be taken into account before a journalist decides to go live.
Omar advises journalists to see things for themselves first before they decide to broadcast it to the world, having made mistakes himself while reporting from South Africa.
"Xenophobic attacks and uprisings were happening targeting foreign nationals, so we went into a hostel where the police and the army suspected that men who had committed these attacks were living," he said.
"We stormed through and the army and police were ripping these people out of bed and searching them and I was in there sharing it live – I was showing people's faces that hadn't served their day in court, who were innocent until proven guilty and literally ripped out of bed and treated like suspects.
"Now I process what is happening first, narrate what I'm seeing, and then make an editorial decision about what I am going to show and what I am not going to show – there is nothing wrong with having a shot showing the ground or your feet."
"The most important thing about a Facebook Live is to share, and that has to happen during the live stream by the entire office, the presenter on air and your audience," said Omar.
He noted that audience engagement is driven harder by staff members continually feeding links into the comment section to other stories, so having a member of the team back in the office ready to respond to comments is a useful way of engaging with audiences, even when the presenter can't respond directly or give extra context.
"We can use Facebook for the enormous reach, the ability to get millions of people to watch our Lives, and then to migrate those audiences off to where you want them to be."
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