Why Facebook Live can work so well for #HigherEd institutions

May 30th, 2017 Karine Joly 2 Comments

I’m republishing on this blog the unedited and longer version of my column published in University Business to make sure you don’t miss it.

Going live with Facebook Live

Social media video FTW!

There’s no doubt video is a winning format online.

Whether it’s an animated GIF on Twitter, a super short looping video on Instagram, an ephemeral Snapchat Story or a soundless video auto playing in your Facebook feed, moving pictures have taken over most social media platforms. Human brains have always been wired to focus on things in motion. Whether we’re chased by a dangerous predator in the Savannah or we’re hunting for our next dinner online, we’ll always notice – often at an unconscious level as demonstrated by neuromarketing studies – what’s moving.

While videos have the power to grab attention, bad videos won’t keep it for very long though – especially when millions of them are competing for it. Today, the fight for attention has become THE battle of every moment online. On the first lines of this battlefield, more and more social media platforms have decided to follow the giant footprints left by Google and YouTube with more and more videos – live whenever possible.

Why live works so well?

The live video formula has been used, improved and over used by cable or network TV for several decades. Something makes it addictive – which is why Facebook, Twitter and the likes have been so interested in the format. If it can help social media platforms keep the world’s attention even longer, it will ultimately let them sells more ads — and make more money.

The interest for live videos across platforms has accelerated over the past few months with a series of new developments.

  • Instagram launched live video in Instagram Stories – an upgrade to the ephemeral format it borrowed from Snapchat.
  • Periscope live capabilities have been integrated into Twitter mobile app while the Periscope Producer Live API has been launched to enable live streaming to Twitter with professional equipment.
  • Facebook has also introduced several new options to live stream from the desktop as well as the option to live stream 360 videos.

As social media platforms have gotten out of their mobile-only phase to woe major video publishers, it’s now possible to share a live stream in more places via the newly available live video APIs.

Facebook News Algorithm loves live videos!

In higher education, live streaming isn’t anything new. From commencement ceremonies to sports games or lecture series, many institutions have been live streaming events for a long time.

What’s new however is the extra push Facebook algorithm gives to live videos in its news feed, as confirmed by Vibhi Kant, Product Manager at Facebook in a March 2017 blog post. The algorithm was updated to make sure Facebook Live videos are “more likely to appear higher in News Feed” when they are live, resulting automatically in increased reach.

Matt Hames, Marketing Communications Strategist at Colgate University, witnessed the impact of this update when his school streamed live U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s guest lecture on March 24. The 100-minute live video reached close to 600K people on Facebook and resulted in more than 33K video views and 3.5K engagement touchpoints (reactions, comments or shares).

Joe Biden at Colgate University

While the speaker featured in this Facebook Live definitely played a huge part in the success of this video, the network effect made it a blockbuster for Colgate University.

Live videos, live interactions

What makes social live videos such potential hits is the opportunity they offer for real-time interactions. Whether viewers send hearts, likes and other reactions or post comments and questions for the people on camera, a social media live video make people feel as if they can be part of the fun. “Even if there’s not someone to interact with directly, you can still get some great comments and engagement using livestreaming,” explains Tiffany Broadbent, Director of Digital Marketing for University Advancement at William & Mary. With the right combination of audience interest and event opportunities, social media live videos can get surprising results.

At W&M, the most successful Facebook live video so far has been a 1-hour long video of the annual Yule Log Celebration (https://business.facebook.com/williamandmary/videos/10157856947350006/).

This live stream resulted in 19K video views and more than 1300 engagement touch points. Live streaming a campus tradition is a safe bet on social media, because it can resonate with different groups of constituents: alums, current students, families and even prospective students.

Next best thing after being there

But, beyond the algorithm effect and the increased social interactions, social media live videos can also help reach target audiences where they are. At Cape Breton University located on a Nova Scotian Island in Canada, the admissions office hosted its first Facebook Live for prospective students in February 2017.

“We used it to address a larger problem that was happening at the time: a labour disruption in the Nova Scotia Teachers’ Union,” explains Paige Westbury, Social Media and Digital Content Specialist at CBU (and an alum of my 8-week professional certificate course on social media marketing for higher ed).

Since the usual in-school presentations and recruitment sessions couldn’t take place, the office decided to experiment with Facebook Live. The 24-minute live video featuring 2 enrollment professionals on a stage in front of a big screen was viewed more than 1.3K times, resulted in great engagement and addressed a few admissions questions from the live audience.

Facebook Live? Not for everybody

Social media live video has a lot of potential for higher education. Yet, not everybody is a convert.

“We have been planning and looking at opportunities for Facebook Live, but we just haven’t had the resources or time yet to pull the trigger,” says Tyler Thomas, Social Media & Content Manager at University of Nebraska Lincoln. Same reluctance at West Virginia University even though social media videos – the well-produced & short kind – are now at the core of its social media content strategy. “Here at WVU, we will almost always lean on an after-event video, because we like the idea of a shorter and better-edited video than a live stream,” says Tony Dobies, Director of Social Media.

It’s still very early to say whether or not social media live videos can make a difference for your school. But, it’s definitely the right time to experiment with the format.

Have you tried Facebook Live at your school?

Tell us in the comments below whether or not the format worked for you — and share a link so we can all check out how you’ve used Facebook Live!

2 Responses

  1. Hi. Back in January we used Facebook Live as a way for our president, David Wippman, to present his annual message. It replaced a State of the College letter we normally send, though we still did provide a full transcript of the talk.

    President Wippman was interviewed by a student, and they fielded questions during the live event and in advance through a Google form.


    We had good reach, and solid engagement throughout.

  2. Seth Meranda says:

    At Concordia University, Nebraska, we leveraged Facebook Live for a fundraising effort. The live event went for over an hour and involved a team walking around our campus smashing pies into the face of professors for every $100 donation that was received during the hour (it was part of a Day of Giving). The culmination was a pie in the face of our president. We had 7,700 views and reached over 26,000. Those are large numbers for us, and schools of our size. https://www.facebook.com/concordianebraska/videos/10154790112198110/

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