What you need to know to get started with Facebook Live

by Shaheryar Popalzai
Oct 30, 2018 in Social Media

Up until 2015, a news organization livestream mostly consisted of running a feed of their video content on their websites. Generally speaking, livestreaming equipment was considered costly. But Facebook Live changed that, making it easy for anyone to stream anything they wanted using just their cellphones and a decent internet connection.

How does that help news organizations? For starters, it helps them reach a wider audience with little to no cost. If you manage a newsroom, you can now have your reporters out in the field, broadcasting breaking news and special events live on location.

Since June, I’ve been working with Geo News to make Facebook Live a regular part of their workflow. They were the first newsroom in Pakistan to create regular studio content using this tool. I am also working with other media partners, including The Express Tribune, on how they can best use Facebook Live and add value to their videos by giving viewers more context.

Based on my experience so far, here are some things to consider when journalists first start using Facebook Live:

Find a location where the internet works

Make sure you test your internet connection when you pick a location. You don’t want to lose viewers because your live video is buggy or keeps dropping. Do a test run on Facebook Live by connecting through your personal Facebook profile. Most users can now access the service that way, but if you can’t, you can always create a page where you can regularly test your connection.

If you’re indoors, make sure your IT department has set up a decent enough connection. In some cases, there might be a quiet corner of the office with especially strong internet. That’s where you want to shoot your Facebook Live session.

Decent internet can range from anything from a 5MB connection to a 10MB dedicated connection. If you’re broadcasting from your phone, you’ll be okay with a 3G or 4G connection.

Content and engagement

Always plan ahead. Don’t just randomly start broadcasting; think about what your viewers want and what they care about. This will change depending on the story. For example, when we broadcasted one of Pakistan’s most prominent religious processions, we didn’t just start recording in a crowd — we found a spot where we’d have decent audio and where we could show viewers a bird's-eye perspective. The Express Tribune took a different approach for a Facebook Live video on cricket, where the emphasis was on analysis of the game.

Another quick tip: avoid broadcasting for hours at a time, as people bounce off those videos quick. A front camera video showing a reporter talking for an hour is a surefire way to lose viewers (unless it is a breaking news situation). Try to have at least two people in your video, with one person engaging directly with viewer comments. Engagement is important, and Facebook Live does wonders with it.

A good caption will also help draw in viewers. Don’t go with captions like  “Live,” “Live now,” “From the studio” or “Breaking news.” Be clear about what you’re broadcasting. In The Express Tribune’s cricket story, for example, we made sure our caption described exactly what our story was about.

Invest in good equipment

Whether you’re shooting indoors or outdoors, you don’t want shaky video, bad light or poor audio. Invest in a tripod with a cellphone mount for both indoor and outdoor shoots — you can get a cellphone mount for as low as US$2. If you think you’ll have lots of moving shots, get a stabilizer so you don’t end up with shaky video. Something like the DJI Osmo is a little pricey (US$569 on Amazon) but gets the job done.

Audio has so far been one of Facebook Live's weakest points. I would recommend investing in audio equipment that works well for both indoor and outdoor shoots. You can either get a mic that plugs directly into your phone, or an interface for your phone that helps connect more than one mic. Something like the Zoom iQ5 (available for US$69.99) microphone works great for both outdoor and indoor shoots, and will keep you from worrying about needing enough mics for more than one person on camera. In general, if you already have a smartphone and want to start broadcasting with the equipment mentioned above, it’ll cost you around US$640 total.  

Lights and a basic set for indoor shoots are also helpful. Like bad audio, a dull, colorless video can throw viewers off. Just a pair of studio lights are enough for an indoor shoot. Any generic studio lights will work; just make sure they’re well positioned. If you already have a smartphone and are setting up a studio to do Facebook Live videos, expect to spend as little as US$50 on studio lighting.

Consider broadcasting software

Software like OBS (which is free) and Wirecast (which starts at US$496 after a free trial) work great if you want to use Facebook Live with a multi-camera setup or if you want to incorporate content like images, video or web streams into your video.

Broadcasting software could also be a good investment if you’re reporting on a multi-location event and you want to be able to switch scenes — or dial in a reporter or guest for your live video.

Not just for broadcasting

Facebook Live is also a great newsgathering tool. You can always head to Facebook’s Live Map during major news events and look for video related to whatever you’re reporting on. One example is the Turkish coup attempt, when there were more than 50 Facebook Live videos being broadcast at the time. Those videos helped give a good on-the-ground perspective.

Shaheryar Popalzai is a digital journalist based in Pakistan and a co-founder of Hacks/Hackers Pakistan. Learn more about his work as an ICFJ Knight Fellow here

Main image of Geo News courtesy of Shaheryar Popalzai.