Almost as soon as something exciting and new emerges—a TV show, an artist, a news story and, yes, a new app or platform—marketers are quicker than ever to get in on the action to not only to be where the people are, but to also gain what cachet they can for being an early adopter, and to channel relevant lessons from the Latest Thing into their communications repertoire. We've seen it with Instagram, Vine, and Snapchat, and over the last week we've started to see it with the much-discussed live-stream video app Meerkat.
Born as a side project at live-stream startup Life On Air Inc., the new app shot to the top of tech discovery and evaluation platform Product Hunt within days of its release and has subsequently earned voluminous and positive media coverage over the last week. Meerkat, a social app that combines the existing audience of Twitter and the ephemeral nature of Snapchat, with the immediacy of live-stream video was bound to turn heads. Through Twitter, users can live-stream video to followers, who can comment onscreen, but content vanishes a la Snapchat once the video is done, unless saved to the user's phone. More importantly for brands and media, users are also able to schedule upcoming live streams, giving Twitter followers a heads-up and bringing some oh-so precious appointment viewing to social media. It's not the first live-stream platform for smartphones, but it's Meerkat's smooth simplicity that's getting people—and early adopting brands—excited.
Meerkat CEO and co-founder Ben Rubin tells us that the company was thinking of brands when it created the scheduling feature and also notes that the fact the experience lives within Twitter is perfectly tailored for marketers. "I think what helps brands here is the fact they don’t need to cultivate their own identity on the platform, it just allows them to live stream from their Twitter account," says Rubin. "It makes it easy for the people making those marketing decisions to jump quickly into the platform because they don’t have to worry about a whole new profile to maintain and cultivate."
Barely more than a week since it launched brands have already dipped their toes in the Meerkat pool, including Starbucks, Perrier, Spotify, Everlane, and Bonobos's AYR brand. David McGillivray, design and creative lead for AYR, says brands should be excited for how Meerkat builds on the connection and conversations Twitter has facilitated between brands and audiences. "Meerkat makes that immediacy feel even more real—there's nothing quite like knowing that what you're watching is happening, possibly across the other side of the country, or world, unedited before your eyes—anything could happen," says McGillivray. "There's a unique rawness to that you don't see across other social networks. All our photos on Instagram are staged; we spend time editing and re-editing our tweets for maximum effect. But with live video, you simply don't have the ability to do that. And there's something very powerful about that mix of vulnerability and honesty."
Agency 360i's vice-president of strategy/social marketing Orli LeWinter says the agency has been tinkering with live streaming for a while, working with a number of platforms and vendors including Justin.tv, Kyte, and even Google Hangouts to tap live video streaming for clients, but there have been too many barriers and hiccups preventing it from hitting the mainstream. "Live streaming has been an elusive tactic for many years—something we've felt for a long time should be easier to accomplish than it actually is," says LeWinter. "Invariably it has been extremely challenging to execute logistically, and also extremely buggy for viewers on the other end. To that end, there is a huge appetite and opportunity for the mechanics behind live video to be simplified and streamlined, and it's really exciting that someone may have actually cracked it with Meerkat."
Everlane head of social Red Gaskell says Meerkat allows the brand to offer full transparency to its consumers. "We're able to give an inside look into our meetings, behind the scenes footage from our shoots and plan to to take this further with factory tours," says Gaskell. "Since we joined last week, we have hundreds of followers and see a ton of engagement from our followers on Twitter."
But with its added potential comes a new challenge for marketers, says 360i Vice President of Innovation Technology Layne Harris. "The addition of live streaming video on social ups the ante for brands and marketers, challenging us to rethink our approach when it comes to engaging with consumers in ways we have never done before," says Harris. "Legal issues, moderation, coordination, and talent are all concerns when it comes to live content, but the payoff could be huge when done well."