Better Late Than Never: Twitter Finally Jumps on the Livestream Bandwagon

Government social media experts are hopeful it will mean more eyes on their material.

by / December 14, 2016

Twitter, the beloved but questionably endangered microblogging site, has finally launched live video streaming by embedding Periscope into its mobile app — a move that is significant for anyone who makes a living managing social media platforms.

Take, for example, the balancing act that comes when an organization wants to share a live news event but has followers spread to the four corners of the social media kingdom. Up until now, you could stream it on Facebook and catch a few views, stream it on YouTube and hope the press releases you sent out were enough to lure viewers who won’t wander off to cat videos, or take your chances and hope Periscope would get some eyes on whatever is happening.

So this move by Twitter really does change things, explained Nashville, Tenn.’s social media expert Chris Weidel. From her perspective in the mayor’s office, the platform upgrade signals a new way to consolidate viewers and get more eyes on important city events.

Despite already having the ability to stream through Periscope — which was launched by Twitter in 2015 — Weidel said the city's streams were not meeting expectations as far as viewership was concerned.

“I think regardless of how much we promoted in advance, it would really only be people who had already downloaded it or already had accounts," she said. "We didn’t really see people who weren’t already on Periscope joining because we were streaming from it."

So tying the two channels into one cohesive tool, while also allowing them to remain their own freestanding platforms, means the struggle to pick the right social venue for each job just became a little simpler.

“Some events we really like to live tweet, so that people that might be at work during the daytime can see the text of what the mayor is saying if it’s for an important press conference or something," Weidel said. "But for events, like we recently lit our downtown holiday Christmas tree, that would have been a really great event if we could have pushed it because it was so much more visual."

And those in the public safety arena agree. Capt. Chris Hsiung manages social feeds for California’s Mountain View Police Department and sees it as a more direct route to the people he needs to connect with during crisis situations.

Twitter, a platform popular among journalists and news junkies, could offer Hsiung a more reliable way to reach out than the streams offered by competitors. 

Though he said it is a step in the right direction in terms of consolidating the communication channels, the change does not completely resolve issues with reaching broad audiences with varied platform preferences.

“Having it one and the same I think gets you a broader audience, although the limitations still abound, meaning that for public safety agencies, do you livestream an event on Facebook or do you do it on Twitter? It’s still splitting your followership," Hsiung said. "There are pros and cons to both, but I do see it overall as a good thing to make it a little more simple and cut out one more step to reach the masses.”

Facebook’s fluctuating news feed algorithm has also raised cause for consideration in the critical communications, according to Hsiung. The company has controversially tinkered with its newsfeeds with questionable success. For the captain, not knowing who would see an update on Facebook makes the less regimented Twitter a popular option.

“We have found that due to the shortcomings in the Facebook algorithm on the newsfeed, it’s not that great of a platform for crisis communications, for things that are happening in the moment," he said. "Whereas Twitter, there is no algorithm that is going to rank where your tweet shows up and in what order, so It’s better to put staccato critical incident updates there."

Plus, Hsiung noted that the media is more prevalent on Twitter. “If you had to choose and Twitter’s livestream feed was not filtered in any way, that’s very promising," he said. "Whereas, if Facebook is, then there is some downfall or shortcoming."

Eyragon Eidam Web Editor

Eyragon Eidam is the Web editor for Government Technology magazine, after previously serving as  assistant news editor and covering such topics as legislation, social media and public safety. He can be reached at eeidam@erepublic.com.