Facebook Launches Live Video Feature: What Does it Mean for Government?

The new feature could make it easier for state and local governments to get their messages out to the people who already care enough to follow them.

by / April 12, 2016
Facebook's Katie Harbath discussed the company's main focuses for the year ahead at the 2016 Government Social Media Conference in Reno, Nev., on April 6. Video and live streaming will play a greater role in how the social media platform moves forward. Eyragon Eidam/Government Technology

Facebook’s newly released video feature has created a lot of hype, primarily among users who embrace the platform as a way to stay in touch with friends and relatives and, of course, share the ever-popular cat video. But what does the new apparatus mean for government? 

At first glance, another way to post video content online hardly seems revolutionary. But when given a second look, it really could make things easier for state and local governments to get their messages out to the people who already care enough to follow them.

Until recently, the live video feature had only been available to public figures, but on April 6, the social media company expanded its user base to include everyone. With built-in features like real-time feedback and analytics, users at all levels have a new toy to play with.

For a state or local government, the possibilities are just as unlimited as they are for, say, a big wave surfer who decides to enable live streaming while he goes about his business — maybe not as exciting, but likely more informative. A press conference or meeting can now be shared live, direct to the source, much like it would have been through a platform like Periscope.

Katie Harbath, Facebook’s Global Politics and Government outreach director, addressed attendees of the 2016 Government Social Media Conference in Reno, Nev., last week, saying the tool presents a new way to engage constituents who might otherwise not participate in things like public meetings.

In Canada, the speaker said, officials were surprised to see users take interest in recent budgetary hearings. According to Harbath, roughly 2,000 people watched proceedings using the Facebook Live tool. 

“Now, that’s not a huge number. It’s not in the millions, it’s not even in the tens of thousands, but that’s 2,000 more people who wanted to participate in this process about the budget that otherwise would have never had a chance to do so,” she said. “Even just broadcasting your press conferences and your speeches, you can reach a lot more people by going live than you could maybe reach who is there in person.”

While leveraging online video is far from a new concept for government agencies, instant access and the ability to receive comments during a video broadcast seems to have taken its place as the next step in the medium's evolution.

Harbath said those who are drawn to the live feeds watch three times longer than prerecorded video and engage as much as 10 times more.

The possibilities behind live streaming video were a topic of conversation at Facebook’s F8 developers conference this week as founder Mark Zuckerberg demonstrated the capabilities of streaming from a DJI drone.

The company has also opened the API to third-parties to allow for better integration into the commercial markets.

According to Harbath, users of the live service will soon be given the ability to include groups, use filters and draw on the live broadcast, as well as include a map so users can see where real-time live streaming is taking place.

As Facebook stacks its chips behind video, at least for the time being, other trends in the medium are also catching the attention of company officials. Harbath noted that viewers aren't necessarily drawn to high production values, but instead linger on in-the-moment videos that immerse them in the action.

“Some of the most engaging videos I see are coming from people just taking them with their phone; you want people to feel they are an active participant in what you are putting up on Facebook, not a passive observer,” she said, noting that one of the biggest trends the company is seeing with video is how people are interacting with it on a mobile device. "We really think that video this year is going to be one of biggest game changers on social media.”

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.