NewsHackers on Facebook Live

By now you’ve surely seen plenty of Facebook Live videos from friends, family, and brands you follow.

You’ve almost certainly watched Chewbacca Mom try on her new mask, and you’ve probably watched Buzzfeed blow up a watermelon with rubber bands.

Facebook is investing heavily in the platform, inking million dollar deals with publishers — Buzzfeed, The New York Times, CNN, Huffington Post, and others – as well as celebrities like Kevin Hart, Russell Wilson, Michael Phelps, and Gordon Ramsay. More recently, Facebook Live has become a tool for citizen journalists documenting violence, protests, and other events that have long gone unseen by most of the public. It’s increasingly a source of breaking news that reverberates across social platforms – a new role for Facebook.

At this point, the platform is still a mostly blank canvas as publishers, brands, and ordinary people experiment with how to use Facebook Live. But as they do, several tried and true storytelling principles will guide their way. What rocketed Candace Payne’s unboxing video to 158 million views can propel your own videos and audience engagement, though probably not on the same scale.

We gathered 12 storytelling elements present in some of the most successful live videos to give you a framework for developing a Facebook Live strategy of your own.

1. Three-act structure

Even the Chewbacca mom video has a beginning, middle, and end. She explains why she’s shooting the video, builds up to the big reveal of the mask, and then laughs uncontrollably.

The structure of your videos doesn’t need to be rigid, but see if you can find a similar structure for your own videos:

  • Introduction of what the video’s about
  • Escalating action (think adding rubber bands to a watermelon)
  • The payoff (the exploding watermelon, hysterical laughter, the results of a demo, or even just some takeaways from a discussion)

2. Voice

What will set your videos apart and encourage viewership is a unique perspective and the attitude, enthusiasm, and diction to convey it. Put someone on camera who’s well-spoken, knows your company story backwards and forwards, and can articulate it in a way that embodies your brand.

3. Timing

Is your video light and fun? Maybe target Friday afternoon. Do you have something more substantive to say? Maybe go live at lunchtime. Use the subject matter to guide your schedule. Also consider when your Facebook audience is online. Darren Rowse of ProBlogger suggests using Facebook Page insights to find peak times and experiment with live videos when you have the most potential viewers online.

4. Duration

Facebook recommends videos last at least 10 minutes in order for people to have time to see a notification and join the broadcast, and you can stay live for up to 90 minutes. The longer you broadcast, the more time viewers have to share the link and invite others to join. That’s how Buzzfeed’s watermelon video swelled to 800,000 live viewers. It took about 45 minutes for the rubber bands to overtake the watermelon, offering plenty of time for thousands to join.

5. Sharability

It’s impossible to know what will go viral and what won’t. Viral isn’t a strategy, it’s a result. But you can make videos that incite joy and generate surprise, and get those videos in front of eyeballs. Make videos that speak to what matters to your audience and share them, and then make more videos, and keep sharing them. An old Buzzfeed philosophy is that you can’t control whether content will go viral, but you can control how many people see it. The more people see it, the more opportunities it has to go viral.

6. Authenticity

Don’t overscript or restrict yourself to set marketing language. One of the reasons Chewbacca Mom spread so virally is that it was Candace Payne, straight up, unafraid to be seen reveling in what is essentially a children’s toy. For tech companies, this means giving your team room to be themselves and avoiding narrowly focused campaigns or anything too manufactured.

7. Spontaneity

Going hand-in-hand with authenticity, your Facebook live videos don’t need to be scheduled, polished, and well-produced. Go live on the floor of a trade show, or before you give a presentation. Stream a live demo you’re giving or just check in with your audience while on the road to your next sales call.

Drop and give us twenty! #CES2016

A video posted by Gregory FCA Communications (@gregoryfca) on

8. Emotion

“Joy” is the word most commonly used when talking about Candace Payne’s Chewbacca mask video. What emotions do you want to stir up in your customers? Surprise? Outrage? Fear? Awe? What stories can you tell that will inspire your audience or make them sit up and notice an important issue in your industry?

9. A goal

Kurt Vonnegut famously said that every character has to want something, even if it’s just a glass of water. Live video is no different. The most engaging and most viewed videos tend to have a goal, whether it’s exploding a watermelon, enjoying a Star Wars mask, or even just cooking a recipe (Buzzfeed’s Mozzarella Stick Onion Rings video has 99 million views and counting).

10. Suspense

Buzzfeed made the exploding watermelon video specifically for its suspense value. One by one, 686 rubber bands gradually changed the watermelon’s shape, each potentially being the final straw that caused the explosion, leaving viewers rapt. Even Candace Payne starts her video with some suspense, repeatedly referring to her purchase without revealing what it is or showing it on camera until later in the video. Is there an element of suspense you could add to your own live videos, even if it’s just hinting at what you’ll be talking about later in the broadcast?

11. Surprise

Even the Buzzfeeders were surprised when the watermelon actually exploded.

Candace Payne’s infectious laugh is certainly unexpected. What moments of surprise – no matter how large or small – could be a part of your live videos?

12. Replayability

One of the smartest things I’ve read about why the Chewbacca Mom video has been so successful is from Ben Mullin, managing editor at Poynter, who told Buzzfeed News that while Buzzfeed’s watermelon video was “a captivating experience when viewed live, it has minimal replay value. Meanwhile, the Chewbacca mask video is an experience whose value isn’t bound up in its climax.” That’s the difference between 10.8 million views and 159 million views. Create videos that are worth watching multiple times.

Of course, you don’t need all these storytelling elements for a successful Facebook Live video, and in some cases, it’s impossible to weave them all in. But by brainstorming live videos around these elements, you can keep your audience hungry for more.