Up Periscope: Testing the Waters of Social Video

Last week, I took the plunge into Periscope, Twitter’s live streaming video app. I’ve been thinking about trying this technology for a while now, but frankly, I felt a little daunted. I shouldn’t have. Live streaming video using Periscope couldn’t be much easier. I downloaded the app, tested it with a couple of very short videos (the weather at my house and at my office — each 30 seconds to a minute), glanced at the help files to learn about features like tweeting out, and then launched into my first real half-hour video, which I would count as a success — I didn’t feel completely stupid, and 18 people watched (2 more watched on replay).

So my first lessons: don’t expect to go unnoticed and don’t expect to be an overnight sensation.

Maybe the hardest part of doing a video like this is to have some content worth watching. Look around on Periscope, and you’ll see a variety of topics — some like mine are going to be mostly people talking; others are likely to be of people doing things, maybe even sleeping. You don’t have to be scintillating to get people to watch, at least for a little while anyway. So don’t be too worried about content, especially your first time.

I wanted to use Periscope to promote my university’s new low-residency MFA program in creative writing, and as I’ve done on this blog, I figured a good way to do that would be to offer to answer people’s questions about MFAs in general. I talked a fair amount about our  own program, but tried to compare it to others. Sure, I mentioned our strengths (the flexible schedule, low tuition, personal approach, etc.), but I also tried to acknowledge the differences in other programs that might be valuable to some students. Low-res programs that work on a mentorship model are great for those who want that one-on-one experience, whereas a program like ours that has online workshops during the semester might be better for students who want more interaction with other students.

Lesson Two: Have Props

This is a lesson I learned while doing the video. When I was talking about the #1 ranking we received from Nonprofit Colleges Online, I showed my computer screen with their website on it and scrolled down to the picture of our campus. I don’t expect anyone could read this, but it might help them find it later and it certainly gave them a break from looking at me for a few seconds. Similarly, when I was talking about how to learn more about MFA programs, I realized I had a copy of Tom Kealy’s The Creative Writing MFA Handbook on my desk, so I flipped to the rear camera on my iPad and showed the cover. Next time, I may try to have a few more props on hand that I can use, even if that’s a print-out of titles or web addresses (in large print).

Lesson Three: Expect the Unexpected

I wasn’t too surprised by this, since I had invited questions. Someone wanted to know what an MFA is and how do you join one — I talked about how to apply. Someone wanted to know what I thought about Harper Lee — I gave a quick answer and then got back on topic. Next time I might ignore off topic comments, as I eventually did with a few that seemed to be people checking in to see if they could get me to respond to their comment. You can block a user from your video by tapping on their comment, and I might have to get better about that in the future. Once one person commented with a specious comment, several others showed up briefly to do the same, probably because I hadn’t blocked right away. That’s hard to do while you’re talking, though, so if you can, you may want to have one person operate the phone or tablet while you talk. Then they can do the blocking and you can do the talking.

This strategy would work great for literary videos like a reading. However, you could also read a brief passage on your own and turn off commenting for your video in advance if you don’t want to be bothered with comments (or just ignore the off-topic ones if do you want some comments). The hearts Periscope uses for likes were also a little distracting, but I don’t think there’s a way to turn them off.

Lesson Four: Build an Audience

I’m planning to do a video again every Friday for the next several weeks. As I did this time, I will advertise on Twitter and Facebook in advance, and I’ll post the topics I’m planning to discuss. Next week, the goal is to talk about student debt and how to avoid it. If I get better suggestions of questions to answer, I may go with one of those and save student debt for later. But I found it’s good to plan at least one topic in advance and then see where the comments take you.

When you start your Periscope session, make sure to turn on the feature to Tweet Out your broadcast. This will send a tweet to your twitter account that has your title and a link to the video. This might help drive people to your video. People can also find you on the Periscope global map, and they will see you’re live if they follow you. Now that I have some followers, my audience might grow.

The other thing you can do is write about your experience after the fact. I posted on Facebook and tweeted about it right afterwards, and now I’m writing this on my blog. Check me out at noon CST on Fridays in January and February, if you want to see what I talk about next. I’m using our program’s account, which is @TheW_MFACW on both Twitter and Periscope (good advice is to keep the same name if you like your twitter handle).

Lesson five: choose your app

I chose Periscope because it has one feature I really wanted — it will archive your video for 24 hours. That way, if someone misses the live broadcast, they can still see it. You can also save your video to your device and then upload it to YouTube, Vimeo, or any other service like that. Meerkat, which I like because it came before Periscope and wasn’t bought out by Twitter (but still works well with it, from what I’ve read), didn’t have the archive feature. I didn’t want my video to live online forever, but I did think it would help to grow my audience if some people could watch it later. If you like Meerkat, though, I’ve read it does some things better than Periscope. Archiving was the feature that made up my mind, but you may have other criteria that are more important to you.

A few final notes:

As I was signing off my video, one person said it had been helpful and they learned something. That made me feel it was worth it, despite the trolls who wrote specious comments. Ezra Pound said a professor is someone who can talk for an hour. I figured I could talk on video for at least half that long, and proved myself right. But your video could be shorter. For future broadcasts (once I’m done talking about MFAs for awhile), I’d like to do a short reading to promote my book Barrier Island Suite when it comes out, and I’d like to video student readings or other events at our residency period (with permission of course), and I’d like to give a tour of our campus or building (if I can stay within range of wifi and not use data). I’ll definitely be looking for more interesting backgrounds and other visual elements, and an interview with another writer might be nice to try. So check back later and see how it goes!

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