Facebook Live is the New CNN

When CNN was launched in 1980, the world was not aware that a 24-hour news channel was something they had an interest in or even needed. People were fine with their morning, noon and evening news. Most segments were locally focused and people liked it that way. Then CNN launched and the entire world was suddenly available to them and people’s visibility to world events increased overnight. However, even when events took place, it would still take a few days to reach national or worldwide awareness. For 25 years that was the new norm.

Since its inception in 2005, YouTube allowed users to film videos and upload them for the world to see. This process quickly became the accepted and standard form of gaining glimpses into far corners of the world. Then, at the 2015 SXSW, Meerkat introduced the world to live mobile broadcasting. Users could live vicariously through others in real time and even interact directly with the broadcaster. Soon after, Twitter acquired a similar live broadcast player, Periscope. Then comes Facebook, first offering Live to celebrities. With platforms shifting to focus more on content and video than status updates and passing thoughts, live broadcasting was quickly becoming a game changer. Facebook’s focus had been to be the new newspaper, then July 6, 2016 happened, and the world changed.

Philando Castile was in his car with his girlfriend in Falcon Heights, Minnesota and were pulled over for a traffic stop for a busted tail light. Philando informed the officer he was legally carrying a firearm and was shot when reaching for his wallet. His girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, proceeded to live broadcast the aftermath including Castile dying and the clearly distraught police officer that quickly went viral. The next evening, five officers in Dallas, Texas were shot in a Black Lives Matter protest and a bystander broadcast the events live on Facebook. What had begun as a fun way for celebrities to provide a more transparent and behind-the-scenes view of their lives to fans was quickly becoming a way for citizen journalists to showcase what is happening in the world and reporting news. This shift is something that is only going to continue to grow in popularity and use, and brands are not prepared for how to both embrace and combat it.

Social media changed the way brands interacted with customers, but brands could still somewhat control the message. Facebook Live is a game-changer because it fully puts the broadcaster in full control. Since viewers have no before-or-after-context, the broadcaster can portray the environment and subject matter the way they decide. This means that a customer could be completely irate and irrational and then begin filming the moment the brand responds and, to the world, the brand is in the wrong. In a world where customers are very vocal and opinionated, this is a scary proposition for brands.

With over 1.6 billion users, Facebook is the most powerful place for social justice to happen. This means that Live is not only not going anywhere, but only set to explode. Brands that are in the public eye, based on the brand name or products, are always vulnerable to a Facebook Live moment. From a fast food restaurant to a local dairy farm, there is an angry customer or activist group waiting to strike. It is important that brands prepare for this ahead of time to minimize impact. This could be in the form of a social media crisis playbook (to proactively arm the social media and communications team), establishing social media standards and training all employees to be better prepared if confronted. The best time to fix your roof is when it is sunny, not when it is raining.

How Facebook will handle Live broadcasting moving forward is yet to be determined. Facebook received a lot of negative publicity around the handling of the Philando Castile video; it was “offline” for a few hours before reappearing, and this was not the type of content it had foreseen getting from Live. Facebook shifted from being a modern newspaper to being a broadcast channel. As evidenced by the 55 million views it had for its live streaming of the presidential debate, it is working. Which is why you should not be confused when you start to see local newscasts broadcasting or sitcoms created specifically for the platform in the coming . When it comes to citizen-created Live content, Facebook clearly wants a lot more light and fluffy real-time videos like Chewbacca Mom, but it remains to be seen if it will give them preferential treatment over the heavier content. Only time will tell. But as it stands now, Facebook Live is the next big news network, and if your brand doesn’t have a plan for how to approach a potential citizen journalism moment, your shortcomings will be broadcast live.