Why Meerkat and Periscope are the next big challenge for marketers

Efforts by companies including Starbucks and Spotify suggest potentially rich rewards, but it's early days

There's nothing like a brand-new medium to put marketing departments into overdrive, and it would be hard to find a better example than the recent, rapid-fire arrival of live-stream video apps Meerkat and Periscope.

Meerkat fairly stole the show at this month's SXSW Interactive in Austin, Texas, where startups, brands and agencies used it to share live music performances, session videos and parties. Fast forward to this week, and Twitter -- which had already taken the preemptive step of cutting Meerkat off from its social graph -- launched Periscope, its own, recently acquired contender.

The relative merits of the two platforms are now being debated, even as Meerkat -- still the better-known of the two -- has drawn in another $14 million in funding. In the meantime, marketers have plenty to think about.

"Meerkat and Periscope both provide huge opportunities for brands and marketers," said Anna Francis, content manager with My Social Agency. "Real-time social interaction is more important than ever, and video content allows brands to engage with their audience in a human and transparent way that tweets and Facebook posts simply can't contend with."

Many big brands already hold a lot of live events, including conferences, sports events, product announcements and annual meetings.

"Brands love live events because they enable interaction with the audience and have an urgency that recorded video lacks," said social media strategist Paul Gillin. "Using Meerkat and Periscope makes live streaming cheap and easy. I think you'll see brands jumping all over this new capability."

Starbucks has been an early tester of Meerkat and ran its first video using the app earlier this month. The live video stream showed coffee roasting at the company's roastery and tasting room in Seattle, and ran for 4.5 minutes that afternoon alongside concurrent engagement efforts on Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram. The company plans to continue using Meerkat in the future, it said.

Spotify was one of the top brands using Meerkat at SXSW, at one point reaching No. 11 on the Meerkat leaderboard. Among the content it offered were on-stage introductions to artists Wyclef, Hudson Mohawke, Just Blaze, Leon Bridges and Passion Pit, as well as sessions with live DJs.

"A lot of what we want to do is build active communities for followers and give them things to share," said Josh Karpf, Spotify's global director of social marketing. "It was a cool experience for fans who weren't at the show."

The experiments drew more than 5,000 views at the show, he added. "We found people were really staying with our content, even though some streams were 20 to 25 minutes," he said.

Spotify will continue to experiment with Meerkat and with Periscope as well, Karpf said.

At Oregon State University, Meerkat is providing a new way to broadcast the athletic department's press conferences.

"I think Meerkat has been a great addition to the social media landscape in that it gives you the ability to go live and bring something to your fanbase on the fly," said Hank Hager, the university's assistant director for Athletic Communications.

Typically, the university would live-stream formal press conferences during football season via "the usual HD camera setup with Ethernet, etc.," he said.

Meerkat has untethered such efforts and allowed them to go "out to the practice field, where we've never gone live before," he said. "Or in the case of our baseball team, I've given fans live look-ins at batting practice" for the first time.

"Meerkat has given us an avenue to bring fans closer to us immediately," Hager said. "Being live just makes for a great experience."

Possibilities down the road include player interviews on the field and Q&As with coaches and athletes. That would require questions being submitted through the app, and so far, the university has not seen much in the way of comments, despite the presence of viewers, Hager admitted.

Oregon State has done some early testing of Periscope as well, and plans to do more, he said, noting its inclusion of analytics as an advantage.

"Brands will want to know who is watching their stuff and for how long -- the same basic statistics they get from YouTube, but for a live audience," Gillin said. "If either platform is going to become a major revenue generator, it will have to provide strong reporting features."

One of the biggest risks for brands using Meerkat and Periscope is that there's currently no way to prevent spam or moderate comments, Francis said.

Still, "I definitely think brands should invest time and resources into one of these video services," she added, particularly restaurants, real estate agents, news sites, and "any brands that can create visual content to share with their audience."

Earlier this week, Francis wrote a blog post entitled, "Eight ways brands can add Meerkat into their marketing mix."

Bottom line? How they choose to use live-stream video apps can vary widely, but the potential benefits are clear, she said: "Businesses may get an edge on their competitors if they start building up an engaged fan base now."

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