July 5, 2016

Facebook has been vigorously promoting the use of its livestreaming service, even shelling out millions of dollars to get selected media outlets on board.

For the less fortunate publications, the enticement comes not in cash but in the form of increased user reach, which recent changes to the News Feed algorithm have only made more urgent.

The scramble to use Live video has not always been edifying — but it does seem to pay off in terms of reach.

Poynter has experimented with livestreaming on Facebook, and as we looked at our most successful Facebook posts for the month of June we were struck by the numbers: Our reach was really, really, enhanced when we posted live videos.

The chart below shows our top four Facebook posts in June. Our very top post was a live video chat on the ethical ramifications of CNN hiring Donald Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, which reached 283,000 users. That was 50 percent more than our second-best performer, a post on changes in the Associated Press Stylebook.

This would not be surprising if it weren’t for the fact that the live video was far less popular with users — at least per the metrics we are used to paying attention to.

Look at the post clicks and engagements the two top posts received. The post linking to a Poynter.org article had 7,851 post clicks — almost 40 times more than the Lewandowski live video. And in terms of engagement (defined as reactions, comments and shares) the disparity is even more dramatic.

To put it differently, our top Live video reached more than 6,000 users for every engagement while our top article post only reached 36. That is an astonishing disparity.

With only a very small sample of live videos under our belt, it is hard to determine whether this is just a random occurrence or a definitive trend. Moreover, engagement and reach aren’t directly proportional, with the format of a post and other factors also influencing its reach.

Finally, it may be that our readers disproportionately liked our live video. Yet other analytics Facebook shares indicate a mostly passive audience: 89 percent of the views on our top post were from autoplay and the completion rate was 3 percent.

If this picture were confirmed by other outlets and over a longer period of time, the message would be stark: Facebook Live videos will appear on many more News Feeds — regardless of whether users Like, Wow or Haha the content. Posts linking out of Facebook will need a lot more user interaction to get the extra eyeballs.

A Facebook representative told Poynter that the only variation to the News Feed related to Live video has been boosting a video while it is actually streaming.

She added that “we are not prioritizing Live videos more than any other video when they are no longer live. We will continue to learn and iterate based on how people use Live videos.”

Does your publication use Facebook Live? Share the reach/engagement value (the final column in the chart above) of your top three article posts versus your top three Facebook Live videos for the month of June through this form. If we get at least 20 respondents, we will present the results in a follow-up article.

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Alexios Mantzarlis joined Poynter to lead the International Fact-Checking Network in September of 2015. In this capacity he writes about and advocates for fact-checking. He…
Alexios Mantzarlis

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