Periscope Needs a Disaster

Live streaming video has arrived on our phones this year, with the launch of Meerkat and Periscope. Although not the first (who remembers Qik?), these two services certainly have the ease of use and social media integration on their side, plus our phones are quicker and our cameras are sharper than back in 2008.

Allowing people to live broadcast anything from anywhere within a few seconds, has the potential to become the next big communication revolution. Except, it’s not going so great. Even though there was a lot of buzz surrounding these apps on SXSW, they have slowed down, and cannot be called a success yet, by any standards. Twitter’s Periscope1 sits just below the 100 most downloaded apps, and Meerkat2 another 30-something places down. And traffic is low. So why does a seemingly useful and interesting service perform so poorly? Here we have two apps that are easy to use, provides a new interesting service, and has garnered attention from most techies and communicators out there. And the Twitter integration creates both a huge audience and potential contributors. Everything should spell success. Except, there is one thing that is missing.

Now, this may sound like a cynical thing to say, and trust me, I am not saying that Periscope should be hoping for a major disaster. But the truth is that disasters tend to bring out useful technology to a wider audience. Citizen journalism is already huge, and services like Periscope would allow the man on the street to report and share from a disaster area – and provide their own take on the situation. Not the sombre voice of a news outlet, of course, but nonetheless an interesting eye witness report, directly to others. It would allow for the public to literally see things from different sides, and it could even help authorities to know where to intensify relief efforts. It will help to further democratise news events.

It wouldn’t be the first time social technologies have gotten a break from current (and unfortunate) events. Facebook was struggling in Japan before the earthquake/tsunami in March 2011, the Arab Spring was in part fuelled by Twitter (and made the 140 characters service popular in the region) and there are numerous examples of Vine, Facebook and other services growing every time an accident or disaster happens – Twitter broke the news about US Airways flight 1549 ditching in the Hudson River in 2009, and turned traditional media on to the benefits of having eyes everywhere.

The point of it all, is not to hope for a disaster, but to understand how social technologies grow in a peer-to-peer setting. It never grows through being hyped in the media, or talked about amongst techies. It is only when ordinary consumers start utilising the technology in their day, and using the technology over time, that the technology gets a foothold. The first rule is always to be useful or entertaining, that’s how you create engagement. But past initial engagement, one must create habit. Only habit will make people use a product more and more, and habit is therefore the basis of success for Facebook, Instagram etc.

Marketers can learn from these apps in their own way which they can leverage in their Digital Transformation. By understanding what makes digital activities work, and social technologies grow, you can create something for your own brand that creates both engagement and habit. Running a traditional marketing campaign does neither.


Erik Ingvoldstad is the Founder & CEO of Acoustic.
Follow Erik on Twitter @ingvoldSTAR, follow Acoustic at @AcousticGroupSG
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