NPR Training
Storytelling tips and best practices

NPR's Facebook Live guide

(Bria Granville/NPR)

Since we jumped into Facebook Live, NPR has created more than 1,375 videos. We’ve broadcast from 23 states and 19 countries. And we’ve learned a few things along the way that we think you might find helpful.

What is Facebook Live?

Anyone can broadcast live videos on Facebook — from iPhone selfies to HD, multi-camera streams. It’s available to all Facebook users with the iOS or Android Facebook app. Videos can be broadcast from personal profiles and branded pages (such as the NPR Facebook page or the NPR Politics page). The videos are archived on Facebook pages or profiles (NPR’s are here), so users can view them after the live broadcast.

How NPR has used Facebook Live

We’ve used it to grow our audience across our many branded Facebook pages and to develop audiences on many of our journalists’ Facebook pages and profiles.

Live, interactive video with live comments gives us an opportunity to connect our audience more deeply to our journalists and the stories we want to tell. Live video puts faces to NPR voices and allows us to take audiences to locations with trusted guides. We’ve been able to listen to and learn from our audiences, and in this way, we think the live experience supports our public media mission.

Through Facebook Live, we’ve been expanding our storytelling skills while learning how best to produce social video across NPR’s shows, desks and beats. Our successes and failures have all been great exercises in staying creative and agile in the fast-evolving world of social video.

Types of Facebook Live videos we’ve tried

We’ve filmed from rooftops, rivers, concerts and conventions. We’ve found that the best and most watched videos have come when we’ve tried a few things:

On-location breaking news:

Interaction with hosts and guests:

Going behind the scenes:

We often gave the audience a peek behind the curtain, almost always taking them someplace they couldn’t otherwise go.

We took them to:

Adding an element of surprise:

In a live broadcast, anything can happen. It’s one reason audiences will stay tuned in, so we used it to our advantage.

Using mesmerizing visuals:

Internally, we call these videos “slow TV.” Audiences can appreciate these videos with the sound off (after all, only 15 percent of Facebook Live viewers will turn on the audio). The more curious viewers can listen to experts explain what we’re seeing.

Tips for making better Facebook Live videos

Audio is still important

Best practices for radio also apply to video. While you’re thinking through the production, don’t forget about audio. Low-level, off-mic or distorted audio will cause your audience to turn away. We make best efforts to prevent audio problems before they happen and to match NPR’s audio standards in our video broadcasts.

Among the practices to keep in mind:

  • Choose the right mic for the environment you’re in
  • Hold the mic close to the subject
  • Select the shot locations based on how it looks and how it sounds
  • Use a windscreen

This is not TV

When possible, avoid a talking-head, broadcast model. Always look for ways to add interactivity or visual value.

Tag team when possible

You can shoot a Facebook Live video by yourself. When at all possible, though, it’s preferable to have someone else holding the camera and, ideally, another person fielding questions and providing context and links in the comments. If you’re on your own, we highly recommend using a selfie stick for better stabilization. You should also get an XLR to iPhone dongle for your mic.

Talk back to your audience

An essential feature of Facebook Live is that viewers can leave comments in real time. Respond to comments! You can read and curate them during a broadcast — and you really ought to. This is obviously easier if you’re not flying solo.

Check your connections

Connectivity is key. Test your connection before going live to be sure your broadcast does not cut out. Time permitting, go to the location shoot a day or two early and test connectivity. Decide beforehand if you will use Wi-Fi or cell service. And make sure to have a backup plan, because going live depends on solid connectivity.

Choose the right camera

Mobile phones are best for “run-and-gun,” in-the-field moments. We’ve developed a workflow for HD cameras, but they sacrifice agility for higher video quality. If you have the luxury of choosing mobile versus HD cams, be strategic about what video quality is necessary to tell your story.

How to make a Facebook Live video

  1. Grab your phone!
  2. Open the Facebook app and find the “status” box at the top of your timeline, news feed or page.
  3. Tap the “Live” or “Live Video” button.
  4. “Check in” to your location.
  5. Put your phone in the correct mode for the video. You can film in portrait or landscape orientation; selfie mode or regular camera mode.
  6. Add a short video description. Be sure the most important keywords appear in first 8-10 words of your description.
  7. Click “Go Live.”
  8. Read and reply to comments as you’re filming.
  9. When you’re done, make sure to click “Post” so the video is archived on your page.

What’s in our Facebook Live kits

We’ve tried many different gear combinations for live video and these are the two setups we use most often. We’ve provided links to the products we often use.

Mobile rig

Phone

  • iPhone or Android device

Stabilization device

Audio

Shotgun microphones and accessories

Handheld omnidirectional microphone

Lavalier

Preamp

HD camera rig

To stream from an HD rig to Facebook, we rely on technology supported by our digital streaming media department. They have the backend software, hardware and know-how to route, activate and monitor all of our streams. Learn more about using Facebook Publishing Tools to livestream a RTMP stream.

Camera

Stabilization

Audio

Microphones, pistol grip and windscreen

  • Same as our mobile rig (see above)

Mixer

Media Encoder

Where can I learn more?

Keep watching this page, we’ll continue to update it.

Here are a few other Facebook Live reads:


Kara Frame is a video producer at NPR. This post has been updated since it was originally published. It includes contributions from Lori Todd, Claire O’Neill, Mito Habe-Evans, Rich Preston, Sara Goo, Gerry Holmes, Rob Byers and Eric Athas.