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:
- Reporter Hansi Lo Wang reported from Dulles International Airport to cover President Trump’s travel ban.
Interaction with hosts and guests:
- Reporter Camila Domonoske interviewed science correspondent Nell Greenfieldboyce about research on how baby humpback whales “whisper” to their mothers.
- In our weekly show “Head to Head,” our Facebook audience competed to write the best headline.
- We brought in a lexicographer to play Ask Me Another’s game “Initialisms.”
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:
- Korva Coleman’s 10 a.m. newscast from the studio
- Penguin feeding time at the Baltimore Zoo
- Peking opera character transformation
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.
- An Earthworm race for “Worm Week”
- “Eggsperiment” with Maddie and Joe as part of the “Joe’s Big Idea” series
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.
- Jellies Curator Jennie Janssen talks while we watch jellyfish at the National Aquarium in Baltimore.
- Examine protozoans under a microscope with science teacher Evie Alexander.
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
- Grab your phone!
- Open the Facebook app and find the “status” box at the top of your timeline, news feed or page.
- Tap the “Live” or “Live Video” button.
- “Check in” to your location.
- Put your phone in the correct mode for the video. You can film in portrait or landscape orientation; selfie mode or regular camera mode.
- Add a short video description. Be sure the most important keywords appear in first 8-10 words of your description.
- Click “Go Live.”
- Read and reply to comments as you’re filming.
- 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.
- iPhone or Android device
Shotgun microphones and accessories
- Sennheiser MKE 600
- Sennheiser MKH 416
- Audio Technica 897
- Audio Technica 8035
- Rycote Classic Softie windscreen
- Rode PG2-R pistol grip
Handheld omnidirectional microphone
- Shure MOTIV MVi (make sure to also download the app)
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.
Microphones, pistol grip and windscreen
- Same as our mobile rig (see above)
Where can I learn more?
Keep watching this page, we’ll continue to update it.
Here are a few other Facebook Live reads:
- Facebook Live best practices from Facebook
- Live, local, late-breaking: On Facebook Live, news outlets take a cue from TV (but don’t call it TV) from Nieman Lab
- Mastering Facebook Live and avoiding amateur hour from Radio Television Digital News Association
This post has been updated since it was originally published. It includes contributions from Mito Habe-Evans, Sara Goo, Gerry Holmes, and Nicole Werbeck.
Other contributors include former NPR employees Lori Todd, Claire O’Neill, Rich Preston, Rob Byers, and Eric Athas.