Publisher's First Facebook Live Event Results in New Revenue and Audience

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"Facebook applies the same rules for media owners commercializing its live video product as to its fast-loading tool Instant Articles. And yet, few publishers have reported major revenue upticks from Instant Articles. For some, Facebook Live is where the real commercial opportunity lies."
—from an article by Jessica Davies last week on Digiday

Donna Jefferson, CEO of Jefferson Communications, is Live proof of this "opportunity." She held her first Facebook Live event on Oct. 25 in her Annapolis, Md., Chesapeake Family offices and was extremely pleased with the results, which include almost 3,000 clicks and 803 views.

The project started when Joan Mele-McCarthy, executive director of the nearby Summit School, came to Jefferson asking if she could present a talk to Chesapeake Family's wide audience. Mele-McCarthy is an expert on learning differences in children and heads up a government commission in that area, so Jefferson knew the content would be strong.

Jefferson said yes, decided it would be perfect for Facebook Live and came up with a fair cost. "We have a nice conference room here that holds about 25 people," she said. They started promoting it about a week before, and reaction was strong—almost too strong—so testing was in order. Facebook had to verify Jefferson's company, which was harder that it should be because of her automated phone.

She bought a clamp to hold her new iPhone 7 in place as the camera and mic, positioned it about 5 or 6 feet away to see the speaker and PowerPoint behind her, and all tested well. About 10 people actually came to the office for the event, giving it that live feel. Mele-McCarthy started by asking them questions.

"This was important information, so I feel good about the partnership," Jefferson said. "We'll do [this type of event] again. It was great content, and we made sure to optimize it for search after. The speaker was stunned" by all the views. During the talk, Jefferson sat at the back of the room with her Facebook page open, checking the shares (14) and comments (8). But the potential for much more is evident.

"With practically zero technology barrier we can publish live and have tens to hundreds of thousands of viewers watching, commenting and sharing the content straight away," said Business Insider U.K. managing director Julian Childs in that Digiday story. "That's a powerful vehicle that more forward-thinking brands... can take advantage of in a smart way,"

Jefferson' success is a further testament to the improvement —and growing acceptance—of sponsored content. Numerous surveys have shown that readers are much more open to read or watch sponsored content as long as it's clearly labeled and of value to them. If you can use the expanse of your audience to earn revenue and offer good content, it's a win-win situation.

Jefferson said she is trying to figure out what else would work in this format. "'Want to know what's going on this weekend? Here are five things.' Why are there so many reality shows and award shows?" she asked. "Because TV stations sell more ads when it's a live event, and people know it's live watching it."

"News UK head of digital Oliver Lewis said he's confident that Facebook Live can yield meaningful revenue for publishers in the future," wrote Davies. Strong live events still offer something special. Jefferson hopes that Facebook's cooperation in promoting this—and hosting it free—continues.  

"It's incredibly generous right now," she said. "I would recommend it to anyone but you do have to test [your set-up] first." In her test, the camera reflected badly on screen. And in somebody else's that she knows, the image was showing up sideways and then up-side down. She quickly let them know and 30 seconds later it was good.

"Absolutely," Jefferson said when I suggested that you just have to try new things these days. "It's about selling our audience and how best can you reach them? I think you want to be platform agnostic and just go where you need to go [to do that]."

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…