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All Aboard the Hype Train: Live-Streaming as a Strategic Communication Tool

Stephanie Viggiano is a marketing consultant currently pursuing an M.S. in Strategic Communication. Her research interests include cultural production in digital media, strategic communication, fascist aesthetics and critical media theory.

Twitch

As we live in a digital world that craves video content, it’s no surprise that live streaming or “streaming” is an evolving media type and emerging workforce. This buzzworthy medium has turned heads with politicians, professional sports leagues, and even state governments utilizing live streaming in their communication strategies.

Live streaming is when a content creator, or “streamer,” broadcasts video on a platform, for instance, the popular Amazon-owned Twitch.tv (Twitch) for gamers. There is plenty of opportunity for interaction during a stream; the audience interacts with the streamer by chatting, using custom-made emotes, and donations are gamified. You can start a “Hype Train” to encourage others to donate, or you can cheer on your favorite streamer with “bits,” a unique currency. To promote the stream, most content creators have a private community on Discord and utilize channels like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter to feature clips from their streams, fan-art, merchandise, and viewer-generated content. Streamers are often tapped for influencer marketing opportunities as community sizes range from hundreds to the millions.

Why Live Streaming?

Live streaming communities are powerful social forces. Influenced by sociologist Erving Goffman’s dramaturgical analysis, the streamer “performs play” as they narrate their streaming performance (Pellicone, 2017). Whether it’s a “thank you” for a subscription or a donation read aloud, these engaging moments allow for direct interaction, where for at least a few seconds, the stream could be about one viewer. In these streams, parasocial relationships, or one-way relationships, form between the viewer and streamer, allowing for meaningful community growth (Lin et al, 2019).

Streaming Platform Breaks Records Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic

Due to the effects of coronavirus, Twitch saw a remarkable increase in traffic and viewership. According to Stream Elements, there was a 67% year-over-year increase of viewership as millions continue to be a captive audience, socially distancing during the pandemic. In an ever-evolving workforce that is now remote, there is new opportunity and demand for streaming content.

B2C, Nonprofits, & Government Transparency

Organizations from myriad industries stream use Twitch as brand touchpoints, where the viewer can chat or play a game with the brand and enter giveaways.

  • B2C campaigns from Ally Bank and Biden for President jumped into the world of Animal Crossing: One of the top video game releases during the pandemic, simulation game, Animal Crossing launched in March 2020, as COVID-19 lockdowns slowly were implemented in the United States.
  • Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez plays “Among Us”: Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Representative Ilhan Omar played a few rounds of viral “mafia” game, Among Us, to get out the vote for the 2020 election. The Congresswoman’s stream garnered over 400,000 views, making it the third highest traffic spike in Twitch history.
  • NFL partners with Twitch streamers for Monday Night Football: The league partnered with streamers to host Monday Night Football watch parties with their viewers.
  • Charity Streams: Perhaps some of the most popular content are streams that are dedicated to charitable causes. Streamers will team up with organizations to raise money for diverse causes.
  • States like Pennsylvania utilized live streaming during the 2020 presidential election to ensure transparency during vote counting.

Internal Communication Opportunities

Strategic Communication Lecturer, Ethan McCarty of Columbia University School of Professional Studies, said that internal communications no longer only follow linear storytelling. Through emerging, interactive mediums like live streaming, Professor McCarty emphasizes that “[mass] audiences transform into audiences of one through micro-targeting and personalization.” This is exactly the benefit of streaming for internal communication strategies—a chance to bring the personal into the professional, to humanize and engage with employees. Below are some examples.

  • Gamification of the hiring process: In the 2016 Deloitte report referenced by Professor McCarty’s course, gamification is used by the Navy to match potential candidates in the cryptology field using a game called “Project Architeuthis.” 
  • Training and language learning: Activities like classes and language learning via live stream provide excellent, digestible opportunities of growth for employees.

If you do venture into streaming, it’s important to remember to be true to your brand— your first live stream just might be a consumer’s introduction to your organization.

In our ever-changing world, it is necessary to refine our strategic communication outlook to include emerging mediums like streaming. Needless to say, media scholar Marshall McLuhan’s “medium is the message” has never been so prophetic.

Sources:

Barnhart, B. (2020, September 3). Twitch marketing: What it is and how brands can do it right. Sprout Social. https://sproutsocial.com/insights/twitch-marketing/

BBC News. (2020, October 21). Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Among Us game watched by 400,000. BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-54630330

Chase. (2020, August 24). State of the Stream July 2020: Just Chatting is still #1, TheRealKnossi camps his way to #2, and…. Medium. https://blog.streamelements.com/state-of-the-stream-july-2020-just-chatting-is-still-1-therealknossi-camps-his-way-to-2-and-ca5feb2b835a

City of Philadelphia. (2020, November 3). Philadelphia City Commissioners Live Stream. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Zzb-7EH-MQ&feature=emb_title

GlobalWebIndex. (2019, August 20). Watch and Learn: The Meteoric Rise of Twitch - GlobalWebIndex. GWI. https://blog.globalwebindex.com/chart-of-the-week/the-rise-of-twitch/

Holt, K. (2020, November 4). Here’s a live stream of the Pennsylvania vote count, in case you need it. Engadget. https://www.engadget.com/election-live-stream-pennsylvania-vote-count-180304021.html

Influencer Marketing Hub. (2018, February 27). Top 20 Twitch Streamers Every Gamer Should Follow (Updated 2020). Influencer Marketing Hub. https://influencermarketinghub.com/twitch-streamers/

Kelly, M. (2020, October 16). The official Biden HQ in Animal Crossing has poll booths, ice cream, and no malarkey. The Verge. https://www.theverge.com/2020/10/16/21519505/joe-biden-animal-crossing-new-horizons-biden-hq-campaign-election

Kim, E. (n.d.). Amazon Buys Twitch For $970 Million In Cash. Business Insider. Retrieved November 6, 2020, from https://www.businessinsider.com/amazon-buys-twitch-2014-8

McCarty, E. (2019, July 1). The End of Linear Storytelling: The #Thumbstopping Story of Our Digital Future Or Trading Catharsis for Engagement. Institute for Public Relations. https://instituteforpr.org/the-end-of-linear-storytelling-the-thumbstopping-story-of-our-digital-future-or-trading-catharsis-for-engagement/

McLuhan, M. (1964). Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. McGraw-Hill Education.

Meyers, M., Roth, H., Niu, E., & Dye, PhD., D. A. (n.d.). Employees as customers: Reimagining the employee experience in government. Deloitte University Press.

Pandell, L. (2020). Turn on Twitch; Live video service isn’t just for gamers. AARP The Magazine, 63(6A), 12. Gale General OneFile.

Partin, W. (2020, October 30). This Bank Wants to Use Animal Crossing to Sell You on Financial Serviceshttps://www.vice.com/en/article/4addvw/this-bank-wants-to-use-animal-crossing-to-sell-you-on-financial-services

PCMAG. (n.d.). Definition of live streaming. Retrieved November 6, 2020, from https://www.pcmag.com/encyclopedia/term/live-streaming

Pellicone, A. (2017). Performing Play: Cultural Production on Twitch.tv. University of Maryland, College Park.

Perez, S. (n.d.). Twitch to top 40 million US viewers next year, forecast says. TechCrunch. Retrieved November 6, 2020, from https://social.techcrunch.com/2020/02/20/twitch-to-top-40-million-u-s-viewers-next-year-forecast-says/

Sanfilippo, J. (2016, April 13). The Extension of Man. Medium. https://medium.com/@jensanfilippo17/the-extension-of-man-688ce652a6c9

ThinkUKnow.co.uk. (2020). A short guide to live streaming. A Short Guide to Live Streaming. https://www.thinkuknow.co.uk/parents/articles/what-is-live-streaming/

Thornhill, J. (2019, December 9). Twitch shows how hard it is to foresee the jobs of the futurehttps://www.ft.com/content/83e07ac8-1a66-11ea-9186-7348c2f183af

Woodcock, J., & Johnson, M. (2019). Live Streamers on Twitch.tv as Social Media Influencers: Chances and Challenges for Strategic Communication. International Journal of Strategic Communication13, 321–335. https://doi.org/10.1080/1553118X.2019.1630412

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of any other person or entity.

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