Have you heard about Meerkat? No, not the furry little critter that promotes insurance; a new app that enables users to livestream video right from their smartphone.

Exciting, huh? But what are the implications of this innovation for event organisers? Here’s a ‘simples’ guide to help you understand more about Meerkat and its uses.

What exactly is it and why are people getting so excited?

Meerkat app trend

Meerkat was launched in late February and quickly generated a tidal wave of interest (as you can see from the spike in searches shown in Google Trends). Last month it surpassed the 300,000-user mark and is said to be growing at a rate of 30% daily! (Twitter has since acquired its own livestreaming app Periscope).

When you start livestreaming from your smartphone’s camera, the app automatically tweets out a link to your Twitter followers. Other users can tune in by clicking the link, and leave comments for the livestream host by tweeting at them. Everything is live; once the broadcast is over it does not remain on the web, but you can retain a local copy on your phone.

Speaking at culture and tech festival South by Southwest (SXSW), Ben Rubin, Meerkat’s 27-year-old CEO said brands, celebrities and organisations were already using the app. Examples he gave included a real estate agency posting a showing of an apartment, skateboarder Tony Hawk broadcasting a stunt, a church streaming a worship service and TV show American Idol streaming live from the red carpet.

Rubin himself was livestreaming the chat from his phone to more than 360 viewers. Meanwhile other festivalgoers used Meerkat to broadcast panel discussions, music performances and other goings-on.

Ryan Cooley, the company’s community director, explained: “People want unedited content and raw experience; they want to know what it’s actually like.”

Related: 10 Event technology trends to watch in 2015

What are the possibilities for event organisers?

Meerkat could be a great tool to help organisers create pre-event buzz. Think about livestreaming interviews with speakers and participants before the event. You can even invite viewers to tweet questions live.

Give people a ‘sneak preview’, with a tour around the venue and some of the exciting features. Film the crew setting up or rehearsals in progress. It will all help to build excitement.

On the day of the event, expand your audience by livestreaming selected sessions and allow viewers from all over the world to comment and ask questions.

Exhibitors and sponsors can also gain added value by streaming their own Q&A sessions, presentations or demos, while members of the media can report live from the show floor. Don’t forget to create a hashtag to make it easy for Twitter users to find all the broadcasts from your event.

Related: 5 Simple steps to livestream your event online for free

What are the drawbacks for event organisers?

Ultimately, the use of Meerkat at your event is taken out of your hands by the attendees. If your strategy is to only release small snippets of content, but somebody decides to livestream the entire conference there is very little you can do about it.

This could present problems if your event is hybrid and you want to charge for virtual attendance. Likewise, if you’re staging a concert, is it in the best interest of the artist for people at home to see the whole show without having paid anything for the privilege?

Some planners may worry that people will actually be deterred from paying to attend an event if they know they can watch for free without having to get out of bed.

That said, these were the exact same concerns when hybrid events first started being held a few years ago. However, data has since shown that allowing virtual attendance does not tend to cannibalise from attendance in the flesh. The two audiences are different, with those attending digitally being people who could not otherwise attend.

One example is the annual Convening Leaders event held by the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA). The event went hybrid in 2012 and has had record-breaking attendance for both streams each year since. In 2014, 877 people attended remotely (17 per cent of the total audience), while 76 attended both remotely and face-to-face over the multiple day duration of the event.

Related: A new approach to hybrid events

Conclusion

Whether or not Meerkat eventually becomes a household name like YouTube and Twitter, this move towards livestreaming is a train you can’t stop, so you should have a clearly defined strategy of how to deal with it. Used innovatively, Meerkat can be a great way to raise the profile of your event and grow your audience.

Don’t be overly afraid of unofficial broadcasts damaging your revenue from virtual attendance. If someone is really interested in attending your event they won’t want to gamble on an attendee at the event livestreaming the particular sessions they want to see.

In addition, user-generated content is unlikely to be as high quality as an official webcasting. Shaky footage, with poor sound, obtained from the back of the room does not really pose a risk to the event industry, just like movies captured on Handycam in the cinema have never really damaged the movie industry.

People will always be willing to pay for a quality live experience, but using tools like Meerkat can help you enhance it by adding an extra communication stream and reaching new audiences.

Do you agree? Will you be using Meerkat at your next event?

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