How retailers use Facebook Live

November 2, 2016 11:59 AM

Benefit Cosmetics LLC knows the recipe for how to make live videos that advance its branding objectives: take a large scoop of entertainment, add a splash of education and a whole lot of personality.

The formula is working so far for the cosmetics brand. Every Thursday Benefit shoots and distributes a live 30-minute video, dubbed Tipsy Tricks, via Facebook Live, a live broadcasting platform the social network made available for free to all Facebook users in April following an eight-month test. The show consists of the host, Stephanie, drinking a glass of wine while giving a makeup tip, talking about products and fielding questions submitted from viewers during the broadcast. Anywhere from a thousand to several thousand viewers tune in to the weekly live broadcast, says Claudia Allwood, senior director of U.S. digital marketing at Benefit, and total viewership for a broadcast ranges from 14,000-60,000 as more Facebook users watch the video in their Facebook news feed after the broadcast.

“Our live videos are a great way to showcase our brand and educate our consumers,” Allwood says. “It also gives us a forum to ask and answer questions.”

Tipsy Tricks will sometimes have a guest, such as James Charles, a teenage makeup artist with more than 400,000 followers on the Facebook Inc.-owned photo-sharing site Instagram, or a Benefit employee on the show. Host Stephanie also asks audience members what they are curious about and answers just about every question, even if they are off topic, Allwood says. All while she drinks wine.

“On Facebook you’re killing time, so we wanted to make it fun,” Allwood says.

Online retailers, especially ones with large social media followings, are dabbling with Facebook Live. While posting messages and prerecorded video clips on Facebook can be an effective way to reach consumers—1.1 billion consumers use Facebook each day, the social network says—much of Facebook for retailers has become pay to play, meaning most consumers won’t see their posts unless retailers pay to promote them. Live video distribution, on the other hand, is free and Facebook prominently displays the videos, often at the top, of users’ news feeds—at least for now. Based on the number of views and comments early adopters of Facebook Live are seeing, e-retailers using it are confident that they are building their brand awareness and educating consumers about products with it, and gaining sales along the way. 

Any Facebook account holder can log in on a smartphone or tablet and broadcast a live video, which friends or followers see in their news feed. Once a user finishes filming, Facebook archives the video on the user’s page in the video section. A user can set videos to be viewable to anyone, regardless if a consumer is a follower or not. Facebook also recently introduced a Facebook Live application programming interface that allows developers and publishers to shoot video for Facebook Live off of desktop webcams or standalone cameras, not just mobile devices.

Facebook ranks live videos higher in a user’s news feed than prerecorded videos. The higher ranking is for good reason: Facebook says consumers spend three times longer watching Facebook Live videos compared with prerecorded videos. Plus, people comment more than 10 times more on Facebook Live videos than on regular videos.

Online cosmetics retailer Birchbox Inc. knows that to be true. Like Benefit, the e-retailer also produces a Facebook Live weekly segment, which usually lasts 45 minutes to an hour. The long segment allows Birchbox to capture more viewers. Per segment, the retailer receives anywhere from 50 to several hundred questions, says Juliette Dallas-Feeney, Birchbox’s senior manager of social media.

On average, each Birchbox video has about 20,000 to 30,000 real-time viewers. Videos that show a transformation, such as getting a blowout at a hair salon, receive even more views, she says. For example, Dallas-Feeney received a haircut on a live segment while 50,000 consumers watched.

“[Facebook Live] continues to be the most engaging post, [have] the most reach and overall engagement whenever we do a live video,” Dallas-Feeney says.

Education is key to selling beauty products, and video is one of the best ways to show consumers how to use them, Dallas-Feeney says. But she says what makes Facebook Live special is the direct interaction it allows the retailer to have with consumers.

“The big differentiator with live video is being able to have a conversation with your audience in real time,” Dallas-Feeney says. “We see the comments come in and we can talk to our customers, and that’s really powerful for us.”

Nick Palmisciano, CEO of Ranger Up, a maker and web-only retailer of military-inspired clothing and gear, agrees.

“If you want immediate interaction and feedback, there is nothing better than the live stream,” Palmisciano says.

Ranger Up posts Facebook Live videos to promote events when the retailer travels the country touting its products. The e-retailer also produces one-off live videos when the mood strikes, he says. For example, two Ranger Up employees recently hosted a party in New York City and live-streamed a Facebook video to encourage consumers to join them. Of several hundred people who came to the party, about 100 heard about it from the live video, Palmisciano says.

Birchbox verbally answers as many questions as possible while live, but if there are too many, Birchbox’s communication management associate will reply in the comment box to questions. Many questions are personal, such as “Will this product work with my skin type?” However the sales-related comments, such as “I’m adding this to my cart now!” and “Birchbox you are making me broke!” are the most exciting for Dallas-Feeney to see.

Facebook Live does not have any functionality that allows brands to sell directly to viewers watching the broadcast, so brands have a tough time drawing a direct line between viewers and resulting online sales. Retailers have to post links to products in the comment box or verbally tell consumers where to go to buy the featured products. Facebook declined to say whether it would add any shopping features to live video.

Birchbox, however, recently saw a correlation between a Facebook Live broadcast and sales.

Birchbox recently started selling the Milk Makeup cosmetics line, and Milk and Birchbox broadcast a Facebook Live video from Milk’s studio in New York City. Milk products posted their best sales day on Birchbox the day the video aired, with that one day generating a 111% lift in sales compared with the previous seven-day average, Dallas-Feeney says.

A clear return on investment like this sales bump, however, is not always obvious with live video, says Mark Fidelman, managing partner at digital marketing firm Evolve Inc. Without a Buy button, it’s difficult for a retailer to monetize an audience watching a live video, he says. That’s why most early Facebook Live adopters consider the effort brand building.

Allwood says Benefit’s goals with Facebook Live are to build the brand, educate consumers and answer questions, not to drive direct sales. Benefit mostly measures against these goals with the number of views (typically 14,000-60,000 views, including views of archived footage) a video gets, and it also measures how many consumers have liked or commented on the video. 

Marketing to consumers who have already identified themselves as a fan is not a bad way to invest time and money, says Steven Leeds, senior vice president of marketing at Systemax Inc., Global Industrial and other branded organizations that sell information technology and industrial products.

“Nowadays you can buy anything from anybody,” Leeds says. “What keeps customers coming back is customer service and knowledge. Retailers have to do everything right to ensure a great brand, branding and culture. Staying engaged with a customer in between purchases should be top of mind for any marketers.”

Ranger Up’s Palmisciano says live videos definitely make a sales impact.

“When your audience enjoys your content, they are more likely to purchase,” he says.

Ranger Up can see in its Facebook ad reporting that consumers who have watched a Ranger Up Facebook Live video are more valuable than consumers who have not watched. Palmisciano says the e-retailer receives $8-$12 in sales for each dollar it spends on Facebook ads to consumers who have watched a Ranger Up live video, compared with $4 for every $1 in Facebook ads targeted at consumers who haven’t watched a live video.

Fortunately, to build brand awareness with Facebook Live doesn’t require much investment. E-retailers deploying live video say it generally takes a few hours of time to plan and shoot. Because the videos are live, there is no post-production or editing work involved. This allows the videos to appear more authentic and unfiltered, says Jess Cole, social media strategist at apparel retailer, which recently started broadcasting Facebook Live videos.

Benefit already had an in-house studio for its YouTube videos, so that is where it films its Facebook videos. The studio consists of two full-time employees—a content manager and video producer—plus a freelancer who helps with lighting, footage and the shot’s composition. The content manager looks for trends in fashion and cosmetics, and uses words consumers search for on Google to determine the video’s content. 

While being “in the moment” is one of Facebook Live’s biggest attractions, it’s also a pitfall. If consumers aren’t on the social network at that time or a few hours after the broadcast they are unlikely to ever see the live video after enough posts have trumped its news feed relevancy. After a video is live, the stream can still appear in a consumer’s news feed if the person would find the video relevant, Facebook says. Like with other Facebook posts, the more consumers who watch, comment, share and like a video, the more likely it is to appear in other users’ news feeds. And if a consumer previously has watched and engaged with a live video, then she is more likely to see more live videos in her feed, Facebook says. But after a day or so, like any post, the video will disappear from news feeds. Consumers are going on Facebook to be entertained and scroll through their news feed, not to visit a brand’s page to watch its archived videos, Birchbox’s Dallas-Feeney says.

Retailers are using several tactics to ensure they have an audience during their broadcasts. Many promote the live segment throughout the day to encourage consumers to tune in, and then they frequently encourage viewers to share the video so it can reach a wider audience. Further, the longer the segment, the greater opportunity a brand has to capture viewers as they log in to Facebook.

Ranger Up’s Palmisciano shares the live feed from his personal account. Either Ranger Up, with its 877,500 Likes, or Palmisciano, with his 28,700 friends, will start the live video stream, and the other entity will immediately share it to get a potential audience of around 900,000. If Facebook allowed brands to pay to amplify their video to promote it to more users, Palmisciano says he would be interested. Facebook does not offer that option currently.

ModCloth has benefitted from its own fans sharing its video. Typically when ModCloth posts on its Facebook page, not many of its 1.5 million fans share the post, Cole says. ModCloth considers 10 shares a success, she says. However, the first Facebook Live video ModCloth streamed received 102 shares from followers, numbers that thrilled Cole.

In hopes of garnering a regular audience, both Benefit and Birchbox do their live video segments at the same time each week. (Both are Thursdays at 4 p.m. in the merchants’ respective time zones.) Ranger Up also plans to soon start a weekly live video segment to generate a more consistent following and build brand awareness, Palmisciano says. These regular segments will be about 45 minutes to an hour because Palmisciano says that is about as long as the retailer can keep an audience interested while providing good content. On average, consumers globally spend more than 50 minutes a day using Facebook, Instagram or its messaging app Messenger, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told analysts in its first quarter earnings call.

The day a segment airs live, Benefit and Birchbox use other social media channels to tell consumers to tune in. Benefit, for example, sends a Snapchat Story, a series of related snaps on the Snapchat social network, giving those users a view behind the scenes of Tipsy Tricks and reminding them to tune in. It also posts about the segment to its 4.7 million Instagram followers. Likewise, Birchbox will send out a tweet to its 179,000 Twitter followers and post on Instagram to its 507,000 followers to alert fans of the Facebook Live broadcast.

Right now live video is one of the latest tools available to Facebook users, which means the social media network is game to favor it in the news feed algorithm. Facebook says it has seen “incredible adoption and engagement” of live video since its launch, and in March, the network announced it would favor live videos over non-live videos in its news feed.

But that could easily change and retailers need to keep watch, says Ed Terpening, an analyst at business research and advisory firm Altimeter Group. “To test new media, like Facebook Live, platforms prioritize them to appear in the news feed—understandably to test new ideas—but this creates an inflated view of their impact,” Terpening says. “For example, Facebook has been transparent about the fact that its algorithms favor live video, but once it has the insights it needs, brands will be left deciphering the true impact.”

Ranger Up’s Palmisciano is keeping watch. “Social media changes every day,” he says. “Whatever is new and whatever is cool, that’s our social media strategy.”

And Facebook Live is what is cool at the moment. Early retailer adopters are enjoying having their videos favored in fans’ news feeds and gathering tens of thousands of views and thousands of real-time interactions with consumers. And if sales increase along the way, that’s a good bonus for only a few hours of time.




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