On July 1, in Richmond, Virginia, five two-person “chase teams” stood waiting for further instructions on how to achieve their objective for the next 30 days: catching “The Runner.” The teams would attempt to find the man whose own objective is to reach six different checkpoints throughout the country without his chasers finding him first.

And all this to be live-streamed—three times a day, every day, for the rest of the month—on Verizon’s Go90 app and website.


The brainchild of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, The Runner was originally pitched in 2000, but was put on hold after the 9/11 attacks in 2001. Touted as a new breed of reality the concept has today found its place as content that was likely unimaginable 15 years ago. Built on the success of live-streaming, but with a twist: it’s been designed to require watcher participation in order for teams to move forward. Codes and riddles are given daily, and chase teams must rely on social media interaction by those observing to determine answers. The show quite literally goes nowhere without the viewers.


The Runner is currently just one of many offspring of live, or live-streaming, real-time content. On a variety of platforms, in a variety of ways, celebrities, journalists and everyday citizens are ‘going live.’ Content ranges from lampooning oneself (Clickhole streamed a man doing 40 different impressions over an agonizing 90 minutes) to behind-the-scenes of big productions (Good Morning America notably enjoys taking watchers on set during commercial breaks).


The latest aspect of live’s success is its ability to capture more serious, breaking news or events. New York Times author Farhad Manjoo recently called Diamond Reynolds’ live stream of her boyfriend Philando Castile’s death the start of the dominance of the live stream. Twitter is set to live-stream both the Democratic and Republican national conventions. Fox is now live-streaming its primetime programming. All this action means somebody’s watching, and more and more join the stream each day.


In a recent Digiday article surveying VidCon attendees about their live intake, every person interviewed admitted that they usually watched live while doing something else— usually scouring the internet in another tab or playing a video game. One woman even said that she would feel like she was wasting her time just watching live and not multi-tasking. Another said she enjoys searching websites like Buzzfeed while the stream is in another tab, and clicking back to the stream from time to time.

Each of the VidCon respondents gave the same reason for watching live: the creator-viewer intimacy. “Vloggers” (video bloggers) are finding similar success on sites like YouNow and Periscope where they can create a more authentic conversation. One said he likes watching Q&As the best, saying that live is “more informal, and feels like they’re [vloggers] talking more to you than anyone else.”


So how can higher ed and brands tap into this live energy?

It’s important first to remember that anyone can open Facebook and start live-streaming his daughter’s ballet recital: not every live is good live. As social media content providers, we are still trying to determine the benefits and drawbacks of the medium. But it’s clear that live allows for a more genuine audience connection, which lends itself to a new crop of content possibilities. Whether you take a page out of Good Morning America’s playbook and do a behind-the-scenes, or stream an event your business is putting on, live gives viewers a sneak peek into what they could only previously imagine. Providing feelings of exclusivity is how many of us first found success in social media, and the appeal has not wained.

Another important component of good live content is planning. Identifying and preparing what will be live-streamed, just as you would a Snapchat story, is key. You won’t always be able to do that, of course, since events often break quickly. There will be events and movements you’ll want to hop on quickly, and may not have time for storyboards and promotional plans. But you can still organize what you want your stream to be.

Included in planning and preparation is intentionality and value: is what you’re putting out there worth your viewers’ time? The quality of your content shouldn’t be degraded just because it’s for live. And every second you have your viewer’s eyes should be deliberate. Your content will still stick around long after you finish the stream. Make it engaging, make it fun, make it on brand.

The world is starting to rely on live for everything from news to entertainment and more. Will your brand follow suit?


This post was initiated by Kelly Arnold, a sophomore at Hope College studying communications and a summer 2016 #UMSocial intern. #StaySocial with her: @KellyAArnold

Edited by @NikkiSunstrum, Director of #UMSocial