The objective of our #UMichChat series is to provide a venue for thought leaders across higher education to reflect on their accomplishments and share their ideas. Over the past two years, #UMichChat has grown from simple Q&As into dynamic roundtable conversations with academic influencers across the country. We’ve hosted hundreds of panelists who have shared their insights with millions of engaged followers, and we’re extremely proud that this campaign has been so successful.

However, we’re constantly looking to deliver our content in innovative new ways. It’s no secret that live streaming is rapidly gaining popularity on a variety of social media platforms. There are many benefits to producing live content. However, we were most intrigued by the authenticity of the medium: live video creates a form of intimacy between its subject and its viewer that can’t often be achieved by curated content. When we host conversations, we want to eliminate as many barriers between our audience and participants as possible. We want them our followers to be able to witness the conversation naturally as it unfolds and submitting their input as they go. That’s why we decided this was the year that #UMichChat would go to a livestream format.

So, on September 29, we launched our first-ever Facebook Live #UMichChat in collaboration with C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital’s “Block Out Cancer” campaign. This chat featured Dr. Elizabeth Lawlor, a prominent pediatric cancer researcher, and Kaitlyn DeGrace, a cancer survivor and current U-M nursing student. The chat was an undisputed success: receiving more than 14,000 video views by 13,701 unique viewers and reaching an estimated social audience of 111,525 people.

Kaitlyn and Dr. Lawlor had a poignant conversation about their motivation to heal children suffering from cancer. Dozens of our Facebook fans showed their support and admiration for these two women. Additionally, we received several audience-submitted questions that our participants answered at the end of the livestream. This chat proved to be a promising start for future Facebook Live editions of #UMichChat. That raises the question: why did Facebook live work so well for a conversation of this nature? Here’s are a few reasons:


  1. It allowed the participants to explain complex issues without a character limit: It’s nearly impossible to say certain things in 140 characters, even for the most social-savvy among us. Twitter’s character limit would have seriously restricted Dr. Lawlor’s ability to explain the intricacies of her research, or Kaitlin’s capacity to explain the emotional struggle of losing her hair during chemo. This live video setting allowed them to more freely elaborate about these complicated topics.
  2. They were able to ‘go off script’ when the conversation called for it: In life, the best conversations don’t follow a roadmap. The best social media conversations usually don’t either. Although the #UMSocial team provided Kaitlin and Dr. Lawlor with a preliminary script, their dialogue didn’t follow our initial trajectory, and that was just fine: one participant often got inspired by or curious about something the other said, taking the conversation in a completely new direction. Because they were not bound by a specific set of questions, the conversation unfolded naturally and authentically.
  3. Facebook Live let our team monitor engagement in real time: On Facebook Live, it’s easy for a content producer to observe how their audience is reacting in real time. Facebook displays the live viewer count throughout the entire broadcast, so we were able to easily gage when our audience was most active. Also, reaction icons float across the bottom of the screen whenever a new user reacts to the video, so we were continually aware of the audience’s response to what they were hearing—something that is much harder to achieve when you’re monitoring likes and re-tweets.


We’re not changing our chat format entirely; Facebook Live is certainly not the ideal medium for every #UMichChat. For example, in August 2016, we hosted a panel of students and alumni to share their advice with the newest class of Wolverines. For this conversation, a Twitter panel made the most sense for several reasons:


  1. We wanted to reach a large audience: We knew that thousands of U-M students and alumni would have unique insights to share on this subject, and we wanted to reach as many of them as possible. Our participants’ Twitter audience was large and diverse, and many of their followers would be able relate to the topics that were addressed. Twitter allowed our panel to share their ideas with a huge audience quickly and efficiently: in just one hour, the hashtag #UMichChat had a peak reach of more than 7 million.
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A. Estimated reach and usage of #UMichChat during our ‘Dear Victors 2020…’ Panel

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B. For comparison, Estimated reach and Reactions of our Facebook Live Chat

Upon comparing the metrics from both both conversations, it’s evident that the Twitter chat has a much larger reach. However, this makes sense: the Twitter chat dealt with a topic that was of broader interest to more people than the topic of the livestream. Therefore, it’s reasonable to conclude more people would have tuned in. The Facebook Live conversation was more relevant to a small, yet powerful audience.

  1. Twitter was the best way to reach our intended audience: Knowing your audience is key in deciding where to place your content. This conversation was about the student experience, so we wanted to reach as many current, incoming, and prospective students as possible. Our Twitter audience is mostly students, while our Facebook audience comprises largely parents and alumni. Therefore, Twitter was a perfect fit to meet students where they are already active and engaged.

Both delivery formats have their pros and cons. The popularity of live-streaming is certainly tempting, but that doesn’t mean you should attempt to adapt your content to a livestream format if it isn’t a natural fit. If your brand is thinking about hosting a live conversation, here are some things to consider:  

  1. Will it be feasible to get all the participants in the same place, at the same time? One huge caveat about Facebook Live: it’s, well, live…so participants can’t join the conversation remotely. For example, our #UMichChat on foster care students on campus included panelists from universities across the country. While it would have been fascinating to hear their stories live, it was physically impossible to do so. A livestream requires a great deal of logistical coordination. It may be easier for your brand to conduct the conversation using a medium that offers a bit more flexibility.
  2. Do you have the right location and equipment? Sure, you can pull out your phone and start a livestream anywhere. That doesn’t mean you should. It’s essential that your equipment be capable of producing high-quality audio and visuals. Also, you need to film in a location that is free of distractions and has a strong enough wireless connection to avoid signal interruptions during your livestream. Make sure to check the strength of the signal at your location before the stream begins!
  3. Would these participants be comfortable in front of a camera? There are many incredibly intelligent people out there who are simply not comfortable with speaking in public. If your panelists have reservations about putting themselves on camera, you may want to consider changing your delivery format to something that makes them feel more comfortable. You only want people to appear on a livestream if they are going to present themselves with confidence.
  4. Is going live really adding value? This may be the most important question. What benefits does your brand receive from producing a livestream as opposed to another delivery format? Just because something is trendy doesn’t mean it’s right for every brand. If you think your content would be enhanced by the authenticity and intimacy that a livestream provides, then by all means, go for it. If not, you should consider if jumping on the bandwagon is worth the necessary investment of resources.

We don’t mean to discourage innovation. If you’re confident that your content is suited to livestreaming, by all means, go ahead. But it all comes back to knowing your brand, your current situation, and your objectives. Unless your brand is truly prepared to produce exceptional live content, there won’t be much return on your efforts.

This post was written by Sarah Barnitt, #UMSocial Senior Intern & Bachelor of Science in Information student, class of 2017. Stay Social with her on Twitter and Instagram @sarahbarnitt