On January 22nd I did my first “public livestream (one that I attempted to promote)” as part of my mini livestream experiment.
For those of you interested in livestreaming I wanted to do a breakdown of the before/during/after and whether you should consider it for building an audience.
By the end of this I’ll aim to answer the question, should you try livestreaming to build an audience?
Who is this for?
- You’ve been thinking about livestreaming but have a lot of fears about going live
- You’re trying to start livestreaming from scratch (basically little to no audience of your own)
- You’re considering livestreaming as an alternative to writing or video tutorials to building an audience.
Who is this not for?
You’ve already been livestreaming and you’re quite comfortable being on camera
You already have an audience of your own (a group, a mailing list)
What I’m going to talk about
- Overcoming fears around livestreaming
- The before/during/after of the livestream experiment
- What I’d do differently
- Suggestions/tips for doing your first livestream
- Should you use livestreaming to build an audience?
What I’m not going to talk about
I won’t be discussing tech/gear for livestreaming.
There are a lot of great resources and tutorials for the tech side. For now we’ll assume you have all the gear you need.
I’m not an expert. I want to share my experience for people that may be thinking about livestreaming but are in a similar position as myself:
- Nearly no audience
- You’ve been wondering if livestreaming would work for building an audience
The Livestream Experiment
I’d set a goal of doing a trial run of 5 livestreams and my initial idea was to do 30min livestreams with the format being a Q&A for Squarespace CSS.
I’ll talk about why I chose 5 and my thinking behind this format later.
This experiment was more of a personal challenge and I didn’t have super high expectations for building an audience.
I thought it’d be interesting to be my own guinea pig and go through the process of doing a livestream and trying to attract people to the livestream.
“Success” for this experiment would be more about personally going through the process and overcoming some fear along the way.
But to be totally honest I wouldn’t have been upset if I gained some subscibers or had engagement in the process.
With that out of the way before getting to the livestream itself I want to address fears around livestreaming.
Before the livestream
Addressing fears aka fear setting
I’ve thought about livestreaming for a while but there was always some excuse holding me back.
I finally decided do what Tim Ferriss calls Fear Setting (regardless of what you think of Tim Ferriss, I’d recommend this article: Fear-Setting: The Most Valuable Exercise I Do Every Month)
It’s important to address these fears otherwise they’ll operate in the background. What often feels like a rational excuse is really fear in disguise. If you have your fears written out, you’ve identified them and you can start to tackle them instead of wrestling with them in your head.
This won’t get rid of fear entirely but it can prevent you from spiralling. When you have those fears again, you’ll already have some peace of mind.
“I’ve already thought about this, and I’ve written about how I can handle it"
Here were the fears that came up when I thought of livestreaming and here’s how I tried to ease some of those fears.
Define Your Nightmare(s)
“What if no one watches?"
There is a very high that no one will watch when you’re first starting out.
This can be a gift and a curse.
On one hand if no one watches, you don’t have to worry about whether the livestream was good or bad.
On the other hand, what’s the point in doing the livestream is no one is watching? You have no feedback to work off of.
Action: If you don’t have your own audience, make sure you have a few communities where you can tell people about your livestream. If you don’t share it anywhere you’re guaranteeing that no one will show up.
“What if I can’t actually help someone on the livestream? What if I waste peoples time?"
Action: You need a way to shrink the variables. To help mitigate this I decided to create a form to collect questions in advance. This way I’d have an idea of whether or not I could answer this persons questio.
“What if the dogs make noise or what if my partner makes noise?"
Depending on where you live there may be a lot of potential noise/distractions.
We live in an apartment and have 2 dogs, plus neighbours with dogs.
Action: Worse case if there’s a lot of noise, you can mute your mic or just explain your situation. It’s COVID, everyones at home.
“Won’t I look like a loser if no one shows up?"
There is definitely the fear of “public failure”.
To help mitigate this I specifically didn’t share it on my social accounts but only shared it in the facebook groups and forums.
Those groups are private so even if the livestream is a failure it’s only in those groups and not on my profiles.
I can deal with failing in front of strangers.
“What if I accidentally share something like passwords or private information”
Take some time to get comfortable with your livestreaming setup.
Ecamm can share a specific app/tab and it won’t show other apps, even if they’re in focus it will just show the desktop.
This is also why I chose to do an unlisted livestream and made it unlisted by default after finishing.
Should I accidentally share something private I can always change the video visibility.
I also made a checklist of things to do before going live and one of those is closing any tabs or apps that don’t need to be open or that may have private info like Notion
“What if one person’s question takes up all the time?"
As a total beginner the chances of having too many questions are low and if you have do have a question that takes up all the time that’d be better than not having any questions to answer at all.
What if someone asks something I don’t know the answer to?
No one knows the answer to everything and there’s a very good chance you won’t know the answer to something.
You can always direct them to other resources.
If this happens you can simply say “I don’t know but I’ll try to find the answer or point you in the right direction.”
Being helpful doesn’t mean that you must be the only one to help them.
“What if I have nothing to share or talk about?/What if it’s not helpful or engaging?"
There may be a time where you can just riff on the spot about a topic but the chances of being able to do that on the first livestream are low.
The less variables you have to “think” about the more you can be present
This goes back to collecting questions in advance.
“What if people downvote it or bash it”
Critcism on the internet is not a question of if, but when it’s going to happen. If this is your first livestream and the audience is small the chances of this are very slim.
If someone downvotes or bashes it, you can always ask for feedback. But if this gets into troll/harassment territory you can always block/remove them.
What if I proclaim my goal publicly and I fail?
This is a big one. There’s the advice that you should publicly share your goal.
Maybe you’ve done this yourself (“I’m going to livestream every week!")
While this can be motivating, it’s only adding pressure to something that is already stressful. We’ll revisit an alternative further down the post. (Trello also has an article on why sharing your goal publicly may not be a good idea.)
If you need some accountability share it in a more private group of likeminded peers like Blogging For Devs that are more aligned with your goals and who could benefit from what you’re learning as well.
Your social profiles are likely a mix of friends, family, peers, coworkers. It feels too big and open.
This only feeds that fear of public failure: “OMG everyone on social media saw me fail”
With fears out of the way I could start to think about the audience.
Who was the audience for the livestream?
These are people that make websites with Squarespace but often don’t have a technical/developer background.
They’re comfortable with design and can make a site with Squarespace visual building tools but start running into challenges when they have to customize things with CSS or outside of the builder.
These are often small businesses or individuals who have been tasked with setting up a website for their company or themselves.
A lot of times they’ll get to a point where they get stuck and finally decide to seek out help, either through a forum, facebook group and in some cases they ‘re looking to hire someone to just do it for them.
Why this audience?
I had luck in the past offering help in these groups by answering questions directly in the comments.
This gives me practice answering peoples questions but it also helps having my name showing up in the group.
Since doing this I have had people reach out and ask if I’m available to hire to help with their site.
Occassionally people will post that they want to hire someone in these groups but this results in what I’ve called a vulture response: 20-30+ comments from people saying they’re available.
This becomes very noisy and difficult to stand out. So I wanted a way bypass that without adding another comment saying “I’m available, hire me!” (obviously not that but you get the idea).
To try stand out I thought I’d try something different and do a livestream to answer people’s questions.
Sharing/Promoting the Livestream
Where did I share/promote this livestream?
This was probably the hardest part. If you don’t have an audience that’s truly your own, how are you going to get people to come to your livestream? You can’t just wait and hope that someone will show up to your stream.
Without your own audience, you’ll be reliant on other communities and platforms.
This means you have to find forums, communities or groups that may be interested in your topic.
The challenge with sharing in groups is that unless you’ve been engaged in that community, there’s a good chance your post is going to be viewed as spam/self promotion.
I only shared this in one Facebook Group and on the Squarespace Forums.
I’ve been more active in Facebook Groups around Squarespace in the past but hadn’t been as active recently so this post was probably viewed more as self promotion.
There was another group I could have shared it to which I’ve been more active in but posts in this group need to be approved (again a reminder of the importance of building a mailing list or your own audience so that you’re not dependent on gatekeepers).
I decided to do this livestream on short notice so I didn’t have the time to wait for approval on a post.
In the end I only shared this twice in the group. Realistically this was no where near enough promotion.
However due to the short timeframe, I was limited in how often I could post about the livestream in the group. The shorter the timeframe the more it increases the chance your post is viewed as spam.
Here are the results from my post in Facebook group
- 16 likes
- 10 comments (including a mix of my own)
The takeaway? This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone but “likes” don’t translate to action/turnout.
On the brightside at least the post had some engagement. No engagement would have been worse.
My own blog
I had a sign up on my blog but my blog isn’t doing huge traffic numbers (300-500/month) so expectations were very low for this.
Now let’s talk about the livestream format and topic.
Doing the Livestream
The format, topic and the livestream parameters
The initial topic I chose for the livestream was Squarespace CSSand the format was a 30min Q&A.
Why this topic?
I’ve been participating in a few Squarespace Facebook groups for over the past year.
There are lots of questions about design/CSS. In the past I’ve answered questions in the comments. But this is frustrating because there’s such a lack of context. With a screenshare/livestream you get a lot of context by default.
I thought doing a livestream would be a way to stand out amongst other commentors and demonstrate more soft skills. The idea is “show don’t tell”.
Why a Q&A format?
I thought the Q&A format would be suitable for livestreaming. If there wasn’t an interactive component to it then what would make this any different then a pre recorded video/tutorial?
However this format has a lot of problems.
Increases the chance that you’re caught off guard
One question could take a long time to answer and may not be relevant to many people (although in this case that turned out to be a small number of viewers anyways)
CSS is a broad topic
When it comes to the topic of CSS, the question could be quick and easy or more time consuming to troubleshoot.
Dependent on questions and engagement
If you’re doing live Q&A then you can’t really prepare in advance. If you’re relying on live questions it adds another layer of friction and uncertainty which just increases the “stress” of doing the livestream.
What other parameters did I set?
Livestream would be unlisted and the replay would be unlisted
I chose to have the livestream unlisted for a couple different reasons.
First, I’d hoped that this would encourage people to show up from the groups since there wouldn’t be a way to find the livestream otherwise.
I had also said that the replay would be unlisted but would be available to people who asked questions in advance.
Again this was an attempt to encourage people to ask questions, but this fell flat.
The other reason to keep it unlisted to start was to be more of a baby step into livestreaming and to help temper the fear of “what if this goes horribly?"
Worse case scenario if it goes horribly its unlisted so people can’t find it.
If it goes well I can decide afterwards to make it live/public.
Only 5 livestreams I chose 5 because this seemed like a doable amount. 5 for me is a number that even if this experiment was a trainwreck there would be a finish line in sight.
I can tolerate the discomfort for 5 livestreams.
What I did not do was commit to “weekly livestreams”.
In the past I’ve made these kind of lofty committments and the problem with this is that there’s no finish line. You feel backed into a corner.
It’a difficult to ever stop or finish, regardless of how bad it’s going. Even if it’s going bad, you feel like you can’t stop because you’ll look like a quitter.
This is also feeding that fear of embarassment from declaring a goal and failling publicly.
*“I’m going to livestream every week for the next year!” *
*2 weeks in…. “I hope no one notices I stopped…” *
You’ve committed to something with a lack of information and experience. There’s just too many unknowns.
It’s better to start small and get a real feeling for what it’s like and readjust or reevaluate the goal.
After the livestream/Takeaways
I ended up doing the first livestream last friday at 3pm EST and here were the results.
- 23 subscribers (YouTube)
- 35 subscribers (mailing list)
- 1 question submitted in advance
- 24 subscribers (YouTube)
- 35 subscribers (mailing list)
- 12 views (wow!)
- One question asked during the livestream (although I knew this person)
The livestream ended up being me answering the one question that was submitted in advance for the majority of it.
Overall the livestream was very far from a success but I still learned some things in the process.
Moving Forward: What I’d Do Differently
No Live Q&A
I don’t have the engagement or audience for this to work. And it creates a depedency. I don’t want to depend on questions to determine whether I’d do a livestream or not.
I think the live Q&A format can work, but it requires a large and engaged audience.
The Q&A format also runs the risk of the question being so specific as to only be useful for the person who asked the question. Especially if it ends up being a very technical question.
Of course if you’re good you can take their question and rephrase it to be a more generalized question but that takes some practice and experience to do that on the spot.
As an alternative to the Q&A format, you can choose a broader question and tackle that. This would help with promotion because now you’re promoting a specific topic, rather then a broad Q&A/AMA
Collect Questions In Advance
There are no shortage of questions in the forums or Facebook groups.
I can cherry pick the questions that I know would be quick and easy to tackle in advance. Going back to promotion this makes it easier to be specific:
Going live at 3pm today and i’ll be answering these questions: x, y and z”
This would increase the chances of the livestream replay being more broad and evergreen.
More promotion leading up to a livestream
This is a tricky one. There definitely wasn’t enough promotion the first time, but without a large enough audience of my own I’m relying on groups and communities. This puts constraints on how often I can promote without being seen as a spammer.
If you’re considering livestreams you should be trying to get channel subscribers or mailing list subscribers so that you can start to have a more direct line of contact and become less reliant on groups that you don’t control.
Suggestions/Tips for doing your first livestream
If you’re considering doing livestreams I did pick up some tips during this process.
Try out Ecamm
I said I wasn’t talking gear/tech but I will say Ecamm is great for livestreaming. For the most part you can do everything with that app and you’re not bouncing between a bunch of tabs to setup and manage your livestream.
Schedule your stream
This gives you sometime to gather yourself before going live.
Hide your desktop icons (no need for a separate app)
Record your livestream
You have a local copy of your livestream available immediately. You could edit and repurpose the livestream.
Monitoring your livestream One of the standouts for me was the ability to monitor your livestream in a preview window but that window doesn’t show up in the livestream. I previously had issues with this while testing out OBS.
One last tip that I picked up was if you’re on a Mac, you can use the built in Stickies app to keep some notes handy.
Stickies lets you pin notes so that they’re always visible ontop of other apps, so I used this to keep the single question that was submitted available. And this wouldn’t be visible to the viewer.
This helped ease some of the fear of losing track of what I was talking about.
Still paralyzed at the thought of being live? Do a private livestream of yourself working
You can watch your livestream afterwards and see how it looks and sounds. Is the video quality good? Is the audio good? This is completely private so the only way you can watch it is from your account.
This also gives you practice getting comfortable with the feeling of being “watched”.
Let’s be honest livestreaming is a little weird. It’s an asymetric relationship.
You’re putting yourself and your screen out into the internet for anyone with the link to watch and you’re doing it live, but you have no idea who’s watching on the other end.
It feels like a boss watching over your shoulder but in this case you don’t know who’s watching over your shoulder.
Doing a private stream can be a way to get a bit more comfortable with that weird feeling (even still my heart was racing before going live).
Should you livestream to build an audience from scratch?
if you’re in a similar position (basically 0 audience), there are probably more effective ways to build your audience that are way less pressure than a livestream.
As a beginner you’re adding a lot of pressure to make it engaging and there’s less tolerance from people because you’re unknown.
Every second that you’re not being engaging or delivering value increases the chance someone will drop off.
Monica Lent of Blogging for Devs mentioned listening to a podcast about livestreaming being more suitable for people that already have an engaged audience.
This makes sense. By the time someone has a large audience this usually means that the access to that person is more scarce.
So they’re able to promote the livestream and anchor it against their paid offerings or personal access. Chris Do is doing a free 1 hour livestream! Spots are limited!
However I think livestreams can still be useful outside of trying to build an audience.
If you’re considering doing video tutorials, live speaking or workshops, you can use livestreaming as practice to get comfortable with that feeling of being “live”.
The upside is that you have control over this and you can do it as many times as you want. Compare this to waiting for an event to happen to get that practice.
You can also use livestreaming as an accountability tool. You can use that feeling of “being watched” as a way to stay on task or stay accountable.
After all if you’re goofing off, someone could see it.
Livestreaming: High effort, low reward for beginners
Livestreams can be great for established audiences but it concentrates a lot of pressure in one place.
You’re effectively doing improv and performing in addition to teaching something.
The inability to edit is also a problem. We’ve all watched video’s that were too long.
The complaint of anything being too long is an editing problem and is arguably worse than the complaint of something being too short.
If something is too short that means there’s opportunity for more content.
Finally livestreams are difficult to batch because it’s 1:1.
Every livestream you do requires you to be there at a specific time and requires you to promote it in advance.
If after reading this you’re still considering livestreaming to build an audience, it’s important to recognize that livestreams are a big ask of people.
Especially if you haven’t built up an audience that knows, likes, and trusts you.
You’re asking people to show up at a specific time and date, they can’t just tune in at their leisure.
It also relies on the current topic/event being what someone needs right now.
From the audience perspective this is what attending a livestream looks like in the form of 2 movie choices:
- An actor you’ve never heard of
- No trailer or preview of what it’s about
- A general topic: Squarespace Q&A
- One day only
- Starring Robert Downey Jr.
- Genre: action/adventure, comic book super heroes
- Plot: Earths Mightiest Heroes must stop Thanos from destroying the world
- You can watch a trailer
- You’re seeing people talk about it and you’ve been hearing about it alot
- One day only
Which one are you going to see?