Execs seize on Facebook Live as an outreach tool

The breezy nature of the video platform enables senior leaders to present a more human face to staffers and to the general public. But would your CEO take a pie in the face for the cause?

Steve Case had a bone to pick with Harvard Business School.

Back in 1980, the renowned institution rejected the application of the man who would later found America Online and become chairman of the digital and entertainment behemoth AOL Time Warner.

So when a recent book tour brought Case to Boston, he dropped by the school demanding answers. He live-cast the event on Facebook, reading from his original application essay.

“I’m upset about it,” says Case, now the chairman and chief executive of Revolution. “I’m going to go by the admissions office and ask why.”

The video, shot with wit and a dash of pique, illustrates why Facebook Live is catching on among executive communicators as a fresh way to reach audiences. Uses include leadership interviews, formal podium speeches, and queasy-cam videos that can look as rough as any tourist’s iPhone pan of Times Square. (Check out T-Mobile CEO John Legere’s live-cast from, well, Times Square.)

Leaders at Fortune 500 and other companies—among them Wal-Mart,PepsiCo, Hilton and eBay—are using the platform, Facebook reports. As of mid-November, Facebook had onboarded 158 executives, establishing the platform as a tool of business influencers.

Related: Ragan Communications is producing a Facebook Leadership Communications Summit at the social media giant’s Menlo Park headquarters in February. Sign up now!

Facebook isn’t alone. YouTube and Twitter are betting on live-streaming as the future of communications, says Shel Holtz of Holtz Communications + Technology. “They’re all going in big with live-streaming video, believing that this is a huge part of the future of digital media and social media,” he says.

Reaching external and internal audiences

GE has begun experimenting with Facebook Live as an executive communications tool, offering interviews with figures such as vice chairElizabeth Comstock and chief marketing officer Linda Boff, says communications specialist Alaynah Tombridge.

“We’re always looking for new, innovative ways to communicate with the general public and with our employees,” Tombridge says, “and Facebook live is just a perfect platform to test those things out.”

Facebook Live is an exciting new tool at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, says Bill Greider, social media engagement officer. The Harvard-affiliated hospital has live-cast events in its wards such as a Chinese dragon dance and a visit by Irish dancers on St. Patrick’s Day.

Dana-Farber broadcast the event when President Laurie Glimcher introduced Olympian Aly Raisman to reporters and guests after she donated $10,000 to the Lowe Center for Thoracic Oncology.

The hospital live-casts senior leaders who are also medical specialists, among them Dr. Barrett J. Rollins, chief scientific officer of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. He discussed the “cancer moonshot,” a global coalition to accelerate next-generation cancer immunotherapy. Though Rollins gives a formal talk with a PowerPoint screen behind him, at least some members of Facebook Live audience made a personal connection.

One commenter writes, “Lost my brother 9/15 He was 55 yrs old for x6 months on a clinical trial at Dana-Farber & was responding well 54% of the tumor shrunk in his lung but unfortunately lost his battle. We need much more research.”

Dana-Farber plans to videotape an upcoming hematology summit, asking its doctor-leaders about developments in their fields, says Bill Greider, Dana-Farber’s social media engagement officer.

Related: Calling all executive communications directors and VPs: Join us at Facebook HQ for the Facebook Leadership Communications Summit this February!

The leaders behind the brand

“Having our senior leadership, our experts, engage with our followers is huge, because they get to see the people who are behind the brand,” Greider says.

The hospital preserves the videos online and can reuse them, breaking them up and embedding them in blog posts.

Hamilton Health Sciences in Ontario, Canada, uses Facebook Live after concluding that Twitter Q&As didn’t provide the long-lived content the organization desired, says Elise Copps, public relations specialist in digital communications. Facebook provides “an avenue to connect with our community members,” she says.

The organization has hosted Facebook Live events covering ADHD and Crohn’s disease and colitis. (Ontario has one of the highest rates of these diseases in the world, Hamilton’s doctor-expert says.) In December, the hospital organization has scheduled a geriatric specialist who will talk about isolation and depression.

In the live-casts, Copps moderates, relaying questions that are emailed or posted below the Facebook Live window.

“We’re tracking the questions that are coming in and feeding them to the expert,” she says.

The video lives on Facebook, “creating evergreen content that you can repurpose for future material,” she says.

Giveaways and pies in the face

This year Blinds.com featured senior leaders as a part of its “20 Days of Giveaways” broadcasts celebrating its 20 years in business, says Brad Parler, digital communications administrator. Every day the company posted a question on Facebook relating to home décor, such as, “What’s your favorite thing in the kitchen?”

Customers answered in the comments section for a chance to win a prize, such as a $75 gift card or a $2,000 grand prize. The host of the live-casts also offered designer tips in answer to customer questions, such as what kind of window coverings best protect a house from summer heat or darken a room so a husband who works the overnight shift can sleep during the day.

Though its goals were largely marketing and customer engagement, the home décor company brought in senior leaders to spin the wheel, among them Chief Executive Jay Steinfeld.

“Those 20 days culminated in our CEO doing a very personal message to all their customers on Facebook Live, thanking them for their 20 years of support,” Parler says. “It was just a really, really amazing moment, captured on Facebook Live.”

Showing that the Blinds.com bosses didn’t take themselves too seriously, in another Facebook Live video, people pied senior leaders in the face for charity. As a whole, the live-cast programs have proven to be a success.

Adds Parler, “Those are content-rich and very compacted videos that do get reused and repurposed.”



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