How MTV covers live events—and engages its followers

You don’t need fancy equipment or a red-carpet extravaganza to capture compelling content. Just make a plan, trust and empower your team—and bring an iPhone.

MTV lessons for live content

Publishing real-time content can be a terrifying proposition for any business.

What if we tweet out something terrible?

Could this video be construed as objectionable in any way?

Yikes, our CEO looks rough on camera.

Despite the risks, there are rich engagement rewards to reap for those willing to take the live-coverage leap.

Alyssa Velazquez, director of MTV’s social media and fan engagement at ViacomCBS, offered practical tips for timely social media publishing at Ragan’s Social Media Conference at Walt Disney World in Orlando. Velazquez shared insights from MTV’s approach to covering live events—which you can apply to your strategy, even if you’re not on the Billie Eilish beat.

Listen to your audience

Velazquez emphasized the importance of recruiting and empowering community managers representative of the demographic you’re keen to reach. For MTV, that’s a female-dominated set ages 14–24. Despite its focus on that young cohort, Facebook—purportedly the bastion of Baby Boomers—remains its largest channel, with an audience approaching 47 million.

Twitter (nearly 16 million followers) and Instagram (11.7 million followers) are its next largest platforms. MTV publishes on Snapchat and TikTok, but those channels aren’t yet a priority, according to Velazquez.

To organize its reporting efforts, MTV focuses on three content buckets: celebrities, internet culture and music. Velazquez says her team also ranks event coverage based on a “tiered” level of importance.

For a “tier 1” event, such as MTV’s 2019 Video Music Awards, there are several content creators “on the ground” and every resource available is dialed in. For the VMAs, her team deployed a chatbot to interact with fans online, as well as a Snapchat AR lens to bring performances to life—along with monitoring real-time awards voting on Instagram Stories and a live Twitter “hashtag battle” to help determine winners.

“Tier 3” events, however, might just require someone watching the Oscars on TV, for example, and “live-tweeting from the couch,” Velazquez says. “It’s the same tone of voice, just a different distribution of resources.”

‘Be timely—but purposeful’

The key factor with live event coverage is trust. As Velazquez points out, real-time content doesn’t lend itself to an approval process. So, you must trust your content creators. As she says, “If we hand a platform over to celeb or influencer, we send a few guidelines, a password, and say, ‘Godspeed.’”

In addition to cultivating an empowering climate of trust with your community managers, Velazuez offers four best practices to follow for capturing live event coverage:

Monitor internet chatter. What’s your audience thinking about? What are their passions, pet peeves and preferences? Velazquez says to closely monitor online conversations. See what your people are talking about, and let that shape your coverage. There are plenty of “social listening” tools available, but Velazquez suggests manually sifting through trending Twitter hashtags and keywords to “see what your audience is passionate about.”

Remain authentic in voice. Keep a consistent tone of voice, but be flexible enough to adjust your tenor depending on the scenario. It’s OK to newsjack trending topics, but don’t blow it by popping off with tone-deaf commentary, Velazquez advises. Social media users are eager to call out inauthentic behavior, so closely guard your tone of voice. “Listen and watch what your audience is consuming. Don’t fake it,” Velazquez says.

Prioritize high-quality images and video. You don’t need pricy equipment to capture compelling imagery. Access to a digital library such as Getty is magnificent, but that device in your pocket will do just fine in a pinch. “iPhone 11 video quality is incredible. Video views didn’t suffer from that at all,” Velazquez says. Also, be selective. “Don’t immediately post the first pics you get. Take a beat, and make it a bit more polished,” Velazquez advises.

Be timely—but purposeful. Cover in as timely a fashion as you can, but don’t rush to the point of producing junk. Not everything’s a story. “Don’t spam your feeds,” as Velazquez puts it. She says Twitter and Instagram are the platforms that offer the best opportunities for real-time engagement. MTV uses Facebook more for post-event recaps and such.

Don’t forget the nuts and bolts, either. Before your event takes place, test all your tech. Make sure the Wi-Fi works, and ensure that everything’s fully charged. When it’s all over, examine your performance. Mind your metrics, and adjust strategies accordingly.

As Velazquez says: “Repeat, evolve and experiment. What were your wins or misses? Social media is a great place to experiment. Don’t fear flops or misses. Have fun with it. There’s no rulebook, so make it your own. Just listen to your audience.”

For more expert social media insights from top practitioners, get the webcast for Ragan’s 2020 Social Media Conference.

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