A professional recording microphone and two sound baffles shown in a recording booth.
Photo by Christopher Mueller.

Live from Ford’s Theatre: Broadcasting with Periscope and Facebook

4 min read

Do you love Lincoln and/or theatre, but a trip to Ford’s Theatre in D.C. is infeasible? Are you hungry for short history lessons, a chance to see our artifacts up-close, or to hear directly from our performers and staff in real-time?

As part of our digital strategy, we’ve been experimenting with live video to improve access to our campus and the work we do on site. Thus far we have broadcast live (on both Periscope and Facebook) to share artifacts not on display to the public, show the inside of the theatre on a day when it was closed for rehearsals, interview cast members on opening night and more.

We hope that our early video pilots will provide encouragement and inspiration for other individuals, historic sites, theaters and museums looking to more deeply engage their audience.

Learning from the Best

Our success with live video (more on metrics below!) is due, in large part, to the great work produced by our peer organizations. In particular, we were inspired by the Getty’s weekly Periscope program, #LiterallyAnything.

We also watched (and shared!) Periscope videos from Broadway.com. We appreciate their brief and casual style that prioritized viewer interaction—and the fact that their broadcasts were archived on YouTube allowed us to share them with key stakeholders as compelling examples of the platform.

Creating Our Format

In our live broadcasts, we use the following best practices that we learned from our peers:

Keep broadcasts short!

Our broadcasts range five to ten minutes long, showing that the creators respect viewers’ time.

Introduce yourself—more than once.

We introduce our hosts at the start of each Periscope broadcast, and then again halfway through the event for those just tuning in.

Planning is key.

We strike a balance between rehearsed and off-the-cuff by preparing speaking points for our broadcast. We usually draft introduction and conclusion comments. For our Q+As, we script questions in advance.

Keep it casual.

One of the things we admired about #LiterallyAnything is its live, DIY feel. The show’s host Andrew and his team are up-front about what is going on. For example, when a Twitter poll malfunctioned, where viewers typically decide which art will be featured each episode, Andrew asked viewers to comment live with their votes.

Photo copyright Maxwell MacKenzie.

Getting Stakeholder Buy-In

One big challenge for us in moving forward was getting senior-level buy-in for live video. As a historic site that discusses a sensitive subject (Lincoln’s assassination), we are extremely conscious of how we share our story. While many parties expressed interest in live video, being able to explain the platform and collaborate between our museum staff, theater staff, communications and education departments required coordination.

Our solution? Get all the stakeholders in the room at once. As part of our digital strategy, Associate Director of Digital Strategy Tatum Walker created a Digital Projects Council. The group, composed of leadership and other employees, meets monthly to discuss current and potential digital projects. Tatum created a rubric that allows us to lay out the objectives and audience for all potential digital projects. Discussing projects within the guidelines of the rubric with an inter-departmental group allows us to consider potential practicalities, pitfalls and potential opportunities.

Of course, sharing the mind-boggling statistics of success from the British Museum didn’t hurt our case for adopting these initiatives, either. The Museum’s head of digital and publishing, Chris Michaels, relates:

“When we did our first Periscope show, we went from our normal reach of about 2 million people a day on twitter to 6 million. Our Google search volume went up by 250%.”

Testing and Broadcast!

With senior staff support, we prepared to test our first broadcasts. Members of our marketing and communications team created a basic outline of what we wanted our broadcasts to look like. For consistency and to consider our viewers, we planned for short broadcasts—no longer than 10 minutes in total. We would write speaking points for our introductions and conclusions in advance. We would solicit and respond to questions as we went.

For each new platform, Tatum and I prepared and scheduled a soft-launch broadcast to air at least a week before our higher profile broadcast on that platform. These were short, fact-filled videos about what we know best: an explanation of the Presidential Box and an examination of a historic photo of Ford’s Theatre.

The Metrics

To begin, we’ve set low goals for our Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)—aiming for 50 total views and at least one comment for our first-ever Periscope broadcast. We greatly exceeded those numbers! More than 100 people watched our first-ever Periscope live, and 176 watched our first Facebook Live. A Facebook Live broadcast on a high-profile date for us (April 14, 2016, the 151 anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination) has reached nearly 9,000 viewers so far. Those stats don’t quite match the British Museum, but they’re promising for our first efforts.

.@fordstheatre just finished a terrific use of #Periscope to showcase the site and its big “So what?” Focused, engaging, and well done.

Taylor Stoermer (@History_Doctor) March 11, 2016

The statistics reflect a hunger for bite-sized live videos with friendly and relatable hosts that offer information and access. We can’t wait to give our audience more! To join in, please follow Ford’s Theatre on Persicope and Facebook.

Sara Cohen is Marketing Manager at Ford’s Theatre, where she helms the Ford’s Theatre Facebook and Twitter accounts, among other projects that share Lincoln’s legacy with the world. Follow her on Twitter at @SaraECohen.

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Sara Cohen was Marketing Manager at Ford’s Theatre.


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