How to use Facebook Live for journalism and to improve user engagement: Lessons from Spanish-language media

This story is part of a series on Innovative Journalism in Latin America and the Caribbean.(*)

When ranchera singer Pedro Infante died in April 1957, then-nascent Mexican television broadcast his funeral live, with black-and-white images showing a crowd following his funeral procession through the streets of Mexico City. It became a historic television broadcast in that country.

Decades later, the mourning for the death of another Mexican popular idol – singer-songwriter Juan Gabriel – was broadcast live, although the scope of the images multiplied and transcended borders thanks to many media that broadcast it by Facebook Live.

Facebook's live streaming platform emerged in 2015, but was opened to the public in January 2016. News media did not delay getting on-board.

In Facebook Live, Spanish-language newspapers and websites saw the opportunity to add to their coverage an audiovisual format with greater scope and interaction than they get with multimedia videos for web or social networks.

This real-time interaction is precisely what led them to use the tool for coverage of protests and massive events, as well as interviews and productions specifically made for Facebook Live.

Live streaming on Facebook also allows the audience to comment and send questions to media in real-time, which creates an instantaneous interaction not possible with television.

For this special report, the Knight Center talked to several editors from Spanish-language media in various countries, and with a representative of Facebook. We selected ten cases of Facebook Live broadcasts by these media outlets (see the bottom of this article) to reflect on the experiences of those media organizations with this new tool and lessons learned.

“The volume of comments is 10 times greater in a live video compared with a normal video on Facebook. As for playing time, people are watching live content three times longer than they spend watching recorded material. It is an incredible tool. When you combine interactivity and real time, it’s an incomparable force,” said Luis Renato Olivalves, director of media relations for Facebook in Latin America, in an interview with the Knight Center.

Univision is one of the television networks that joined Facebook Live to cover journalistic needs not suited for television. Breaking news, for example, is one of the areas where Facebook Live has been beneficial to the Spanish-language broadcaster.

"In breaking news, you need a quick reaction and take the audience to the place and give the information and the signal live, it does not matter that the same thing is on TV or that we are not on TV. You have to give the audience the broadcast on all platforms and they are the ones who choose,” Selymar Colón, senior editor of digital media at Univision, told the Knight Center.

Although producing audiovisual content for social networks may be similar to creating television programs, media outlets have understood that Facebook Live has its own language and needs when it comes to broadcasting. For example, Univision produces “Noticiero Univision Edición Digital,” which is broadcast simultaneously at noon through television, Facebook Live, YouTube and Periscope. It is a more visual news program, with more text and content on the screen, and less time with news anchors on display.

"The audience initially sees Facebook Live with the sound off, which teaches us to be more visual and be much more interactive. We can not just simulate television because we're going to fail," Colón added.

Despite having all the audio and video infrastructure, Univision broadcasts on Facebook Live are mostly made with smartphones and one or two members of its staff. However, they also have the ability to plug their TV signal into Facebook if it’s required.

"In very important coverage, connecting the television signal to Facebook Live works well, but it is not a resource that we want to abuse because it is not the purpose of the tool. Two years ago we made sure that all reporters had smartphones to have the ability of broadcasting, capturing the news and reporting it on social networks without any inconvenience. In many cases you do not need to put on a presenter to speak, simply show people what is happening,” Colón added.

In order to take advantage of the interaction offered by Facebook Live, Univision produces sections called "News You Can Use," which focus on serving its audience. One such section includes talks with immigration lawyers whom resolve, in real time, doubts shared by the general public in the comments section.

The channel segments its traffic in various profiles on Facebook (in addition to the Univision Noticias and Univision Política profiles, the "Primer Impacto" and "Al Punto" programs have their own accounts), and broadcasts live videos from all of them. That is why they have been forced to manage their content like television channel programming.

"Even though the audience connects to Facebook Live whenever they prefer, you do have to have a type of programming and organization when it comes to producing them. We started making programming grids for internal use that showed the content to produce from Monday to Sunday, and the accounts we are going to broadcast from," Selymar Colón said.

Increasingly, non-television media in Latin America are taking external signals mainly from government agencies and transmitting them through Facebook Live, through platforms such as Facebook Live API (a switcher type of application that allows the user to build video streams with multiple video and audio sources and to introduce special effects).

Mexican newspaper Reforma has broadcast live events such as speeches by Donald Trump or messages from the President of Mexico, although it has tried to add value by using journalists who comment and analyze the content.

"We want to give content of true value and informative quality. We have an audience that is increasing their video consumption. We have to be present in the big stories and to give them added value, not to just broadcast without meaning," shared Jorge Jiménez Fonseca, editorial coordinator of the digital version of Reforma.

The Mexican newspaper has produced exclusive content for Facebook Live. For months before the change of government in the United States, Reforma carried out – in its recently constructed multimedia studios – roundtables with experts in economics and politics, which exceeded 15,000 views on average.

But the area where the media outlets see additional opportunity in using Facebook Live is outside the studio: protests, marches and massive events, where entering with audio and video equipment can be risky or complicated. A smartphone makes the broadcast easier and allows deeper immersion in the events.

"We saw the real impact of Facebook Live when we were the only media that covered live the first massive march against the Chilean social security system. Thanks to our live broadcasts, we were able to reflect the true anger of the population. These broadcasts have no editing, what you see is what is really going on. While it does not require great sophistication with the equipment, it does require professionalism when it comes to going out in the street, mainly because we do not specialize in TV," said Claudia González, a multimedia journalist for the Chilean digital newspaper El Mostrador.

Another great advantage of Facebook Live is that it requires minimal investment. Some newsrooms were able to make use of the platform with the technical and human resources already being used by their teams.

"Our newsroom is small, we do not have many tools for multimedia work. But we wanted to give our readers a more visual aspect of the events, rather than just text with photographs. For the journalistic part, we have done very well, and the interaction in social networks has grown, which was what we were looking for," said Mael Vallejo, general editor of the Mexican site Animal Político. The digital native site used Facebook Live to broadcast the funeral of Juan Gabriel and has used the tool for several other massive events in Mexico City.

Animal Político turned to one of his reporters who had experience in television to train the rest of the team in audiovisual language, including framing, image stabilizing and speaking on-camera. However, the site and other media in Latin America, such as Peruvian newspaper La República, faced a generational barrier when training their reporters to use Facebook Live.

"There were many journalists who were not very connected to technology. Many colleagues had problems with Facebook Live at the beginning, but with training and trial and error tests, we were able to get them to learn it in an optimal way. It took us some time, but they managed to adapt," said Michael Solis, the multimedia editor of the Peruvian newspaper, who last year purchased 100 smartphones for reporters to use for broadcasting on Facebook Live.

The first foray into audiovisual content production has been a challenge for print media with presence in the digital world, where there is also an overproduction of content of that type. For this reason, Facebook Live has been a perfect medium to experiment with audiovisual, while having the almost-assured attention of the audience.

Although media in Latin America are still experimenting to determine a specific strategy to follow regarding Facebook Live, they agree that it is a platform with great journalistic potential that offers exponential growth in terms of reach and interaction with the audience.

Brazil and Mexico are the second and third largest markets in the world in video consumption on Facebook, respectively, just behind the United States. It indicates the Latin American population has a high preference for consuming content in the form of video, according to Luis Renato Olivalves.

But, at the same time, media organizations know that Facebook is a tool that everyone has access to, and therefore, there must be accurate reporting to give journalism seriousness.

"It is a media to be taken seriously. There are many people who watch the live streaming and later, if you leave the video in the timeline, its reach is much greater than that of any other publication, thanks to Facebook’s algorithm. You cannot use it carelessly," Mael Vallejo said.

In Facebook’s opinion, live streaming is giving a massive voice to media that didn’t have it before, but it's mainly opening a door to creativity and original content on the social network.

“The most important thing is to capture the audience with content and to allow the possibility to interact with them. If these two elements are well-explored, a great infrastructure is not necessary. What matters is the content,” Olivalves said.


With the help of representatives from each of the media outlets interviewed for the story above, we've compiled a list of 10 successful broadcasts alongside summaries on engagement, equipment used, teams and lessons learned.


UNIVISION (United States)
Source: Selymar Colón, senior managing editor of digital at Univision
BROADCAST: Orlando gay bar massacre VIDEO 1VIDEO 2
DESCRIPTION: Coverage of journalist and news anchor Jorge Ramos in Orlando after the killing of more than 50 people at a gay bar
DATE: June 12, 2016
ENGAGEMENT: 1.7 million views in 2 broadcasts
TEAM: 2 reporters (on-screen) + a cameraman
LESSON LEARNED: When there’s a breaking news event, Facebook Live can be used to give information in advance as reporters are en route to the scene.
DESCRIPTION: Coverage of the U.S. elections from the Univision newsroom
DATE: November 8, 2016
ENGAGEMENT: more than 14 million views in 2 broadcasts
DURATION: 8 hours
TECHNICAL EQUIPMENT: TV broadcast equipment
TEAM: Univision News staff (on-and-off-screen)
LESSON LEARNED: The time limit that Facebook established for a Facebook Live broadcast is four hours, and the coverage exceeded that time, so the broadcast had to be divided. For the Donald Trump inauguration coverage, Univision requested Facebook to extend the limit to 8 hours.

REFORMA (Mexico)
Source: Jorge Jiménez Fonseca, digital editorial coordinator at Reforma
BROADCAST: Slacklining record between two skyscrapers in Mexico City VIDEO
DESCRIPTION: The German slackliner Alexander Schulz broke a record by walking on a tight rope from the top of one building to another, 246 meters in the air.
DATE: December 4, 2016
ENGAGEMENT: 306,000 views
TEAM: 1 reporter (off-screen)
LESSON LEARNED: When the event is curious or unusual, it generates more interest among the audience.

BROADCAST: Donald Trump's speech about the executive orders regarding border security VIDEO
DESCRIPTION: Narrated broadcast of the speech, taken from the official White House signal
DATE: January 25, 2017
ENGAGEMENT: 291,192 views
TECHNICAL EQUIPMENT: Online video broadcast equipment
TEAM: 10 Reforma video staff members (off-screen)
LESSON LEARNED: They found a way to enrich the broadcast of an external signal by having a journalist translating and commenting the events in real time, taking advantage of the technical resources of the newsroom.

Source: Claudia González, multimedia journalist at El Mostrador
BROADCAST: Teaser of El Mostrador’s “Pasajeros del Lado Sur” VIDEO
DESCRIPTION: Behind the scenes of the filming of a pilot of a new show produced by El Mostrador.
DATE: June 30, 2016
ENGAGEMENT: 13,560 views
TEAM: 1 staff member (off-screen)
LESSON LEARNED: Even though it was a brief behind-the-scenes teaser, users complained via the comments about bad sound quality.

DESCRIPTION: More than one million people marched against the retirement fund system in Santiago, in what became a historic protest
DATE: August 21, 2016
ENGAGEMENT: 37,000 views in 2 broadcasts
TEAM: 1 reporter (off-screen)
LESSON LEARNED: They had issues with the sound captured by smartphones, so they had to purchase an external microphone.

Source: Mael Vallejo, general editor at Animal Político
DESCRIPTION: Thousands of people in several areas of Mexico City protested violence against women, murdered women and gender inequality.
DATE: April 24, 2016
ENGAGEMENT: 33,600 views for 4 broadcasts
TEAM: 1 reporter (on-and-off-screen) + 1 cameraman
LESSON LEARNED: Mobile connectivity in Mexico City is unstable, mainly when a big crowd is present.

BROADCAST: Juan Gabriel funeral at the Fine Arts Palace in Mexico City VIDEO 1VIDEO 2VIDEO 3
DESCRIPTION: Thousands of fans waited in long lines to see, the urn for the ashes of Mexican songwriter Juan Gabriel for a few seconds.
DATE: September 5, 2016
ENGAGEMENT: 40,000 views in 3 broadcasts
TEAM: 1 reporter (on-and-off-screen)
LESSON LEARNED: Announcing the broadcast previously on social media engages more audience members. Previous trial runs in the reporters' personal accounts allow the opportunity to fix problems with image, sound and signal.

Source: Michael Solís, multimedia editor of La República
BROADCAST: Live interview with Mexican pop duo Río Roma VIDEO
DESCRIPTION: Mexican band Río Roma visited the newsroom and answered questions from fans connected to the live broadcast.
DATE: April 14, 2016
ENGAGEMENT: 28,000 views
TEAM: 1 reporter (off-screen) + 1 cameraman
LESSON LEARNED: Interviews in the newsroom are a good option to broadcast, even with the same staff and technical equipment as an outside broadcast, as long as the interviewee will attract an audience.

BROADCAST: Flooding in Chaclacayo and Chosica VIDEO 1VIDEO 2
DESCRIPTION: Visit to the area affected by major flooding in several districts of the Province of Lima
DATE: January 24, 2017
ENGAGEMENT: 62,600 views in 2 broadcasts
TEAM: 1 reporter (on-screen) + 1 cameraman
LESSON LEARNED: Photographers that team up with reporters can take advantage of their expertise capturing images by serving as cameramen once they finish their job taking pictures.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.