It's 8 a.m. on a Friday morning and hundreds of people in places as far away as Anchorage and Tokyo know that the traffic is backed up on the I-35 on the way from the airport to downtown Austin, Texas. They know because they are watching noted user acquisition expert Nir Eyal interview his host on the drive in from the airport. He's doing it on a new app called Meerkat which is taking the festival (and a lot of the tech media) by storm. I didn't get why until I used it this weekend to video my dog, but it's about one major thing; seamless, quality delivery of content. Eleven people were watching my life happen in one tap. Meerkat was eerily powerful. I've always had a particularly low opinion of content marketing, but the use of it so far has shown that perhaps brands can actually create interesting things using live, unedited footage.
Naturally this plays into PR and marketing. New platforms like Meerkat are making on-the-go marketing possible with real-time content creation and deployment that's both high quality and contextual. In fact, it's about as contextual as it gets; by being "live" and never giving viewers the chance to rewatch a stream (thus an immediacy to the content unlike anything other than a telephone), you're showing them something very raw and real. It's hard to stage, unlike Vine, which has become a circus of clearly-branded, heavily-organized posts.
It's being used at SXSW for influencers and startups ranging from Gary Vaynerchuck to Mashable to 500 Startups to broadcast interviews, footage from parties and private conversations. The live-streamed video, broadcast through Twitter, gives an immediate and temporally-personal experience. It creates highly contextual and valuable insights into people's lives (both professionally and personally) that's special to the audience for several reasons. The most important, to me, is that it's very much there for followers actually connecting with their
"We are using SXSW to build up a number of use cases to reach our target audience ranging from interviews to on the ground footage, to behind the scenes exposes", said Alex Gold Co-Founder of Buzzstarter, a content marketing company based in San Francisco. Content marketing can often be bland and mediated; Meerkat is literally what you see, with no filters, no special lenses and no bleep button. It's real.
Companies like Buzzstarter have had very few tools to rapidly deploy quality content (though I hesitate to use that word, given how raw and immediate Meerkat feeds are). The only real options were a Facebook post, tweet, check-in on Foursquare or a Ustream, which lacks the plug-and-play nature of Meerkat. When a company uses Meerkat correctly, it's a rare and powerful way to connect immediately and viscerally with an audience, current or new.
Though some (like Mikal Belicove, a writer for both Forbes and Entrepreneur) question content marketing's efficacy, big brands are also seeing success to brand marketers, who are seeing increased gains from content marketing and are looking to deploy new solutions at SXSW to get coverage outside of the mainstream media.
"The public wants quality content fast and brands want the biggest, most relevant audience to see it," says Jeff Pundyk, VP of Global Content Solutions at The Economist. "Content marketing companies and solutions that focus on providing high quality content creation and distribution--fast--will take over the space." Content is ultimately what you'd refer to any piece that you read online; if it comes from a company, it had better be good. For example, people love Buzzfeed's Dear Kitten videos, even though they're effectively an advertisement. That's because they're entertaining, funny and cute.
Content marketing, in every form, is even attracting giant, established brand conglomerates like Unilever. At SXSW 2015, brands will be looking to work with companies that can create quality content quickly and get it seen by a lot of people. Meerkat is just one of the tools that companies are employing.
"Content is truly the future of marketing because that's what captures people's attention and hearts. And that's what makes this space so exciting right now," said Sarah Montante, Senior Brand Manager at Unilever USA.
Brands are taking notice of Meerkat's success and other apps have begun entering the market. Stre.am is an app that's similar to Meerkat but allows you to live-stream not only through Twitter but Facebook, email and even SMS. Ustream, Livestream, and Bambuser are other examples, along with Twitch.TV, which gained popularity by giving the same ease of content-creation immediacy as Meerkat but for gaming.
What made Meerkat a huge success? There's no crystalized answer quite yet, but the opportunity for marketing and PR to jump on it and clear. While the dirge of company blogs that stands for the drab "content marketing industry" in many cases has soured me to it, I'm quite excited for the possibilities of live-streamed, honest content. Even if it is from a company.