While live streaming has been around for a while now, only in the last year or so has this particular form of online video become immensely popular. In fact, according to livestream, 81% of internet and mobile audiences watched more live video in 2016 than they did in 2015. Additionally, research from MarketsandMarkets predicts the video streaming industry as a whole will be worth around $70 billion by 2021. It should come as no surprise, then, that YouTube has recently upped its game to cater to this burgeoning interest in live video. The platform’s live streaming feature, which last year expanded to mobile devices for select users, has grown rapidly in popularity. For example, Tubular’s recent State of Online Video Q1 2017 report (which you can access below) discovered that publicly available YouTube Live videos with over 25K views drove 6.9 billion views in Q1 2017, an increase of more than 200% over the 2.3 billion views in Q1 2016!

If your brand has yet to experiment with YouTube Live for your video marketing purposes, you’d find no better time than right now. However, before you dive in blindly, you should make sure you’re following some of the best practices for this platform. Doing so will not only help you get the most return on your efforts, but also ensure you’re properly capitalizing on everything YouTube Live has to offer your brand.

The History of YouTube Live

Before we go over some of the best practices for YouTube Live, here’s a primer on how the platform got started, how it’s changed over the years, and just what exactly the live streaming platform entails today.

YouTube Live has a long history……technically, YouTube has been dabbling in live streaming for longer than most of today’s well-known live platforms like Facebook Live and Live.ly. By 2010, Google’s online video giant had already broadcast live events around the world, such as a press conference by then-President Obama and a concert by U2. In this same year, YouTube started testing its live feature with select users, before eventually opening up the platform to everyone. YouTube Live allowed users to immediately start streaming to viewers, or let them pre-schedule streams in advance. YouTube announced in June 2015 it was launching its own gaming destination aptly called YouTube Gaming. This platform arrived in August along with its own live streaming tool, which is essentially just a rebranded version of YouTube’s original streaming feature.

By April 2016, YouTube became the first company to launch support for 360-degree live video. At VidCon in June, Google’s online video site unveiled its plans to expand its proprietary live streaming feature to its mobile app. And by November 2016, YouTube announced support for 4K streams, as well.

Modern-Day YouTube Live

YouTube Live is now available on three different but related platforms: YouTube.com, YouTube Gaming, and the YouTube mobile app. They all work essentially the same, with Google automatically recording and saving live streams of a certain length to the users’ channel once the broadcast is completed. Users can also search for your live streams and find them in related videos and playlists. And you, as the content owner, will be able to use YouTube’s ContentID system to protect your live stream content.

Only a few minor differences separate the functionality and setup of the desktop version of Live from its mobile counterpart. With YouTube Live on the titular site and its gaming equivalent, users can create an impromptu or prescheduled stream. If your brand wants to start broadcasting immediately, all you need to do is select the “Stream now” option under “Live Streaming” in your channel’s Creator Studio dashboard, provide information like title and description, and start broadcasting. YouTube will record up to 12 hours of this live stream format and save it as a public video (unless you choose otherwise) to your Video Manager.

For streams you want to schedule in advance, instead select “Events,” which gives you the ability to preview your stream before it’s live, have backup redundant streams, and start and stop the broadcast at any time. Like impromptu streams, you will be able to fill in your title, add a description, and more. Scheduled streams can be up to 8 hours long, and their archived videos can also be set to private in your Video Manager.

On mobile, the process for going live is a little different. Users will load up the YouTube app on their phones, select the capture button, and click “Go Live.” They can then enter a title, take a small thumbnail photo, and edit various privacy, age restriction, chat, and promotion-based settings before starting their broadcasts, which are saved to the creators’ channels when the stream ends.

Previously, users had to have 10,000 subscribers to use the Live mobile feature, but in April 2017, YouTube announced it was opening up streaming capabilities to any user with at least 1000 subscribers. For most brands, 1000 subscribers shouldn’t be an issue, so using Live on YouTube’s mobile app is easily within your reach (literally and metaphorically).

YouTube Live: 10 Tips and Best Practices

Now that we’ve covered what YouTube Live is and how it works, it’s time to delve into some tips and best practices for the platform. Note that some of these suggestions only apply to the desktop version of Live vs. the mobile one, and vice versa; you should also be aware that as Live develops and grows, any of these best practices could end up changing. So staying on top of the latest news around YouTube Live will, of course, ultimately help your brand find success on the platform.

You’ll also want to test different live stream lengths and content types to see what most resonates with your audience. For example, in Tubular’s Q1 2017 State of Online Video report, gaming content ranked as the most successful type of live programming at 53%; technology (15%) and news and politics (12%) content is also popular with audiences. Depending on your brand’s industry and goals, see if you can’t incorporate these genres to help grow your viewership. To get the most out of your and your audience’s YouTube Live experience, follow these tips and best practices:

#1 Aim for Quality

This should go without saying, but you want to make sure your live streams are the highest quality (both visually and audibly) they can possibly be to provide your viewers with an enjoyable live experience. We’ll outline ways you can do this in more tips below; for now, keep quality at the top of your mind. Of course, a beautiful, problem-free live stream isn’t a guarantee, especially if you’re using the mobile YouTube Live option (thanks, wi-fi!), but that doesn’t mean you can’t take steps to ensure your broadcast is in the most tip-top shape it can be.

#2 Promote Early

If you’re not planning on doing an impromptu live stream, you can schedule one in advance via the “Events” option. This allows you to promote your YouTube Live stream far ahead of it actually going live. Using social media or your brand’s email newsletter, you can let your audience know when you’ll be broadcasting live. You can also create a live stream trailer to promote on your YouTube channel, in other YouTube videos, and across your social profiles. Finally, consider updating your channel art to promote the upcoming live stream.

#3 Use the Right Equipment

As part of your efforts to ensure your live stream is high quality, make sure you’re using equipment which can handle the broadcast. For example, you’ll need to have the following:

  • Reliable internet connection: Wired connections of at least 1.5 Mbps upstream bandwidth is the preferred recommendation. With mobile streams, you can always purchase a 4G mobile hotspot if your available wi-fi is shoddy.
  • Dedicated encoder: You’ll need to have an encoder so you’re able to capture and broadcast your stream in the first place. Check out YouTube’s recommendations for encoder software, both free and paid.
  • Computers with high CPU: Your computers need to be capable of handling the demand a live stream will put on the machines thanks to your encoder. Dual-core computers are best, and even then you should make sure the only thing you’re using your computer for at the time of your live stream is the stream itself. This is especially important for less-powerful devices like laptops.
  • Redundancy/backup option: If possible, you’ll want to have a backup stream running in case your initial one fails. This means two different encoders, preferably on two different networks.
  • Webcam and microphone: You’ll want to purchase the best webcam and microphone possible, if you’re not using your mobile phone for Live. Webcams should be capable of capturing video at a resolution of at least 720p, though 1080p would be better. Microphones should be capable of blocking out most of the unnecessary noise around you.

#4 Follow Recommended and Required Settings

To use YouTube’s recommended settings for your live stream, check out this help article on which bitrates, resolutions, and encoder settings are best for your live stream. Note that broadcasts conducted through the “Stream now” option won’t require you to choose a bitrate as YouTube will automatically detect your encoder’s settings.

Also, make sure to provide information like metadata, title, thumbnail, description, and even closed captions if you want your stream to be found. Some of this is required, and is in your best interest to provide, anyway. However, the most important requirement to follow is clearing the rights to any third-party content (i.e. music, graphics, images, etc.) you might be using in your live stream.

#5 Plan Ahead and TEST

For pre-planned live stream events, it’s important to plan and test out all of your equipment to ensure streaming works the way you want it to. Some experts suggest testing at least two weeks in advance if you have the time; at minimum, you should test 24 hours before your live stream to ensure bandwidth quality, technical functionality, and redundancy. Test all video and audio settings and tools you plan to use in-stream for at least 30 minutes straight, and turn off any firewalls your computer may be running to ensure the best connection to the internet as possible.

Also, make sure you pick the right kind of streaming before you go live. As noted above, using the “Stream now” option gives you up to 12 hours of continual broadcasting, but the “Event” option is only 8 hours. Therefore, if you’re planning a live stream longer than 8 hours, you’ll need to use the “Stream now” option or your content won’t be saved past those 8 hours. Finally, keep in mind the YouTube Video Editor only allows editing of videos 3 hours or less, so if you want to be able to edit your livestream post hoc, you’ll need to keep it under that time frame.

As for mobile live streams, you should make sure you’re on the strongest internet connection possible before going live. To further prevent interruptions, try setting your phone to airplane mode, which should block incoming calls and texts that would interrupt your stream and draw your attention away from your live event.

#6 Include In-Stream Content

While you obviously have a reason to be doing a live stream in the first place, you want to make sure the broadcast is as engaging for your audience as possible, as well as growing your brand’s presence on YouTube. The easiest way to do this is by including in-stream content during your live event. For example, include both visual and verbal calls-to-action if you want to draw your viewers’ attention to a particular link or action, like asking them to subscribe to your channel. Just remember that if you use third-party content, you must have the rights to show or play it in your stream.

#7 Start Ahead of Time

Starting your live stream a few minutes early will enable you to check the integrity of the live stream and your equipment before getting started. You’ll also be able to send out final promotional social posts or emails to help generate more interest in your broadcast. If you enabled chat, starting early also allows users to jump into the chat screen and talk with each other before you officially dive into the content portion of your stream.

#8 Monitor Feedback

During the live event, make sure you’re paying attention to the chat box. Sometimes you may receive feedback to help you improve your stream, like a viewer telling you to move your microphone closer to your mouth so they can hear you better. If you’re not able to keep up with chat yourself, make sure other team members from your brand are available to help monitor and respond to users’ comments.

#9 Always Have a Plan B

If you’re unable to have two encoders for redundancy’s sake, and something with your live stream fails, you’ll need to have a plan B. In the case of a desktop-based live stream, you might have your laptop next to your desk computer to use as a backup, or you could opt for YouTube Live on mobile. If you’re live streaming via the mobile version, you may not be near a computer should your broadcast fail; however, you can do your best to move to a position with better wi-fi or make sure you have a mobile wi-fi device to keep your stream rolling.

#10 Capitalize on the Finished Stream

Hitting the “stop streaming” button doesn’t mean you’re done with your work. If you want to make the most of the broadcast you just conducted, consider adding it into a playlist of related content, or starting a new playlist solely for your live streamed content. You can also edit your stream and turn it into smaller highlight videos for distribution on your channel, or embedding on outside sites. Finally, make sure to promote your live stream archive and related clips via social media, your newsletter, or your website.

Download the State of Online Video Q1 2017 Report Now

The exclusive ‘State of Online Video Q1 2017’ report gives unprecedented insights into what’s happening on the major video platforms, and includes further data on YouTube Live. You can access the full report right now by filling in the form below.