Meerkat and Periscope are the latest and hottest apps for the iPhone (Android versions are said to be under development), and they are remarkably similar. Once installed and activated on your phone, your Twitter followers are alerted that you are live-streaming, and they are invited to see what you are doing. Twitter, which owns Periscope, blocks Meerkat users from some competitive features, but Meerkat still relies completely on Twitter for gaining popularity with its users. Meerkat has a feature called Leaderboard, which shows the most popular Meerkat users. Periscope, in contrast to Meerkat, keeps a video recording of each live stream for 24 hours, in case someone was unable to join the live version. Think of it as a temporary DVR feature.
For now, I'll avoid the question of whether the world needs two such similar products. The market will always make that decision for us.
Back when the world was young, by which I mean the late '90s, amateur webcams streamed into our lives 24/7. We got voyeuristic journeys into the lives of strangers, in much the same way Jim Carrey's character in The Truman Show became famous. Sadly, this trend quickly devolved from a curiosity to a means of disseminating porn. There still are cams which continuously stream for the armchair traveler, the idly curious, and to charm animal lovers everywhere. Seriously, who doesn't like to watch pandas roll down a hill?
Nevertheless, you could be forgiven if you raised a dubious eyebrow at the oddly coincidental introduction of two eerily similar live-streaming apps, mere weeks apart, which are both married to Twitter. The buzz and excitement which surrounded their introduction seemed curious, even for the mobile-hungry crowd at SXSW, which swooned over Meerkat, the first of the two apps to be released. After all, what's the big deal about live-streaming media '- It's everywhere!
The right time
Yet, it may just be that a social media-centric live-streaming app is arriving at just the right time. Go to any conference, meetup, or gathering and you are going to be encouraged to Tweet about it to your followers. If you want to influence somebody, taking advantage of the latest trend is often a good approach. The message is, 'I'm here at this cool place, being cool, and you aren't!' In other words, it's all about marketing.
And, if there is one major event coming up which is going to be the perfect mashup of social media and marketing, it will be the 2016 U.S. election. In crucial early primary and caucus states, such as the one I reside in; where house parties and ice cream socials often include Presidential hopefuls, the power of live-streaming is bound to be encouraged.
Because comments are part and parcel of the Twitterverse, they also appear during any Meerkat and Periscope session. It's a Live Tweet event accompanied by video of the event. By now, politicians understand that this is business as usual, and they can't avoid it. Snark and cynicism (and worse) is inevitable. How campaign managers, donors, and party leaders handle this element of the election process will be interesting to observe. Remember Mitt Romney's famous '47 percent' quote? True, that was recorded by a hidden cell phone, but imagine if something like that is uttered during a Periscope session. Social media giveth, but it also can taketh away.
A marketing tool
It's easy to see that these two apps have real potential for marketing well beyond the Presidential campaign. When products are introduced, every cell phone becomes a television camera. If a store has a sale or a promotion, a live feed could conceivably serve the same function as the old live radio remote. I know marketing gurus are already using both apps, and are excited about their possibilities. If you are a marketer, I'd love to hear how you plan to use Periscope or Meerkat.
Still, as we approach what The Daily Show calls Indecision 2016, my attention is going to be focused not on the evening news, but on my Twitter feed. It's going to be a long campaign.