Is Meerkat just a fad or the future?

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The tech world has been abuzz with talk of Meerkat lately. From the app’s rapid rise in social media fame to its sudden rocky future following Twitter’s announcement that it purchased a competing live-streaming service, Meerkat is turning heads. The B2B community wants to know: exactly what is Meerkat, how can it enhance a business’s social media marketing, and, more importantly, does it have staying power?

Meerkat, in a nutshell, lets users stream live video from their cellphones right to their Twitter account. Choosing the stream function, users can instantly share a live stream of what is being recorded. Opting for the schedule function, lets users pre-record footage to share with followers.

As a social media avenue, live streaming has seen a surge in popularity. Unlike permanent and one-sided photos and videos, live streaming combines video elements with real-time user comments on one screen. It is also fleeting, in that once the stream is complete, the video is gone. It often can’t be viewed again.

Its evanescent nature is attractive for those who want to share moments without the threat of embarrassing or controversial images and behaviour living forever on the internet. As Michael Fertik, CEO of Reputation.com, says, “You don’t want to be held responsible for something that was funny for two seconds. We don’t necessarily want one moment of humanity to define us in 10 years.”

Live media also introduces new sets of feelings, according to Meerkat CEO Ben Rubin: “Drama, anticipation, uncertainty, unpredictability — there’s a huge range of emotion around participatory content that we don’t usually get by consuming the ordinary photos and videos.”

Heavyweight media brands are interested in Meerkat’s potential. The BBC, for example, recently used the app to broadcast its coverage of events in Ferguson, Missouri. Following the shooting death of Michael Brown by police, the news outlet used Meerkat to solicit live feedback from viewers that shaped the network’s onsite coverage. Mashable, too, used Meerkat successfully during the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, broadcasting original interviews in real time.

For the B2B community, Meerkat and its like is gaining a foothold in social media marketing. In what it calls the “magic” of live streaming, business presentation specialist KnowledgeVision says: “There is excitement surrounding a live event; the higher perceived value yields better ROI [when used for lead generation]; the timeliness of the content raises immediacy; people want a chance to interact with you; live events get higher response rates; live events let you try out ideas [without the worry of permanence if they don’t work].”

Because it was originally designed for Twitter, Meerkat saw dramatic success among Tweeps almost immediately upon launch. When a user starts broadcasting with Meerkat, his or her Twitter followers receive a tweet with a link to the video. Their comments, likewise, appear both in the Twitter feed and on the user’s video screen, allowing for live response.

It turns out, though, that Twitter was none too pleased with Meerkat’s piggybacking. After announcing that it acquired a to-be-released competitor, Periscope, Twitter put limitations on Meerkat that prevented it from automatically turning Twitter followers into Meerkat followers.

This move was a blow to the live stream app; however, it didn’t crush Rubin’s optimism. In an interview with Business Insider, he said, “I think our job as entrepreneurs is to make sure that we also have a space, and different perspective, and a different kind of product so people can have the opportunity to choose and relate to different products and messaging to feel connected. I don’t look at it as a threat, it’s part of the whole ecosystem.”

The push to keep Meerkat relevant has seen developers add new features, and there is talk that it will “play nice” with other platforms (though Rubin did state that Facebook is irrelevant to live-stream media). The next iteration of Meerkat will make it easier for users to discover others and will allow users to re-watch Meerkat live streams that are no longer live. Admittedly, this will be a step away from its current status as an ephemeral app, which is part of the reason for its popularity. “The idea behind it is not to cater to ephemerality,” Rubin said. “We want to make sure that you control the content after you post it.”

What remains to be seen is whether Meerkat is a fad, or if it can hang on as a top live-streaming app. As Eric Ries, author of the bestseller The Lean Startup, tells Mashable, “For every Twitter, there are of course another nine or ten companies that simply don’t go anywhere.” He also believes that Meerkat will face many copycats; perhaps it may fall to another, more powerful live streamer the way Friendster fell to Facebook.

Even the BBC was not entirely convinced after its successful Ferguso broadcast that Meerkat was the best way to go. BBC video journalist Franz Strasser says, “We’re still not entirely convinced this is the best option, but we’re willing in trying out all these different platforms … We’re going to be looking closely at what company offers the most in terms of how we can reuse videos after we record them.”

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