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One of the key findings in our upcoming report How the Pandemic Changed Nonprofit Video Forever is that nonprofits made a huge pivot to livestreaming during the pandemic.

For our report we interviewed Jeremy Grossman, Digital Media Manager at Liberty Science Center, to learn about their innovative use of livestreaming on Facebook, and how it led to a significant increase in audience engagement.

Interview with Jeremy Grossman

Digital Media Manager at Liberty Science Center

TECTONIC: What type of video content for social media were you producing before the pandemic?

JEREMY: In the past we made a lot of highly produced videos. We once had a MythBusters exhibit, so we made a few videos with our STEM team busting myths. We’d spend a lot of time editing them, and they were good and people liked them.

But going into 2020, what I really wanted to focus on was content that we filmed on a phone and was easy to post. We found that phone-quality video content was as successful, if not more successful, on social media than videos that took a long time to produce.

When you see a video pop up in your feed that was obviously filmed on a phone, you may instinctively think it’s something that a friend posted, not a brand. It feels more natural and interesting.

Jeremy GrossmanLiberty Science Center

We’ve found that phone-quality content is very effective on Instagram and Facebook. But on YouTube, professionally produced content often performs better.

Yeah, you’re correct about that. That’s the place for longer, more high-produced content.

When the country started shutting down because of the pandemic, how did the way that you think about video on social media change?

The building closed in March. Nobody knew how long it was going to be. So, I thought, “Okay, maybe it will just last a couple of weeks. Nothing too crazy.”

But I remember Mary Meluso (LSC’s Communications Director) saying, “Maybe there are ways we can deliver our programs on video.” At the time, I didn’t know what that meant. But towards late March, early April, after talking about it for a while, we knew what we were going to do.

We decided to become like a TV network. We created a whole schedule of content, with different shows every day.

Jeremy GrossmanLiberty Science Center

We’d use our staff members, who were mostly at home, to create the content, and then they’d livestream it from their computers or phones to our Facebook page using a program called OBS (Open Broadcast Software).

On Mondays we had a show called LSC Junior which was for little kids. It featured one of our educators doing an experiment or reading a story live from their home.

Tuesdays were Live from Surgery, where viewers could watch a real surgery or dissection while a presenter shared all kinds of facts about biology and medicine. This was already an acclaimed program at LSC for high schoolers, but it had never been livestreamed before. As graphic and gross as it was, people absolutely loved it.

Wednesdays we did something called Animal Update. We had two staff members go into the building and livestream from their phones as they checked on the animals in our exhibits. They would walk around, talk to the animals, feed them, and play with them. It was funny stuff.

Thursdays we had the Planetarium Online, which was our most successful program. One of our planetarium presenters took viewers through space to other planets, or explained what you’d be able to see in the sky that night. It was majorly successful and people from all over the world tuned in each week just like it was a TV show.

Our final program was Virtual Science Trivia. Using software from LiveReacting, we livestreamed an interactive quiz show for adults on Thursday evenings and for kids and families on Friday mornings. Viewers would answer the questions by commenting, and the software would tabulate responses, record who answered correctly, and identify who got the most points.

It really did feel like we were running a TV network, and it was a lot of fun.

Audience engagement for your content was through the roof. What are some of the keys to your success?

One thing that we learned early on was that it’s very important to make livestreamed content a two-way conversation. We would encourage it as much as possible by saying, “Please comment. Please say where you’re watching from.” And the program hosts would welcome people by saying, “Hi to Mary from Texas. Oh my God, Bob’s from England. That’s so cool that you’re here.” People love having their names read aloud.

In our trivia show, someone might comment, “I’m doing so bad at this,” and the presenter will read that comment aloud and encourage them to keep trying. For our Animal Updates, we had some animals that didn’t have names, so we would ask people, “What should the animal’s name be?” And people suggested names in the comments. For our Planetarium Online, the presenters would respond to commenters questions. “Katie, that’s a fantastic question. I can talk about that.”

Another key to the success of our programming was that our hosts were all super likable and fun to be with.

Jeremy GrossmanLiberty Science Center

Our hosts were like your friends during the pandemic when you literally were seeing nobody in the world. All of the program hosts were staff members who were skilled at communicating with an audience. But none of them had done livestreams before, so there was a bit of a learning curve. We coached them to make their shows feel like it was just a bunch of people hanging out together on Facebook. It was educational, and audiences were learning a lot, but it wasn’t a stuffy lecture. It was a fun thing to do.

Are you still producing that much programming every week?

We did our five-days-a-week, livestreamed programming from April through August. And when LSC reopened to the public on Labor Day weekend, our video strategy changed to focus on bringing people back into the building. We stopped LSC Junior, Animal Updates and Live from Surgery, but kept the weekly planetarium and trivia shows going for a while longer. Now, in 2021, we’re planning a livestreamed planetarium program once a month, and virtual science trivia on a “sometimes” basis.

When things are back to “normal,” will you continue livestreaming content?

We will absolutely keep doing livestreamed content. People are going to continue connecting virtually in a big way, so we’ll never stop meeting them there. Every time there’s a new experience at the science center, we’ll ask ourselves, “What is a way that we can use livestreaming to get people excited or interested about coming to the science center?” We might not livestream every week, but it will happen regularly.

Douglas Scott

Doug is the founder of Tectonic Video. He has more than 20 years of nonprofit communications experience and he's humbled to lead an amazing team of passionate storytellers and artisans.