The Ins and Outs of Instagram Live

Intimate, informal, and interactive, the social platform’s livestream feature is a cool new way to connect with consumers

From filters that shoot cartoon hearts onto your face to the mishmash of Stories and the YouTube-like IGTV, Instagram is packed with features. But when it comes to engaging followers in an intimate way, nothing on the platform compares to Instagram Live, a feature that allows users to livestream people and events, and react to follower comments and questions in real time.

Highly interactive and always informal, Instagram Live is “a way for brands to break down that fourth wall and invite people in,” says Erica Martell, a freelance Instagram content creator based in Rhode Island. ­“Everything is so staged these days, and Instagram Live gives people an opportunity to see a real, live human talking and interacting. It forges connections with consumers and brands, because people are always looking to relate.”

Here’s what you need to know to get the most out of Instagram Live.

Posts Are Perfect; Live Is Not

Instagram feed posts—and even ­Stories—tend to be rigorously curated. For brands, that generally means only the slickest content is promoted. But Instagram Live is actually live, so it’s embedded with a visceral, anything- goes vibe and arguably a little more soul. Plus, there’s no controlling the comments that, when typed in by viewers, scroll up on the screen for all to see!

Instagram Rewards Live Sessions

When you begin an Instagram Live session, your stream will bump to the front of your followers’ Stories lineup, and followers will also receive a notification letting them know you’re live. Why is this useful? If you have important news, Live might deliver it to more people in the moment.

Hype Is a Good Thing

As with every event (live and virtual), solid attendance for any Instagram Live session usually depends on pre-event promotion. “Make an announcement on your feed and several on your Stories leading up to the Live,” says Martell, who also suggests collecting questions from followers for an upcoming session while you’re at it.

The Lighting and Background Matter

Dim lighting and busy backgrounds are distracting on Instagram Live. Martell suggests getting a low-cost ring light (under $50)—the standard lighting device for YouTube stars. Or position your laptop next to a window, so your face is facing the light. “When we have a light source bouncing off the center of our face, we all look so much better,” she explains. “And make sure you have a good Wi-Fi connection, because if you cut out on a Live, you’ll lose people in a hot second.”

You Can (and Should) ­Feature Friends

You can certainly Instagram as an individual, especially if you have brief news or an announcement to make. But the most engaging Instagram Live sessions tend to be split-screen chats between two parties. The host begins the Live on his or her phone, and the guest simply taps a button to join. The starts of these chats, even when produced by marquee brands, “are always fumble-y,” says Martell. And that’s perfectly okay.

Top: Never underestimate the power of good lighting.

(Olena Yakobchuk/Shutterstock)

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