Social Media Spotlight:

Why I'm Obsessed With Periscope

Karen Korr
San Diego County Bar Association

In February of 2015, when our committee of lawyers, judges, and reporters began to plan our annual Bench/Bar/Media event, we thought we had our arms around what was happening with social media.  By the time we hosted the event in May, Periscope was up and running and it was as if the social media universe began anew.

The Assistant News Director at KNSD (our local NBC affiliate) who was part of our planning team called us in to the studio to meet, imparting that we would be remiss if we didn't educate our audience about Periscope (and Meerkat, a similar platform).  As we stood around the Assignment Editor's desk, someone on the KNSD team pulled out an iPad and started to broadcast via Periscope while explaining how the app worked to the committee.  We were actually broadcasting our informal conversation live, in real time, to anyone in the world with a Twitter account who cared to watch. "Who would care to watch this?" I thought.  It turned out, several people from all over the country did. "Someone likes your boots," the News Director said to me.  I was shocked - not only because it is a rare occasion that we get to wear boots in San Diego and I was excited to put them on that morning - but also that there were actually people watching and interacting with our broadcast.  I would learn soon enough that you could broadcast anything at all - even a blank wall (true story), and at least one person would tune in and watch and interact with you.  I was instantly obsessed.

The thrill of Periscope is that it allows anyone to broadcast live from their smartphone or tablet, share via social media that they are broadcasting, and interact with viewers in real time. Broadcasts can be saved, viewed, and commented on for 24 hours, but then disappear and are no longer accessible (though like anything on the internet, they can be captured). The immediacy of Periscope is one of its greatest features - you only get to see what is happening now, meaning content is consistently fresh and current.

The emergence of this technology revolutionizes how news is delivered, taking the concept of "citizen journalism" to a whole new level.  No longer do you need to wait for a news truck to arrive at a crime scene - witnesses and/or anyone on the scene with a smartphone can virtually play the role of the press. There is also a huge voyeuristic component to this medium that rivals even the best reality television. Periscope provides snapshots of real life in real time - completely unfiltered and unedited moments that individuals are choosing to share with the world.

Recently, Periscope was the subject of many news stories when a Lakeland, Florida woman broadcast herself driving drunk, and several viewers called 9-1-1 asking police to get her off the road. She was later arrested for driving under the influence, though many of the Lakeland Police Department (LPD) officers were not aware of the app or its uses when they first started receiving phone calls.  According to a USA Today news story about the incident, it has "sparked LPD to train their officers on how to use Periscope and emerging technology, so they'll be ready when something else like this occurs."

Periscope as a vehicle for citizen journalism became very real for me in early November, when there was a standoff situation in San Diego with an armed man shooting from inside an apartment building  along the airport's flight path.  The situation was so tenuous that the San Diego airport was closed to inbound flights for several hours, with flights diverted to Orange County and Los Angeles. Law enforcement used social media to ask news crews to stay clear of the area, both to keep the reporters safe, and to ensure police positions and tactics were not compromised. Therefore, news and video coverage was limited and spotty during the more than five-hour ordeal. However, on Periscope, residents of the apartment building and surrounding complexes were broadcasting live, sharing what they were witnessing and keeping viewers updated on police direction and activity.  Because Periscope is tied to Twitter (you must have a Twitter account to register for Periscope), by following a few hashtags, it was simple to tap into any of the live, highly personalized broadcasts.

Through Periscope, I've watched a fire burning at the Cosmopolitan pool in Las Vegas just as firefighters were first arriving on the scene, listened to musician John Mayer play acoustic guitar and try out new songs from his own living room, hung out with Irish tourists on the boardwalk in Tel Aviv, attended concerts both down the street and abroad,  watched students in East Lansing, Michigan go nuts after Michigan State (my alma matter) pulled off a miraculous win with two seconds left in a rivalry football game against the University of Michigan, chatted with an Executive Producer on The Bachelor (a favorite guilty pleasure), experienced the aftermath of the recent Paris attacks with residents walking the streets and sharing their stories, and I have also watched dozens of inebriated people do countless embarrassing things in order to grow their audience.

While on a personal level, this medium is fascinating, the public relations practitioner in me is also obsessed with all of the untapped marketing opportunities. An attorney looking to market their practice could do a 10-minute "ask a lawyer" broadcast nightly on Periscope, or perhaps jump on regularly to answer commonly asked questions - basically creating their own infomercial free of charge. Any live program or panel discussion hosted by  your association can now be broadcast across the globe, dramatically broadening your audience and interest in your association.

Experts and influencers are just beginning to emerge on Periscope and build their followings, with some of the most watched individuals garnering hundreds of thousands of followers.  As public relations practitioners, we often talk about positioning our members as thought-leaders, experts, and the gatekeepers to inside knowledge and experience.  What better way is there to position oneself as a thought leader than to share your thoughts on a consistent basis with an audience that has elected to listen to you?  If you or your Association is doing something truly unique, why limit your exposure to just your community when you could share your expertise across the world, free of charge, at any time?

With so many lawyers and legal-minded readers, I am confident that there are a few of you who have been temporarily blinded by all of the red flags currently in your sight line. An unedited and unregulated world can be a bit of a dangerous one - in addition to a bevy of legal questions surrounding discovery and evidence gathered from Periscope, there are obvious copyright and permission issues. In fact, the app first gained broad popularity during a cable pay-per-view broadcast of a boxing match where users broadcasted the entire match live.  There is also the danger of stepping into a not-so PG-13 broadcast that may have been mislabeled ala the AOL Chat rooms of days of yore, which brings up an entirely different host of legal issues.

Like any new medium, Periscope has the potential for public relations greatness, though perils for users will always exist.  The jury is still out on whether or not Periscope's popularity will match that of other social media platforms, but in the interim, there are myriad ways to experiment with how to position your Bar, your leaders, and your causes beyond your local sphere.