I’d been interested in livestreaming for a VERY long time. I was always scared of doing it though. What would I say? What would be a fun topic to explore? Who would listen? It wasn’t until I became obsessed with the microscopic world that things made sense. This is what I want to livestream. Funnily enough, I setup a Twitch account the day before one of my posts went viral. It was total happenstance. I’ve been streaming on Twitch since March 2020, and my stream has been doing quite well. So, here’s what I’ve learned:
1) Going viral seems like a fun idea, until it actually happens!
Going viral, from my experience, is something that happens by pure luck. There isn’t an exact formula for it, and I never saw it coming. A friend of mine recommended that I should start posting content to Imgur. Curious, I decided to upload a clip of a Tardigrade. It wasn’t even a high quality clip. It was just the first clip that I found when I was browsing content on my phone. And, it exploded. It hit over 180K views, and the top voted comment was that I should stream to Twitch. It became clear to me that it’s something people would want to see – COOL! Except now, I had to manage a bazillion comments and messages… because the online media picked up on it. BoingBoing published an article, Futurist published something, it eventually ended up on Google News. Going viral is a great boost, but the management of it can be a bit of a nightmare if it wasn’t something you’d anticipated. My Twitch channel went from 0 followers to over 1000, almost overnight. (And yeah, I’ve checked, no bots!). I suddenly felt a bit of pressure. Ok, a lot of pressure. But, to be blunt, the pressure was all in my head. As it turns out, the audience I’d gained was about to make my life a lot easier.
2) Your first few streams will be terrible, and that’s ok!
The pressure of going viral was imagined, because, as it turns out, people who regularly watch livestreams totally expect you to suck at first. They don’t actually care too much about mic or image quality, despite what all of the livestreaming articles say online. If people love an idea, they’ll be patient with you as you finetune your stream. In fact, some of them will even help you out. And even more remarkable, they’ll do it for free, out of kindness, because they want to see you succeed. So, expect to suck at first. If you go into it thinking you’ll be a pro, you’ll fail hard because you’ll be trying too hard. Take it easy, relax, get your bearings. Figure out how it works, you’ll get the hang of it. Most important thing is to simply get started.
3) Keep improving, and let your community help you.
While Twitch and Youtube and other livestreaming options get a bad rap for trolling and bullying, I haven’t experienced any of that. Instead, I’ve been surrounded by a very warm and kind community that has helped me out to the best of their ability, whenever they can. They genuinely want me to succeed, which is amazing! Thing is, you’ve got to do your part too. Give them something that’s worth their while. That means, keep learning and improving. Keep improving your audio, your visuals, your overlays and widgets. Keep trying new things, get feedback, spend time at night reading about chatbots and loyalty perks. The livestreaming experience is a constant give and take, and it goes both ways. If you want to do well, show these people that you’re making an effort, too.
4) Livestream apps aren’t user-friendly at all.
All I can say about this is that it’s abundantly clear that livestream apps were designed for and by nerds. Since Twitch and livestreaming in general has been dominated by gamers, and many of them are also coders, it’s so obvious that they’ve designed the apps to be easy to customize if you know how to code and how to modify code. Livestreaming won’t become more popular, especially with people who aren’t as technically-inclined, until we make it easier for them to use it. Even apps like Streamlabs OBS still have a LONG way to go until they can reach a wider client base. Some streamers have been fortunate enough to have experienced streamers lend a hand in setting things up. So, you might luck out. But, if not, your best bet is to watch YouTube videos, or read a ton of articles online to learn how to customize everything and make things work. And be prepared to muck things up real good. The apps, and especially the widgets, are sometimes very buggy. Again, they weren’t designed to be easy to use.
5) You don’t have to do what everyone else does.
The best advice I kept getting over and over again from my community members was this: remember that this is YOUR livestream. You can do whatever you want with it. At first, I found that I spent too much time reading about Twitch etiquette and Twitch culture, only to realize that some parts of what’s “normal” on Twitch just aren’t my thing. Like, raids. Raids are when you move yourself and your viewers to a new stream. It’s a way to show support for other streamers by bringing up their viewer count, and introducing your viewers to another stream they might like. Some viewers find it exciting, and a lot of streamers enjoy it, too. I don’t care if I get raided or not, but I don’t like the idea of forcing my viewers to move to a stream that they might or might not enjoy. I prefer giving them the choice. Of course, they could always just leave (and many do during raids). Instead of raiding, I created a stream promo channel on my Discord server to allow for my viewers to promo links they enjoy, or to promo their own links. This way, people choose what they want to watch.
6) Let your personality unfurl naturally.
When I first started streaming, I did so because I wanted to offer a voice in the world that wasn’t panicked or political. I was so tired of the content online that was aggressive and angry. Everybody seems to be mad at everything. So, naturally, my relaxed state took over. Next thing I knew, I was being compared to Bob Ross! It was lovely to get messages from people saying that they listen to me while doing homework, or that they watch my stream so they can get away from it all. It warmed my heart to hear that. Lately, however, as my subjects get more excited, I too have become more excitable. I’ve felt myself become more vibrant and more whimsical on stream. Welcome to the totality of who I am (I keep my vulgar side to myself, however, as I’ve sworn to make my stream kid-friendly!). And, that’s the thing: you CAN be yourself online. You don’t need to adopt a persona or be “professional”. Some streamers have successfully created an online character – that can be fun to explore, too. But it all relates to my previous point – do what feels right to you. If you’re guarded, or if you’re fake, people will sense that. Just let yourself be.
7) Take all advice with a grain of salt, including mine!
Like anything else you’re exploring that’s new to you, people will always have advice to give you. Take it all with a grain of salt. You might discover things that feel just right for you, but that don’t work for others. Here’s an example – I’ve tried a variety of streaming categories. You know which one has landed me the highest quality of viewers? The Science and Tech category. While this would make sense, the Sci-Tech category is generally despised by actual Science streamers because it’s over-saturated with programmers and coders who stream programming languages all day. It’s not a category that’s often pushed or promo’d by Twitch. Still, while discovery might be low in the Science category, I’ve found that the people who show up end up staying, and many of them end up contributing financially to the stream too! So, I stick to what works for me. My viewer numbers aren’t that high, but my community is solid gold, and the quality of the people who watch matter more to me than the overall numbers.
8) It’s ok to make money from streaming.
I’ve written about this before in the context of the arts, but it’s the same with livestreaming: money don’t come easy, and even worse, there’s this weird idea that you should be in it just for fun. Do it out of passion, do it out of love, but how dare you do it for money. Here’s the deal: why are we ok with people slaving over jobs they hate for money, but when they’re doing something they love, they don’t deserve to be paid? This is a pretty toxic way of looking at things. Here’s what I think about it: do both. Do something you love, and eventually, the money will follow. And, it’s totally ok to be paid for doing something you really enjoy doing. Should you ask people to donate or sub? If you want to. My experience has been that people will support you if they want to. You don’t need to ask, and you most certainly shouldn’t spam people about it. Let people give to you because they have a genuine appreciation for what you do – not because they feel guilty. As a viewer, I never hesitate to give to someone I like because I never know their situation. Even if they already have a job, you never know if their job is soul crushing, or if they have medical payments to make, or if they’re supporting a disabled child. You never know. So, if you want to give, give. If you want to stream to make money on the side, or to do it for a living, try. But, don’t do it with the expectation that it’ll happen anytime soon. Do it with expectations grounded in reality. Because the reality is this: fewer than 1% of streamers make minimum wage.
9) Pay attention to chat.
The single most important thing, in my opinion, is that a livestreamer pay attention to chat. Who’s just joined? Say hello. Try to pronounce their name. Has someone recently subbed? Say thank you – and mean it. Someone just traded hours of their life in the form of money to support you. SAY THANK YOU. Is someone asking you the same question someone else already asked you ten minutes ago? Answer it again. Is someone asking you something you don’t want to answer? Just politely decline. Be kind, be nice, be relaxed. And pay attention to potential trolls. I’ve yet had to ban or timeout anyone, which is pretty impressive. Maybe I’ve just been lucky. But, you can also manage situations verbally first. Saying things like “dude, that’s not cool”, or “that’s not nice” will go a long way, sometimes. Or simply ignoring people who make bad jokes can do the trick (careful though: you are responsible for your viewers’ behaviour so make sure to take care of anything that might violate the terms of the livestreaming platform you use). All in all, pretend you’re hosting a dinner party and welcome everyone as they join in. An important thing to remember: don’t call out lurkers. People lurk because they’re choosing not to participate in chat. So, let them do that. Don’t call them out. People will chat if they feel like it.
10) Set a schedule. Plan. Be a pro.
Bluntly, be a goddamn professional. That means, give people something to look forward to by setting a schedule and planning your streams ahead of time. There are streamers that I’d love to watch on a regular basis, but they don’t have a schedule, so I simply forget about them. If you don’t want to be forgotten, plan dates and times and stick to them like religion. You can always take time off, plan vacations, take stream breaks (and I highly recommend doing so). Nothing sucks more than a streamer who’s streaming even when they don’t feel like it. So, if you know you need a break, take one. For your schedule, don’t feel the need to stream every day. I stream officially only two nights a week. However, I frequently do surprise streams and people also seem to enjoy that. Having two scheduled days gives me only two commitments per week, but it allows me the flexibility to stream on days when I just happen to have some free time. So, create a schedule that works for you.
Some thoughts on Variety Streaming…
“Variety streaming” is when you stream a variety of things: walking your dog, singing, cooking, programming a game, etc. I am giving this a try because I am learning that I want to share more with the world than just my microscope stuff. I keep my scheduled nights (Tues & Thurs) for microscope streams, but on occasion, I’ll stream out in the field while collecting samples. I’ve also started streaming when I’m playing with Legos. Honestly? It comes down to your personality. I’m finding joy in streaming a variety of stuff – maybe you’ll find joy in it too. It does seem like variety streamers tend to do better than streamers who just stream one thing. I suspect that has something to do with what I call “subject fatigue”. People do get tired of watching the same thing over and over again. Livestreaming has a certain entertainment component to it. Plus, people genuinely want to get to know you. So, do your thing!
Some thoughts on Face Cams…
A lot of livestreaming guides and articles will tell you that you absolutely need a face cam. YOU DO NOT NEED A FACE CAM. It’s fun to show your face once in a while, but plenty of successful and entertaining streamers don’t use a face cam. Again, do your own thing.
Some thoughts on Equipment…
Due to the pandemic, podcasting and livestreaming equipment is very hard to come by. Shipping takes forever, equipment is out of stock, all the high quality stuff isn’t available. I’ll be blunt, again: work with what you’ve got. I started streaming with just my phone (Streamlabs has a great mobile app for streaming). Then, I progressed to using my phone with DroidCam (to convert the phone into a recognizable webcam), and I use my PC with Streamlabs OBS and just the built-in laptop mic. It’s far from perfect. But, I have ordered all of the cool audio gear…it’s just taking months to arrive. Work with what you’ve got, explain to your community that you’re working on making things better, do audio checks when you start to make sure your mic is working, and… do your thing.