July 2, 2015

Periscope for Nonprofits: A Quick Guide & Review

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Caroline Avakian Headshot finalLive streaming has been thrust into the limelight recently with the release of Periscope — a free mobile app that allows any user to live stream from wherever they are. The whole concept of Periscope is to virtually place you somewhere in the world you would never be if it weren’t for the app.

Even as a nonprofit techie, I tend to look at new apps and platforms with a bit of skepticism because I don’t always think nonprofits should jump on the bandwagon of the next new shiny app that promises a lot and underperforms. That said, I do feel it’s important to keep updated on new tools, make an educated decision on whether it’s right for your nonprofit, and have a strong reason either way as to why or why not your nonprofit is using that social tool. I’ve noticed that having a well prepared answer at the ready is especially handy at board meetings when conversations start to drift to why your npo isn’t leveraging a certain social platform.

So when Periscope came along, I did what I normally do — I downloaded it to my smart phone and started playing with the app and paying attention to how others were maximizing its potential. I quickly realized Periscope could be a powerful broadcasting tool for nonprofits.

But how do you know if it’s right for your nonprofit and if it is, how do use it effectively?

Periscope Demo Pic

THE GOOD (and what you need to know to get started):

  • Periscope is a free downloadable mobile app that works with either iPhone or Android
  • It’s Twitter owned, so you can sign up using your existing Twitter account and have instant access to all of your Twitter followers.
  • You can share live broadcasts with your Twitter/Periscope following and the app sends a notification to your followers that you’re streaming live.
  • There’s a very small learning curve on this app. I found it very simple to set up my account and start streaming.
  • When you’re watching a live stream, tap on the screen to give the broadcaster hearts. On Periscope, hearts act as applause or ‘likes’ to show the broadcaster you like what you’re seeing. Visually, the hearts float up the right-hand side of your screen when you’re streaming. Hearts also measure popularity on Periscope.
  • There is a chat function that lets you interact with your audience, and them with you. In shoty, viewers can comment on your livestream. It’s really great for Q and A’s and commentary in real time. You also have the ability to turn comments off.
  • Once your broadcast is over, your analytics come on the screen and show you number of views, retention rate, duration of video, and number of hearts received. So great for data-driven organizations!
  • When you end your broadcast, you can save the video to your camera roll and share it or watch it later.
  • The lock button allows you to live stream a video for only certain people to watch. If you want to live stream an event for only your team or small supporter group to see, you can choose which people will be able to see your broadcast.


  • It just launched in March 2015, so it is still a little buggy.
  • Your livestream is only available for 24 hours before it disappears on Periscope, so make sure to download it if it’s a video you want to keep.
  • Periscope shoots only in vertical mode, not landscape, which has now become intuitive for anyone shooting any type of video on their smart phones. Lets hope that changes soon.
  • Periscope needs better immediate control over trolls, spammers, and innapropriate comments during a live broadcast. As it is now, you have go to the user’s profile and then press the block button. This is too complicated when you’re in the process of broadcasting live. If Periscope doesn’t find a better remedy for this soon, it is going to be a dealbreaker for many, many nonprofit users.
  • It forces you to begin your broadcast with only the option to shoot outward facing. So, if you’d like to begin your broadcast by speaking directly to camera, you can’t. You have to start outward facing, then double tap the screen to switch it inward facing. We should have the option to start a broadcast using whichever view we prefer.
  • The ability to comment is limited to the first 200 people viewing the broadcast. Viewers can tap hearts but not comment if they are late to the broadcast and the livestream has over 200 viewers.


1) Live streaming from “the field”

If the connectivity is there, we just opened up a great way for communications and program officers to broadcast field visits abroad and beneficiary interviews (when appropriate). The same goes for local nonprofits who really have the capacity to live stream important “mission moments” that might otherwise go unshared.

2) Q and A’s

Periscope offers a great new way to connect with your supporters by having the ability to conduct livestream Q and A’s with your program participants, executive director, program director, celebrity ambassadors, and others. The chat function allows Periscope users to ask questions or post commentary as you’re live streaming, so it’s exceptionally interactive and fast. Think about Periscoping in a series, like doing a series of fun ‘Meet the Staff’  Q & A’s, or designating a portion of your weekly staff meeting to a Periscope Program Update and short Q and A afterwards. That’s a great way to let your supporters know ahead of time what you’ll be doing and what to expect.

3) Events Broadcasting

Periscope is a great way to let your supporters in on events that they’re interested in but can’t attend. That $500/plate gala dinner can now be accessible via Periscope. How great would it be to have a staff correspondent at your next gala, benefit, fundraiser or conference that’s in charge of showing viewers around and chatting with honorees and guests? It’s a fantastic way to share these exclusive events with your community.

Attending a rally, friendraiser, or other on site event for your nonprofit – bring your supporters along with a live stream on Periscope.

Another way to break the fourth wall, is to do an office tour led by your staff and interns. Showing the inner workings of your organization and the people behind the status updates has been shown to increase engagement and trust for nonprofits.

4) Crowdsourcing

If you’re looking to get some quick feedback on a new project, logo, initiative or maybe just some input on what your supporters like and would like to see more of, Periscope is a great tool to survey a clearly social media savvy focus group.

5) Announcements

Have an announcement to make? Did you just receive a big grant from USAID or added an awesome new hire to your team? Expanding your work to a new country? Added a new program? Did you host a contest and want to announce the winner? You can use Periscope to go live with your big news and involve your community in the excitement.

Nonprofit Best Practices for using Periscope:

  • Be prepared BEFORE you click the “Start Broadcast” button. Given it’s an amateur live broadcast you do get some leeway, but try to be as steady with the shots and as well-prepared as possible. You don’t have to script the broadcast but remember that you’re telling a story. So what is the story you want to tell? Why have you asked people to come and watch this broadcast? What value does it have? What’s in it for them? Make sure you can answer these questions. Also, provide some guidance to your viewers as to what type of questions or feedback you’re looking for. Viewers may be hesitant to use the comments on Periscope, so make it ok by prompting them. Any good story has a beginning, middle and end to it, so it’s a really good idea to create a bullet list of what you want to happen during each stage of the broadcast, to ensure everyone on your team is on the same page. Above all, remember, all good media production rules still apply.
  • Title your live stream broadcast well. Tell us what it’s about in a concise way.
  • Be wise about using your hashtags to promote your live stream. Hashtaging allows people to find your stream via Twitter when searching that topic.
  • To reach as wide an audience as possible, share the broadcast and location on Twitter. You’ll be able to reach far more viewers, and having the video present on Twitter gives it a much longer shelf life.
  • Use the top third of your mobile screen, as  the comment function will block the view of the lower part of your broadcast.

Final Thoughts:

I think Periscope is one of the latest platforms to come along that has the greatest potential for nonprofits. Live streaming can take engagement to a whole new level and if the bandwidth is there, give nonprofits and global NGO’s the ability to share the on-the-ground work that is being done. Perisope has the potential of upping the levels of engagement, transparency and trust. From another perspective, I wonder how many nonprofits will be comfortable with the risk inherent in livestreaming? While we’re seeing so many nonprofits using social media wisely and experimenting, most nonprofits still want to have tight control and management over any content they produce. As we have seen in the past, nonprofit teams that are more comfortable with risk and social sharing will help pave the way for other organizations who will wait until the app is less new and seemingly less risky. Ultimately, lack of complete content control and the inability to quickly seed out inappropriate comments, will present the biggest barriers for a nonprofit’s use of Periscope.

Lastly, from a citizen reporting and journalism perspective, Periscope is and will continue to be a real game changer. I believe we’ll be seeing much more ‘Periscoping’ in parts of the world seeing political and social unrest — giving us unprecedented access into areas otherwise unseen by most.

I will be featuring nonprofits and NGOs using Periscope on this blog, so please let me know in the comments below of any npos you know that are using Periscope to engage their supporters.

*Blog post updated on 7/5/15.Caroline Avakian, Socialbrite’s Managing Partner, is a global development communications strategist in the New York City area with a focus on strategic communications, innovation, PR, and content marketing. Caroline is also the founder of SourceRise, a digital platform connecting journalists to international NGO sources. Contact Caroline by email, see her profile page, visit her website, follow her on Twitter and Google Plus or leave a comment.

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