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The Year of the Meerkat? We're not so sure

Is Donald Trump using Meerkat? I know that Jeb Bush Meerkatted once and Rand Paul Meerkats all the time, but some are wondering what the hell this animal has to do with politics in 2016.

Meerkat is a live streaming online video service and last year, along with Periscope, it was labelled the ‘social media tool to use’ for the 2016 US Presidential election. Now, if you are one of those people who have escaped the last 6 months without being engulfed in the live streaming ‘phenomenon’, breath easy, you can continue to ignore it. Dan Pfeiffer, the former advisor to Barack Obama was first to baptise the streaming service as the “hot new thing” on the political circuit. “Every minute - literally every minute - of every day of the campaign will be available live to anyone who wants it, no matter where they are” proclaimed the long-serving White House aid. Every minute Dan really, is that necessary? And apparently to some, it is, but to the majority, not so much.

While we waited for months for live streaming to light up the political space, it seems they have simmered, rather than boiled over with any major fascination. Seen initially as a draw for candidates eager to appear tech-savvy in order to appeal to the Millennials, perhaps live streaming is the social media step too far for now. Rand Paul’s digital strategist, Vincent Harris said that live-streaming can amplify supporter engagement by showing behind the scenes action and other unique contact. “Closer to the candidate is great,” Harris told AFP. “But it needs to reach a certain threshold of commonality to really get there, “ he added, “and I’m not sure if it is there yet”. Maybe people in the political space are still getting over the Facebook hangover of 2008 or only now getting to grips with the 2012 love affair with Twitter, but it seems that eagerness to attach a new trend to each election cycle is waning.

So social media is still really important for the 2016 US election isn’t it? Yes, undoubtedly. It may be more important than ever thanks to some of the characters left in the race. Trump’s bread and butter was the Twittersphere before he ever announced a Presidential bid and in a medium which has seen so many others crash and burn, he still reigns supreme. The hang up with live streaming is that it takes the ability to broadcast to the masses out of the hands of the networks and into the hand of the masses. Yes, this has its own negatives. Everything is completely unfiltered and live, very, very live. There is no erase or delete button on a live stream. Often times, before the primaries take place, the real issues can get caught up in the circus of the media campaigns.

So believe the hype if you’re brave enough but the Meerkat revolution may still be a few years out and I think politicians are not sure how to harness the power of live streaming. Most politicians can only see the risks of live, unedited broadcasts in an industry where appearances count for so much. The possibility for a stumble is obvious, just talk to Steve Harvey who will be the butt of all jokes for the foreseeable future thanks to his slip up when announcing the winner of the Miss World competition a couple of weeks ago. The horror stories are real.

Jeb Bush debuted his use of Meerkat last March on a visit to Atlanta, a visit which was viewed by a modest 400 people. How comfortable would he be live streaming a debate with some angry residents in another State? One bad stream and it could put your campaign to bed. So what’s our verdict on the prospect of live streaming mobile apps? We can see the potential but more research needs to be done on how best to use them to communicate to the masses. In the meantime, it seems likely that the greatest take-up of live streaming in the current election cycle is likely to be from those around candidates. Supporters, detractors and media people will probably be the ones who pioneer this type of media and it is only when politicians realise that they are not in control will they begin to invest in an official Meerkat or Periscope channel.

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