002: Using Facebook Live to Innovate at a 229 Year Old Organization – Russell Smith from Covenant First Presbyterian Church – Unstoppable Talk
In this episode of Unstoppable Talk, I interview Russell Smith, Pastor of Covenant First Presbyterian Church – a 229 year old organization located in the heart of Cincinnati. We discuss recent innovations he’s being doing with content for his church, using Facebook Live and other streaming video technologies to broadcast a late-night bible study called “Night Owl Study” (https://www.facebook.com/NightOwlStudy). We also dig into the technology behind Facebook Live, discuss its limitations, other platforms, video distribution options, and where we see the technology going.
Sam Schutte: Alright, welcome to the second episode of Unstoppable Talk, a podcast focusing on the intersection of business and technology. I’m here with Russell Smith from Covenant First Presbyterian Church. Russell, you have been the head pastor at Covenant First Presbyterian since 2001, so maybe a good place to start here is tell me a little about yourself and how you arrived at the church there and what you do there as pastor.
Russell Smith: Wow! So you’re basically asking for my whole life story. Excellent.
Sam Schutte: Haha – yes.
Russell Smith: The condensed version was that I came here in 2001 straight out of school. This was my first gig out of seminaries. Before graduate school, I was working as a technical trainer for Wachovia Bank back when there was a Wachovia Bank. They no longer exist. They’ve been absorbed by Wells Fargo, but I was a technical trainer back in the day, and without getting too terribly mystical, call of God and all that kind of stuff, wind up going off to graduate school, and as Tammy, my wife, and I were exploring opportunities afterwards, we just really felt this urgency for this particular church.
Russell Smith: It’s an old congregation. As you said, I think you said, it goes back to 1790, a big, big beautiful old building, small little group of people committed to a traditional style of worship which has its challenges today, we might talk about that later, and right smack in the center of Cincinnati. We’re a block from City Hall.
Sam Schutte: Piatt Park.
Russell Smith: Yeah.
Sam Schutte: That’s how you say that?
Russell Smith: Piatt.
Sam Schutte: Piatt.
Russell Smith: Yeah, Piatt Park and so we are just right there in the heart of it all. When we came in 2001, Downtown Cincinnati was a ghost town. All the developments that we’ve seen in Cincinnati since then, that came much, much later and so it was a big, big risk and I tend to be a risk-averse guy, so this was pushing me to do something way out of my comfort zone.
Sam Schutte: Cool! Yeah and I thought it was interesting, I looked up a couple of facts on the church. It was founded in 1790. The church was built in 1875 out of hand-cut stone from a local quarry.
Russell Smith: Yes.
Sam Schutte: Then it has a bell up in the bell tower that is stamped from Revere Bell Works.
Russell Smith: Yes. The legend is that Lyman Beecher, who was the father of Harriet Beecher Stowe who wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Lyman Beecher came to Cincinnati to be pastor of our church. There’s a long complicated history that perhaps on another time we can dig in to that, but basically he came to be pastor of our church and the legend is he brought with him this bell from Boston because he had come from New England, Revere Boston, so it’s one of the few remaining Revere bells that exists. As a matter of fact, we just had played host to one of the people from Verdin Bell Company here in Cincinnati. They came and wanted to do some research on that because he’s writing an academic paper on the Revere bell. I think it’s a cool little piece of history.
Sam Schutte: Well, it’s interesting. My family is actually related to that family, the Verdin or Verdun or whatever. I’m not sure how they say it, the bell company, because my mom’s maiden name was Virden and I think we’re not sure, but I think they all came out of Verdun, France and it’s all been changed and misspelled, but distant cousins somehow, so they always think that’s neat. The organization is 229 years old and one of these organizations is just really in the heart of city and has been there forever. I should say too how we met which was through the Rotary Club of Cincinnati that we’re both members in.
Sam Schutte: We’ve talked a lot about, if you look at the church as an organization, what types of things, the challenges you faced from a marketing perspective and we’ve talked about what kind of innovative things and I worked on a few things with you around some of those ideas. The reason I wanted to have you on our podcast here is to discuss some of the things that you’re doing, innovating with an organization like that that has some deep, deep roots, innovating using technology which has largely focused on some of the stuff you’ve been doing.
Sam Schutte: Most of our conversations have been around what you’ve been on Facebook Live recently. I guess, can you tell me a little bit about … This group you have on Facebook is the Night Owl Study. You’ve been doing for probably for a few months now I believe.
Russell Smith: Oh, gosh! We’re probably up to about 35 weeks.
Sam Schutte: Yeah. Okay, so yeah, quite some time. And so, maybe talk a little bit about some of the programs you all have there that were the real world programs that you then looked at and said, “Okay, I wanted to start doing something online.” What is the genesis of wanting to start doing a live Facebook broadcast for that?
Russell Smith: Sure. One of the things for your audience to realize, we are a small church. There’s lots of churches that have big budgets and can throw tons of money and do really, really slick stuff. That’s not us. We’re a very small church, tend to skew towards the older populations, a lot of folks that may not be using technology an awful lot. What this means is we have no budget for technological outreach and not really much of a team of people to do it. Pretty much, it’s, “If it’s going to happen, I’ve got to do it.” There are a couple of people that from time to time have some vision and do some stuff and help us get our internal network going so that our staff people can have computers and that kind of stuff and that’s been very, very helpful.
Russell Smith: We have some people that help out with the sound system. That’s very, very helpful, but in terms of outreach, it’s pretty been the ball has been in my court to figure out, “Okay, how do we move forward?” You mentioned the Night Owl Study and what we’re doing with the Night Owl Study is a Bible study live on Facebook. It’s at 10:30 at night on Wednesday nights, and each week, we do a 30-minute Bible study and we’re focusing on the Psalms, and each week, we do a different Psalm and we go live. People log on. I teach for a little bit, interact with the comments.
Russell Smith: I invite people to make comments, observations along the way. Then we spend some time interacting with those and going back and forth with those and teach a little bit more and interact some more with the comments and usually, that takes about half an hour and then it’s available on Facebook Live, so other people can watch later and then the other piece we do is we take that video and then archive it on YouTube as well, so that anyone who’s not on Facebook can easily get to it. So that’s kind of what we’re doing.
Russell Smith: I think you asked where the genesis of this idea was, what happened, how did this come about and I’ve seen a number of my colleagues do small things on Facebook. Like I heard about one colleague that would do little short two-minute teaser promotions of video teaser promotions that they would put on Facebook to tease the coming Sunday sermon and I tried that for a while. That was fun and interesting. I’ve seen other churches that will take the video of the Sunday sermon and just broadcast that directly.
Russell Smith: What I wanted to do, I’ve seen a number of other outside the religious realm just watching on YouTube and other places, a lot of thought leaders in many different realms, be they motivational speaker ties, be they personal coaches. They will adopt a format of direct address. They’ll film a video, direct address to audience and that to me felt like a very warm medium. It felt very personal. It felt intimate and was very attractive. It was the kind of thing that really draws one in. A guy who does this really well, Brendon Burchard. His stuff is inviting, engaging, direct address. He’s talking right to you.
Russell Smith: I was like, “That’s the thing that I would love to do,” not just a commercial, not a videotape of me talking to a big audience, but to do a direct address. The best opportunity was, “Yeah, let’s do a Bible study.” Now at the same time as I was thinking about all of these things, it’s convergence of two different things. I also was rethinking our strategy for outreach in Downtown. For a very, very long time, we’ve had a Wednesday worship service at noon every week and that was an outreach to Downtown workers and folks.
Russell Smith: That became no longer economically viable because you have to pay for an organist. We offered lunch afterwards. You had to coordinate a whole team of volunteers to make that lunch and you had to print up all these bulletins and all these stuff. We put that to rest, but I still felt very strongly that we needed something in the middle of the week for people who are Downtown to have some kind of spiritual nourishment. It became very easy for us to, “Okay, we couldn’t put on a full worship service, but I can do a Bible study. How hard is it to cook up a pot of soup and you have a light lunch and come to Bible study,” so thus was born the Brown Bag Bible Study. I’m having these two ideas at the same time and this seems to me-
Sam Schutte: All branded with their own…
Russell Smith: All branded with their own things and so the two ideas were happening at the same time and I was like, “Aha! This is a perfect synergy. I’m doing the preparation work and why not just use it for two different things, so I’ll prepare on the Psalm.” Both studies, the purpose of them is learning to pray in the School of the Psalms. At 12:00 noon on Wednesdays, we meet and we have an in-person discussion and it’s lively, let me tell you. These folks come and it is fascinating to see the insights, the observations and just the diverse collection of people that show up, but then at 10:30 at night, I will take that same material and I will teach on the Night Owl Study on Facebook Live. That’s been really interesting. That too can get very lively and people making observations and comments.
Sam Schutte: Well, I think the show is very high-quality content too because you go so deep into it and have just such a breadth and wealth of knowledge about the Psalms which is from an academic standpoint and all is very interesting – and I like that you have this mission as well to get through all the Psalms, which is how many?
Russell Smith: 150.
Sam Schutte: Yeah.
Russell Smith: We’re going to be at this for a few years.
Sam Schutte: Yeah and you’ve done how many of them so far, you said?
Russell Smith: 33 as of today.
Sam Schutte: Yeah, that’s cool to have that mission as well and I think you were talking a little bit about the engagement aspect of it. I was thinking and it’s interesting to see if you listen to a podcast. I relate it a bit to say working with people on the team remotely. If you’ve never met someone and you’re just talking to them over the telephone, that’s one thing. If you do a Skype video call with them, you’re a little closer, but I often find that if I’ve met somebody in person too, then that’s the ultimate. I don’t have to see them every day, but I’ve just met them once.
Sam Schutte: That was neat too about this video in general, but particularly through the live format is we humans being social creatures, we see a face, we hear a voice, we feel like we know that person, a voice alone and I see this even if you listen to MPR and stuff. You don’t know what that person looks like. You create an image in your head later and then when you see a picture, you’re like, “That’s not them, is it? That doesn’t look like them to me.” Anyway, combining video, audio, everything at a presentation medium I think makes it much more engaging, more effective and also of course allows you to reach people you wouldn’t be able to reach as you’re talking about people that are … It doesn’t have to be people Downtown, it can be people anywhere.
Russell Smith: Exactly. That again was one of the reasons I wanted to do something online is I wanted to break … I’m always trying to figure out ways that I can encourage our church to break out of the mindset that the primary thing is to get people to come and see us on Sunday in worship. The primary thing for us is to reach people with what we understand the good news to be and to bring that to people wherever we can. It just seemed like the online medium gives us this opportunity to reach a global audience. All it takes is someone clicking and finding us.
Russell Smith: We have people that tune in to the Night Owl Study. I have people in South Carolina that tune in. I have people in Georgia. I have people in Washington State that tune in. It’s not such so night owl for them because it’s not that late. Of course, we have people in Cincinnati. We have people down in Kentucky. We’ve got people all over that are tuning into this.
Sam Schutte: Well, I think we talked to last week some even about it’s not just your parishioners and members of your church listening. In fact, there’s a diverse mix of who is an attendee versus who’s an audience member there. It gives you a wider reach, I mean not just geographically, especially if you look at other folks here in Cincinnati. There might be people that go to other churches and so and so forth that you’re able to reach and grow that way. Of course also interesting too because there’s very low barrier to any kind of like viral growth with a video thing like that. I mean chances are no matter what you do, you’re not going to have 3,000 people show up at your service on Sunday.
Russell Smith: More than likely not.
Sam Schutte: it could happen, but that happens all the time with online medium. I mean the right person shares it or likes it on Facebook or retweets it or whatever and then boom. Overnight, you could have that many which is interesting how easily that with Facebook is supported as well, like how they scale so easily there.
Russell Smith: Obviously, we’re on Facebook. We’re distributing also on YouTube. We had to make some choices on that because you like listed off Periscope, a lot of people are using Periscope. Why am I not doing live on YouTube? First, I chose the tool of the Facebook Live mainly because that’s where most of my people were. I already have a followership on Facebook. That was a platform from which I could launch. I chose not to do YouTube Live because I just didn’t have a platform there yet. Again, we’re a small outfit and so everything has to be done with however much time I have and this is obviously not my full-time job, doing tech management, so I just made the decision early, “Let’s stay tightly focused on what I can do and what I can manage.”
Russell Smith: Then after the decision to do Facebook Live, I still wanted to look good. Like you said, I see tons of those same videos of people holding the camera up and that works great for some types of things. My buddy, Nick Jackson, you want to have Nick on some time, Nick Jackson, he runs Speak Love. He does this thing called I think it’s One Word Wednesday and he meets a person on the street. He records these all on his phone and it’s just a quick five-minute person on the street interview, talking about a word, be it love or peace or justice or something like that.
Russell Smith: A really, really feature and it looks great on Facebook, but that’s not the look and I feel I wanted. I wanted to look and feel something that looked like I’m coming to you from an office or a living room. That’s what basically I built. You can find anything on YouTube. You can find any instruction you want and so I just googled and found a number of different videos of people showing you how to design an in-home studio on the cheap for $60-$70. I went down to Home Depot, got a couple of lights and light diffusers.
Sam Schutte: I didn’t realize you had lights and stuff going on.
Russell Smith: I’ve got three lights. They showed me how to do three-point lighting, the left and the right and I’ve got a light behind me. There’s just those canister kind of lights that you can get. A lot of people use them in their workshops which we do. To build a light diffuser, you don’t have to go buy one of those expensive light boxes. You get a shower curtain and a couple of clothes pins and you just cut a square and put it [inaudible 00:18:08] and it does a pretty good job of diffusing.
Russell Smith: I did for Christmas get a really slick microphone. I asked that for Christmas, a great microphone. A Yeti microphone. It’s a Yeti blue. It’s a great product. I really, really like it. I got some good advice from friends of mine in the tech field on that piece of equipment and I really like it. I also like the aesthetics of it. When you watch the video, it’s this old tiny look.
Russell Smith: But really sitting on your desk.
Sam Schutte: But it looks really great. It gives really good quality audio. I tried working with OBS Software for streaming and what I found was the laptop I have and the internet connection I have, if I was streaming through OBS, I would get slowdowns and I would get the drags, so I found I had to broadcast live from within Facebook rather than through the streaming software. That was actually a problem because the OBS Software allowed me to make an independent recording that I could then upload to YouTube, Facebook doesn’t let you do that.
Sam Schutte: If you’re broadcasting from within Facebook, you can’t. You used to be able to download those videos, but now you can’t at least not that I know of. Now, what I’m doing is I’m still running the OBS Software simply to get the recording and it will record everything that transpires on my screen and through my mic. It just records the whole thing, and then when I’m done, I just go into a simple video editor and trim off the beginning and end so that’s just the show itself and we’re good to go and I upload that to YouTube.
Sam Schutte: Interesting. I think we’ll take a quick break, discuss a little bit some of the technology behind Facebook a bit and then come back and I want to talk a little bit about sort of the audience and the interaction with the audience.
Sam Schutte: We’ve talked a lot about Facebook Live on this podcast, but how does it work? Welcome to the GeekOut. Facebook had 3.2 billion users as of Q4 2018, so that’s every 60 seconds 317,000 status updates, 147,000 photos uploaded and eight billion video views per day on average, 20% of which are live broadcasts. In 2018, Facebook has 15 million square feet of data center space in 15 data centers that host millions of servers. To operate all this, Facebook has created their own custom versions of operating systems, web servers, databases and compilers.
Sam Schutte: Facebook Live came out of a hackathon at Facebook in April 2015, so it was created as a fun side project. They first released it to celebrities before releasing it to the public at large. To provide for Facebook Live, Facebook utilizes a technology called RTMP, real-time messaging protocol. Now RTMP was created by Macro Media or Adobe primarily for playing Flash video, but it’s found to be very useful for live video. To keep video nice and smooth, RTMP splits the video into little chunks and both the client sending the video and the server receive it and negotiate the size of those chunks based on how fast the client connection is.
Sam Schutte: Within RTMP, it’s using MP3 or AAC audio formats and FLV1, which is a flash video format for video. One of the biggest challenges they’ve faced is they can’t easily predict how many viewers any particular video stream might have, so it’s always possible for a video stream to go viral, get shared by a celebrity, or it gets a certain amount of likes. This is very different from HBO Go or Netflix and what they experience and other video streaming services like that because they can store many different copies and resolutions of videos on their servers around the world, and users can just go and download the one that fits their screen automatically from the fastest service. With Facebook Live, there’s no stored video in this way. Also unlike Netflix and HBO, they can’t easily predict how many viewers of a video there will be.
Sam Schutte: In HBO’s case, for example, they know if there were a million viewers of the last episode of Game of Thrones, they can estimate how many viewers the next episode will have. Facebook Live can’t rely on past experience like this. An example of this happened when Vin Diesel’s video stream hit one million viewers all at the same time. Facebook refers to this as the thundering herd problem. To handle this, each slide video is split into three-second segments, and these segments are stored or cashed, not only at Facebook’s data centers, but on a huge array of additional servers spread around the globe. In this way, the broadcaster creating the video can send their video to Facebook’s servers, but viewers can get the video from a server or edge cache that is close to them. Using this approach, about 98% of these three-second segments are already stored on an edge cache server somewhere close to a viewer, and the users don’t have to go a centralized server.
Sam Schutte: You probably also have noticed with live videos how the quality of the video will sometimes go down if the broadcaster’s cellular connection is weak or if their WiFi signal goes up and down. This is basically because each of those three-second segments or shorter segments can be encoded with their own level of video quality, size and video bit rate, but the servers and the clients communicate with each other dynamically and control the quality of these chunks both for the broadcaster and the viewers, so they can receive an uninterrupted video watching experience. Facebook Live is an incredible leap forward of both open source technology, network infrastructure and cellular technologies. A real case study of our global, social experience being altered with cutting edge technologies.
Okay, so now we’re back on the interview with Russell Smith from Covenant First Presbyterian. We were talking about republishing on YouTube. I think one thing that’s interesting with a live medium is obviously the ability to engage because you could do these all recorded videos and just put it out there.
Sam Schutte: I think when you first started, you had to figure that out like, how do you work in to the conversation to not awkwardly say, “Oh, look I got a message.” How do you approach that like when people message you to be able to work that in to this medium without interrupting your train of thought and all of this as you’re reading or discussing something? What’s been your approach to it?
Russell Smith: Well, I mean you nailed it right. It’s been a process of trial and error. We make the path by walking. We start and figure out as we go along. At first, I tried asking provocative questions or questions of some kind and that didn’t really flow so well and then I tried, “Okay, I’m going to quickly teach and then we’re going to talk about how was the [inaudible 00:21:29] about prayer.” Well, what we’ve finally settled into is a pattern where I welcome everybody and then teach for a little bit and deliberately take a pause to interact with comments. I invite people at the very beginning, “Okay, as we go through this teaching, go ahead and put in your questions, your comments, your observations and we’re going to interact with them in just a little bit.”
Russell Smith: That gives me the chance to get some material out there and for people to key some things in and then I’ll take that break and we’ll spend a good, it feels like a good 10 minutes just going back and forth, interacting with people’s comments, commenting on their comments, and by that time, more have appeared and that’s always really interesting. It’s dangerous though because I sit there and I’m reading the comment live as I’m reading it to myself, and of course, you can always get somebody that’s going to try to key in something odd and unusual.
Russell Smith: One of my friends, Tim, he says he wants to do a Ron Burgundy thing, just type in something. Is that right? The Will Farrell movie where he was the anchorman. That’s Ron Burgundy, right?
Sam Schutte: Yeah.
Russell Smith: Type in something crazy and just see if I’ll read it online.
Sam Schutte: Just to get you to say it.
Russell Smith: Yeah. I’m always careful when I see his comments. Then, we’ll interact with those comments, then I’ll finish up the teaching, and by then, there may be a few more comments to interact with. We have this oscillation back and forth, doing a little bit of teaching, a little bit of interaction, a little more teaching, a little more interaction. Now one of the nice innovations, the same guy, Tim, he suggested that we start the show five minutes earlier, have a preshow. That has been really, really helpful. That was a really great suggestion because what used to happen was I’d just start right at 10:30 and I’d awkwardly flail around until a couple of people logged on and then got into now. Now it started at 10:25 and everybody knows it’s the preshow stuff and that’s the kind of stuff I cut off before I put it on YouTube.
Sam Schutte: Which is cool. I mean that’s a new production idea. I like to … The brand of the, I don’t know if you call it a VidCast or … I don’t know if we know yet what the real now or whatever will become for these things. It’s not a podcast. It’s not a video blog. It’s just on a vlog. It’s a live Facebook stream that someday someone will come up with a better name, but I think one of the things it having this branded Night Owl thing, it’s funny as people join the preshow, they’d come on and people have begun hooting right in the set.
Sam Schutte: I’m one of the ones who tries to try it just because it’s funny. Like you say, “Welcome,” and everybody hoots to welcome which is funny.
Russell Smith: All my night owls to the owl’s aerie.
Sam Schutte: Yeah, that’s a marketing and branding thing of course, the whole idea that people are night owls and whatever, so I could see all kinds of people, mugs and t-shirts or whatever swag around that someday. That’s a neat thing that if it wasn’t called that and it didn’t have that brand and it was just the whatever, some such hour or discussion, you would lose that, but it’s interesting to have that pre-roll going a little bit, that’s a good idea I think. It’s interesting too, I think there’s a little bit of first mover advantage with this as well.
Sam Schutte: I don’t think … There’s a lot of folks on YouTube you can certainly find reading Psalms. I don’t know how many people are doing it live. Have you see a lot of folks out there doing it in the spiritual realm if you will or churches and stuff doing this? Do you think you’re an early adopter of it? Where do you think you fit in that?
Russell Smith: That’s a good question. I can’t speak globally. I mean I think within my networks, this is something highly unusual within the circles that I run. I mean obviously like I said earlier, there’s a lot of broadcasting of platform stuff to an audience, just broadcast material. There is obviously a lot of the handheld video, short kind of hot take things. I mean I do some videos of guys sitting at desk teaching but not as an interactive thing. It’s just a guy sitting teaching and speaking, directly addressing the camera. I don’t know that I see too many people trying to host that as a live thing.
Sam Schutte: I’m going to say something too about the comments that’s interesting just to go back to that point briefly. I was on a webinar yesterday and you have a similar setup where you can submit a question to the webinar. Now in that environment if you’re on GoToMeeting or whatever, nobody else can see your questions sometimes depending. It’s, “Oh, we have a question about,” such and such and you have to reread the question and that aspect of the participant’s voice if you think about it compared to if you’re in a live seminar somewhere is missing.
Sam Schutte: I know Facebook is doing some things around that like you being able to call in other people into the live broadcast. I haven’t played with that much, but I’ve seen it occasionally. You’ll see like there’s a picture-in-picture type thing that happens when you call someone in. There are risks to that I guess. We’ve talked about that. Does the quality of the content go down? But if you think about it related to your real radio show where people call in, they have the same problems, but that format and that medium or that approach anyway has worked for them. Do you think that it’s something that you would do? If not, why not?
Russell Smith: That’s a good question. I don’t know if I would that in the Night Owl Study. Maybe I would, but with what the Night Owl Study has framed as, as a Bible study and unless I’m bringing in a guest teacher maybe, I can bring in a guess teacher or someone who’s an expert, that could be kind of cool. Though one of the places where I could see something like that, one of the things we’re doing this summer, just spring boarding off of what we’ve done with the Night Owl Study, this summer, I’m going to be hosting a pastor’s book club here in Cincinnati. I gave three books that people are going to read and I’m going to be hosting the book club at a local bookstore, just trying to get out there in the community.
Sam Schutte: What books were those?
Russell Smith: Well, the first book is called Inexpressable by Michael Card and it’s all about the biblical concept of God’s loving kindness. Then there’s the book called Disruptive Witness by Alan Noble, just all about living the Christian life in the 21st century and then Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well is the third book and that is how we can cultivate the skill of reading well wisely, so that we can actually grow in virtue through reading classic literature. Three really, really great books, but based off of what we’ve done with the Night Owl Study, I’ve decided, “Okay, we’re also going to do these as Night Owl book studies.”
Russell Smith: Once a month, on the same Night Owl channel, we’re going to keep that as a brand and I’m going to do it on the same channel and we’ll have a once a month book study and I’m still trying to figure out how to do this. I’ve got some probing questions that I’ll toss out there and see if anybody bites. Of course, I’m going to have some monologue material prepared just in case nobody comments, but what I could envision for something like that is being able to dial in the author and let’s have a conversation with them. I don’t know if my tech supports that.
Russell Smith: That’s the other bottleneck for us is my own technical savvy, how much time do I have to really sort this out and get it working before we go live? That’s always the bottleneck for us.
Sam Schutte: Well, testing is such a pain. Yes. Once you started, you can’t just test something on Facebook Live. Like you’re alive to everyone. You can delete it after and hope nobody watched it.
Russell Smith: Well, actually you can. There’s a way in Facebook Live, there’s a way to say, “This can only be seen by only me,” because in Facebook you can change your audiences.
Sam Schutte: Yeah, that would make sense.
Russell Smith: You can make this an audience of only me and that’s how you test it.
Sam Schutte: Okay. That makes sense. I didn’t thought of that.
Russell Smith: I’m glad you asked.
Sam Schutte: Yeah, I’ll use that for sure. It’s interesting because there’s a lot of … I think these live technologies, lot of video technologies are right on the bleeding edge really. If you look at some of the larger social networks in the world I don’t think they support this and they are going to very soon. LinkedIn’s the best example, I got my first notification maybe two weeks, “Your connection on LinkedIn is live,” I was like, “What? What’s that?” I’ve never seen it before, because you have to request access to it and then very slowly they are granting, you have to fill out a form and everything. We’re still looking and probably trying to give people with the largest networks first access or whatever or maybe really active posters or something.
Sam Schutte: There’s a bunch of other social platforms out there that people use quite heavily. They don’t support it yet. I think as we just move towards everything more and more internet video as a more common sort of ways of communicating and consuming technology or consuming content, we’ll see these more and more. One of the platforms I think is pretty interesting too is there’s been this big springing up out there of live video redistribution platforms and a lot of it is being driven by people on Twitch, people that play videogames live, which I think folks of our generation struggle a little bit to understand, why would you want to watch someone play Xbox.
Sam Schutte: Some of them are pretty cool to watch and I’ve tried it out because you can pull up Twitch on your smart TV and all that and watch any game you want. There’s several million broadcasters broadcasting their games and they make money on these, people are monetizing this.
Russell Smith: Well, sure, but I mean games are so different from when we-
Sam Schutte: Oh, yeah. These are practically movies.
Russell Smith: Exactly. I mean games have storylines. They have challenges. They are an immersive storytelling experience.
Sam Schutte: What people have built with this platform like what I have just signed up for recently is called Restream, restream.io, which is not a sponsor, but they built this platform so that you could hook your Xbox up to their tool and then they have 30 or 40, maybe even 50 different live video platforms, the vast majority of them are videogame related and these things are just proliferated. They’re everywhere and so these people can broadcast to 40 channels at once, and of course, every little social network has its own little ecosystem and all just population that’s on them. “I don’t like Twitch, instead I use Mixer.” I think Microsoft bought Mixer just recently. That’s another big one. These are all new.
Sam Schutte: Now, they’re trying to promote these platforms out for more business end and other sorts of content users and there’s only maybe I think let’s say six or seven platforms that are pure videogames that you can support it right now but as I said, there’s another 40 that are videogame. You think about that. If you think about the corollary to that to the old world, obviously if you wanted to have a show like this, you can say in 1985, you’d have to do it on public access cable, unless you maybe could get a broadcast TV station to give you late night hour on Channel 12 or something or whatever.
Sam Schutte: No one would ever be able to afford buying, I mean really hardly even any business would be able to afford buying the 7:00 p.m. slot to do a show. You can never do it, but then also think about when you’re talking about these redistribution platforms, it’s not only that you have a show on Channel 12, you have a show on all the channels. You’re on every station.
Russell Smith: As a rerun.
Sam Schutte: Or Live. These ones are live.
Russell Smith: Well, but that’s part of the challenge though is can they interact with people on these channels?
Sam Schutte: Sure, you can. That’s what with this platform, this is kind of neat, is particular one, Restream, they have software that gathers all the comments from all 40 at once and put them all on one chat thread. You can see them all and it shows a little icon from what platform it’s coming from. You might be inundated with comments, but you can respond to them. It will go out to everyone. It mass mergers all these comments.
Russell Smith: Well, that’s interesting.
Sam Schutte: Theoretically, there’s a way, but I guess if you just look at where that’s going, I would say right now today, how many people are, let’s say businesses and/or other content producers who aren’t videogames are broadcasting live to all social networks? Not many, I don’t know, probably very few, even the big boys aren’t doing that yet.
Russell Smith: A new social network seems to open every week. That becomes an interesting … As I look at this, there’s a couple of interesting social forces at work. First is the backlash. I mean you take a look at the backlash that’s already happening against Facebook and against other big tech firms simply over privacy issues and the people, they’re going bananas over privacy issues and the people that are unplugging from that. Then there’s also the movement, the Simplicity Movement. Now, if you’ve read much Cal Newport, Cal Newport, his big work was a book called Deep Work a couple of years ago, but he just came out with one called Digital Minimalism.
Russell Smith: There’s a digital minimalist movement which is not a love or hate movement. They’re movements saying, “Do away with all technology,” but rather it’s a movement to say to carefully choose the technologies for how they serve you rather than you serving it. As we have that movement and at the same time this fragmentation of the social media market, it’s a fascinating time.
Sam Schutte: Well, it’s interesting because I think it’s fragmentation with specialization. You mentioned these new social networks popping up, which they do, I mean there’s one-
Russell Smith: They’re like dandelions.
Sam Schutte: Yeah. There is one recently I joined. One thing I’m trying to do myself is like watch for these new networks that pop up, and if I can, if it’s not crazy, get on it as soon as I can because what I’ve seen is like for instance something with Periscope or before Periscope, there was the real initial market leader was called Meerkat. They launched South by Southwest and they were live stream. It was amazing. Still the technology is amazing. I was telling my wife about this recently. Meerkat was probably like 30 days old and there’s this band called Walk Off The Walk that I like and they were live streaming on the Meerkat app from their kitchen, the husband and wife, they’re in that.
Sam Schutte: At that time, it was a small network. I went and starting chatting with them and they were like, “Hey, Sam,” blah, blah, blah. I said, “I love your guys’ songs.” I mean these people are touring all over the place and they’re becoming a big band and I’m talking with them in their kitchen. I mean they saw my name and they said, “Oh, we appreciate that. Oh, we’ve been in Cincinnati before.” They’re interacting. Now, shortly thereafter that, when folks like that began a video, they would get a thousands of comments a minute, they couldn’t even read them all. That’s a problem.
Sam Schutte: What was also interesting about those platforms, Meerkat and then very shortly after Twitter launched Periscope, there were a few folks you would see on those platforms. Like there’s this one person. He was like a 12-year-old boy. He got on Periscope very early and he would do these live broadcasts like his dad filming him on the phone and it was very motivational like, “Be your best. You got to push your limits,” I don’t recall his name, but he had millions of followers, from zero to million. He had no presence elsewhere on the internet whatsoever.
Sam Schutte: Maybe he had written a book or something, but because he was like one of the first 20 people on this platform that now has millions of people. That can be so key and so that’s something I’ve been looking at. Of course, for every one of these social networks that launched, it’s like, “Hey, you don’t want to be the last one on it.” It’s like advertising on Facebook or something now, a lot of people are doing that. I mean it’s inundated. If you’re joining Twitter now, it takes a long time to build a following versus early celebrities that joined in or something.
Russell Smith: Sure. That raised an interesting philosophical questions. I mean we can take a deep dive into this and that raises a really interesting philosophical questions about, “Where’s our time best spent?” As an entrepreneur, for me as a pastor, there’s certainly got to be sometime we can consider that R&D. It’s research and development, it’s marketing R&D if nothing else. It’s not marketing R&D. It’s R&D. We were talking before the show, everyone’s a media company now. We’re all media company.
Sam Schutte: Certainly. There are folks advising you to begin.
Russell Smith: Yeah. Well, I mean this is just a world. We are in a media world. We’re all media company. It is R&D, but how much of our time is best spent in R&D and how much of our time is best spent working the business? That becomes a really interesting thing because it is really interesting and we could spend massive amounts of time researching all of these new offerings. I guess everyone’s got to figure out that alchemy of energy, time, and attention management themselves.
Sam Schutte: I think what’s interesting is if you look at my business, customer software development and the pool of competitors we have and people in that space, if you imagine like a big pool of water or something, every once in a while the pool is sort of to be tipped and everybody flows towards one area and just … Everyone is running Google ads. If you’re a software company running Google ads, you’re paying anywhere from $60 to $200 a click anymore because everyone for the last decade has been pouring money into that, but as they move into these spaces, they leave other spaces. There are certain folks out there who will say, “Just write a letter, sign your name to it and mail it to somebody,” because no one does that anymore.
Russell Smith: Yeah and it is amazing how that gets attention.
Sam Schutte: It does and I’ve gotten letters from say imagine like marketing coach or whatever. You get something in the mail with a handwritten letter to it and you’re like, “Whoa! This guy wrote me a letter.” I’ll read that way more often or more likely than I would read some email that he blasted me.
Russell Smith: Right. Well, in my field, our church is a very traditional church. We have a liturgy. We play old music. We have the pipe organ. We follow a prescribed pattern as more and more churches have moved towards a much more contemporary style and much more informal style centered around the worship band. That’s left fewer players in the traditional field and we get people coming to us, hungering for that. Now, it’s a small niche. I described us as a boutique shop as it were and what I’m trying to learn how to do is to be very intentional about it and not take it for granted, but me doing some teaching, why do we do what we do and but yeah, when everyone goes rushing in one direction, that does leave a vacuum for other people to step in into the space that’s been vacated.
Sam Schutte: Yeah, I think the other thing that’s interesting is what you get with a lot of these networks and technology can implement those, a lot of self-selection and I mentioned specialization earlier, you can imagine if there’s a social network, very specifically built for people who wanted to learn the Bible better, I don’t know if that exists.
Russell Smith: Yeah, there are those social networks that they try to build and these people will come to me as a pastor and say, “We’ll try to recruit all your people for this.”
Sam Schutte: Of course, Facebook competes with those, right?
Russell Smith: Exactly.
Sam Schutte: Facebook is very broad. That’s always the question. It’s like well because a lot of those social networks that fire up fail of course and part of it is keeping up with features like digital video and live streaming that they just can’t implement fast enough and a lot of the new ones are lower quality. Are we likely to see that because if you had that, if there was a network you could join of 20 million like die-hard Bible studiers and you could broadcast to all of them, that’s very valuable? Now, that’s obviously a value too. I think Facebook has something like my number is probably a little out of date, but well over say 1.8 billion users a day or something like or probably more like 2 or 3 billion even now. I’ll have to update that number.
Sam Schutte: Accessing that network is great too but of course a very small percentage of those are folks that would even after any particular type of content. It will be a little interesting to see particularly if you look at like the live video streaming, like a lot of our customers, it’s not something that’s even remotely in their marketing plans. Imagine if you are an engineering company or manufacturing company, those folks are not outdoing any kind of video content much less doing live video content now. I would argue that they should look at it because again if every company is supposed to be a media company and you want to have this personalized brand and imagine like we have our air-conditioning replaced at home and we used a company called Just Right HVAC and I know the owners of that.
Sam Schutte: I’m like, “Oh, yeah. I know the owners and they seemed like they’re nice guys. They’ve worked for us before. I’m going to call them back.” With a company like that, how do you get broad market “knowing the owners”? Because you could do that, then it makes a lot of the other competition on the field seemed like just a big nameless company. If you look at locally here like Apollo HVAC, they’re advertisements don’t just have the name of the company. They have the owner’s face, Jamie Gerdsen up on the billboards.
Sam Schutte: I think that’s the opportunity potentially for more broad market stuff and it won’t always work. I mean if you have the CEO of Kroger doing a live video stuff, would you that make you more likely to choose Kroger? That would be hard.
Russell Smith: I don’t know. Do not underestimate the power of those connections. I mean this is what FDR did with his fireside chats.
Sam Schutte: Absolutely. That’s exactly right.
Russell Smith: A few years ago, I read Amanda Palmer’s book. I can’t remember the title of it right now, but it was all … She’s a performance artist, a musician. She’s the wife of Neil Gaiman, the science fiction fantasy writer.
Sam Schutte: I just finished watching Good Omens.
Russell Smith: Good Omens. Amanda Palmer has really built a whole career on that tight connection with her fans. She talks about how she built her social media platform based off of interaction with her fans, interaction with people and it became a very personal thing for a way for her to personally … She has this huge rapid fan base. Any of those kinds of things that give the feeling of that personal connection, I think are very, very powerful.
Sam Schutte: I think personal marketing, that’s a whole particular movement of marketing out there right now, trying … People talking about personal brand and all those sorts of thing and certainly that has worked for a lot of religious organizations. If you look at some of the massive huge ones, the pastor is a huge part of that identity.
Russell Smith: Oh, sure. Yeah, that was a humbling and terrifying insight for me that I fought against for a long time is that I’m part of the brand. I’m part of the brand for Covenant First Presbyterian Church.
Sam Schutte: You’ve been there almost 20 years.
Russell Smith: I know. These poor people. Part of me pushes against that because as a pastor, I want to say, “I’m not the brand.” I want people to be looking at Christ. We’re a Christian church. It’s not about me. A big part of my religious faith is about humility. “I must decrease. Christ must increase.” That’s what John the Baptist said and that’s a big part of … Yet, even that being true, as we’ve just been talking, a big part of communicating in this era is the pastor as the brand. He embodies the brand for our church and the CEO embodies the brand for the organization.
Sam Schutte: Yeah. There are big companies that we … Certainly we see that nowhere better in the United States government. We see for instance the executive branch. It really doesn’t matter whose president or not. They are the executive branch in so many people’s mind and they are the party, whatever party they’re with. There’s like a lot of employees in the executive branch. There’s a lot of people, but 99% of the focuses just on one person. I think there are some big business, I’m trying to think of an example, but some large companies that have done that well. Maybe Ross Perot is an example from his various companies he’s had. Certainly Warren Buffet, but they’re not the hugest company per se, but I mean all of the companies that he owns. In fairness, if Warren Buffet-
Russell Smith: Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, I mean we can go down the list of these celebrity … The tricky thing there is we can also hand the list of the celebrity CEOs and celebrity pastors who’ve crashed and burned because sometimes that pressure of being the brand can really crush somebody.
Sam Schutte: No, it definitely can and of course obviously you’re left with succession issues and stuff when that person moves [crosstalk 00:49:36].
Russell Smith: Right, that’s true.
Sam Schutte: Yeah, that’s very interesting stuff. I think we’ve reached the end of our time here, so we’re going to wrap up our episode here. Thank you so much for coming on the show, Russell, and again everybody check out the Night Owl Study on Facebook. We’ll have a link in the description of the podcast here which is at 10:30.
Russell Smith: It’s at 10:30 on Wednesday nights on the Night Owl Study Facebook page. You can see archives on the Covenant First Presbyterian YouTube page if you’re not on Facebook and you want to go to YouTube. We’re out there.
Sam Schutte: Is there information about the books for the summer study program out there as well?
Russell Smith: Yes, I should probably put that on my blog and then get it out there for you. If anyone’s interested in my blog, russellbsmith.com. Follow me on Twitter @possiblehorizon.
Sam Schutte: Great!
Russell Smith: I was too late to get @russellbsmith for Twitter.
Sam Schutte: Do you have your books on your blog as well?
Russell Smith: Yes, my books are available on my blog as well. That’s a whole different other-
Sam Schutte: Did we mention the multiple books?
Russell Smith: Another time, we can talk about using technology for self-publishing. That’s a whole different thing, but Sam, thanks so much for having me on this show. I’m really excited for this show. It’s going to do great things.
Sam Schutte: Great! Awesome! Thank you.