Totally Dorset blogger Emily Pykett is social media manager (maternity cover) for the RNLI. Here, she reflects on how the charity’s ethos of innovation and learning shapes social strategy
BACK at work at Poole HQ after an epic weekend with the RNLI in London. We organised an Alternative Boat Race, releasing 250 mini lifeboats into the River Thames to promote awareness of the work of our volunteers, who save lives at sea.
It was an extraordinary operation, representing months of painstaking planning, logistics and media relations. In a first for the RNLI, our three-strong social media team streamed live footage to YouTube via a Google+ Hangout.
As with any live broadcast, natural elements posed significant challenges. We calculated tide times and managed to escape the rain that had been forecast. But even with all the RNLI’s expertise at our disposal, we simply were not prepared for things to change as quickly as they did. The unpredictability of Mother Nature meant there was a two-hour delay in releasing the boats into the Thames, nudging us dangerously close to the start time of the official BNY Mellon Boat Race further down the river. Eventually, with just minutes to go until our permission to stay on the river ran out, the call was made to shorten the course and go, go, GO!
What did this mean for our live stream? Visually, due to lack of wind and the whimsical water flow, there was no ‘race’, as such, just a flotilla of orange boats floating about on the water. Our ‘best’ camera had to be anchored to a laptop (for wifi) at the finish line, the London Apprentice pub in Isleworth, where the best signal was. But this was rendered useless when the race course changed at short notice. This left just one camera – me on a boat, filming with an iPhone 5 which could not cope with the bandwidth necessary to stream live. (And this was a surprise, because in previous recces to test the signal, it had worked just fine!) Another real challenge was communicating this to my colleague Luke Williams, who was hosting the live broadcast back at Poole HQ, and fully expecting to pick up footage from the finish line. To add drama to a dilemma, radio contact to my other colleague Nathan Murray, stationed at the London Apprentice, was patchy. We just had to rely on our wits, and wing it.
On that basis, it’s easy to feel like we failed. But you know what? We stuck our necks out, we gave it a go and we learned a lot. At its peak, the live stream had 227 concurrent views – and that feels pretty good, for a first attempt. We’re proud of our ‘viewers’ for hanging in there, rooting for us as we wrestled with the elements and technical glitches. We know from their Tweets there was a real sense of tuning in to something exciting, and new.
We’re proud of Luke, for his ad-libbing commentary in vintage boating blazer, shout-outs to the viewers tuning in from Europe and America, and plugs on where to buy the remote-controlled Severn Class lifeboats (as seen in the live stream).
We’re proud of Nathan, for his outstanding live Tweeting and brainwave to set up the text-to-donate number, which helped raise funds for the RNLI to continue its life-saving work.
What did we learn? We need more people joining the hangout for better ‘vision mixing’ between cameras. We’ve already identified that we want to experiment more with ‘home-made’ social content, because we suspect it performs better than slicker, more corporate collateral. And whilst I wish the live stream could have been a little bit easier on the eye, for me, social media is all about being brave enough to try new things, and have an adventure. Job done 🙂