What On Earth Is Meerkat? And Why Should Brands Care?

New live-streaming video app has captured the attention of early adopters; few businesses are using it yet.

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The Internet loves shiny new toys. And at the moment the newest and shiniest has got to be Meerkat, which in only two weeks since launching has gone from obscure to nearly viral.

Meerkat has pushed its way to popularity by providing a simple way to live-stream video and, more importantly, get an audience for those video streams. So far a ton of tech journalists and other social media digerati have been Meerkatting about, with tours of newsrooms, voyages of discovery in neighborhoods, commutes to work, even live feeds of actual cats at play.

Don’t let the early frivolity fool you. Remember, Twitter was considered less than serious by many in the early days. Look how that worked out. Most successful social tools need to have an element of fun; and Meerkat’s current status as a playful novelty is no doubt helping work out bugs in the brand new app.

Twitter appears to be taking the concept of live-video streaming very seriously. The company has reportedly acquired Periscope, a startup working on a beta product similar to Meerkat, reportedly for close to $100 million. The market for this type of service is getting crowded with another social live-streaming app, called Stre.am, launching today.

[Update: Twitter confirmed its Periscope purchase today after this post was published. More details here.]

But Meerkat has a huge head start and momentum fueled by its tight, although very unofficial, integration with Twitter. The app (iOS only, with a Android version said to be in the works) automatically tweets when a stream is launched. Twitter briefly blocked that feature last week, but restored it within a few hours. It remains to be seen, of course, if Twitter will continue to play nice, considering it might eventually roll out a competing product.

Meanwhile, Meerkat is soloing on Twitter. Another key to its success is enticing viewers with its ephemeral nature. Once a live stream is over, the audience can no longer see it (unless the Meerkatter later posts the video on another network.) That drives a fear-of-missing-out factor, watch it now or never watch it.

People are definitely watching. Meerkat gained 18,000 users in the first week after launching the app on Feb. 27. [Update: The Wall Street Journal reported late today that Meerkat now has more than 120,000 users, twice as many as a few days before.] Meerkat CEO and co-founder Ben Rubin said 28% of users watch a minimum of two hours a day, 8% watch at least three hours, 4% four hours. “That blew our mind,” he told CNBC.

What About Brands?

So far very few brands have joined the Meerkat gang, but the company is definitely thinking about marketing uses for its service. Rubin said the app’s scheduling feature was created with businesses in mind. That Meerkat lives within the Twitter environment is also a good fit for marketers.

“I think what helps brands here is the fact they don’t need to cultivate their own identity on the platform, it just allows them to live stream from their Twitter account,” Rubin told Fast Company. “It makes it easy for the people making those marketing decisions to jump quickly into the platform because they don’t have to worry about a whole new profile to maintain and cultivate.”

Brands that prefer to produce more professional looking video might shy away from Meerkat, filmed as it is on sometimes shaky mobile devices, but the ability to be nimble and quickly reach Twitter audiences should definitely prove attractive to many.

Starbucks and JCPenney were apparently among the earliest brands to activate their Meerkat accounts. JCPenney doesn’t appear to have launched any streams and a Starbucks stream from its roastery drew 210 views, a fairly small audience considering the company’s 7.3 million Twitter followers.

We found only a couple other Meerkat examples from major brands. NASDAQ has launched several streams, including video of a Red Cross representative ringing the closing bell Wednesday.

Red Bull used Meerkat to broadcast snowboarding trials from the Red Bull Double Pipe Finals Wednesday from Aspen.


Further emphasizing the value of the platform for news, the Miami Dolphins have been Meerkat-casting press conferences, most notably when it introduced free agent signee Ndamukong Suh Wednesday. At its height, the Dolphins’ Meerkat broadcast had nearly 1,000 viewers.


Mike Elgan’s Tech News Today isn’t a major brand, but his use of the platform Thursday was an interesting test of its potential. Elgan ran a Meerkat stream throughout preparation for his show and left it running during the webcast. “You Meerkat people go to TwiT.tv, and you TwiT people go to Meerkat,” Elgan joked at he started the show.

Despite the fact that Meerkat viewers could only hear Elgan’s side of the conversation, plenty stuck around. There were as many as 291 Meerkat viewers during the show, nearly half as many as were watching the full broadcast on UStream.

Postscript: MasterCard joined the Meerkat fray today, appropriately at SXSW.

The credit card company streamed from within the elevator during its “Priceless Pitch” startup contest at the Mashable House. MasterCard is tweeting out produced clips, like this, for many of the pitches. On Meerkat, it kept the camera running throughout and the the behind-the-scenes broadcast peaked at more than 100 viewers.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Martin Beck
Martin Beck was Third Door Media's Social Media Reporter from March 2014 through December 2015.

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