Radio Canada is Canada’s public broadcasting network across both radio and television. As Québec elections approached, the Radio Canada News and Communications-Marketing teams built a strategy for reporting on the elections that reported live on the debates and election results via Facebook Live. The Election Night broadcast reported on the results over the course of five-and-a-half hours.

“Facebook Live is always our go-to format for instant coverage of developing stories,” said Éric Samson, Social Media Strategist at Radio Canada. “Election Night was a natural fit.”

The Facebook Live broadcasts incorporated two strategic approaches:

Learn more about Radio Canada’s approach to elections coverage via Facebook Live below.

How did you come up with the idea to go Live on election day?

It was the first time we had a fixed-date election in Québec, so we were able to start planning well in advance. The 2018 campaign was special because, without going too much into specifics, the “old parties” were in trouble pretty early on. Social media quickly became a battleground where the “new parties” deployed a lot of their efforts. It made sense for the coverage to move to social media as well.

The News team is traditionally autonomous from Communications and Marketing — the team I’m on — for obvious journalistic-independence reasons. But we decided to use this opportunity to embed one of us marketing-folk in the newsroom. That way, we could use our marketing expertise to drive people to the extensive news coverage both online and off, throughout the campaign. It was a team effort, with each team playing to our strengths.

For example, we were on Facebook Live during the candidates’ debate. Our Community Management team answered viewers’ questions and moderated comments while the News Social Media team provided live fact-checking and other information. The debate night Facebook Live was an unmitigated success, so it was obvious to everyone that we should do the same for Election Night.

Why was using Facebook Live the right format for this story you were trying to tell?

Facebook Live is always our go-to format for instant coverage of developing stories. Election Night was a natural fit.

Also, covering Election Night over Facebook Live enabled us to present a mix of our traditional trusted newscast in a reliable manner. It also enabled us to experiment with narrowly focused, live updates and with instant dialogue between the newsroom and the viewers.

Our brand has often struggled with the dichotomy of being considered the most trusted, neutral, and respected news organization of the land — while trying to break the perception that we are “stuck in our ivory tower.” A dual-case like the debate coupled with live interaction with viewers allowed us to maintain our reputation for great news while also connecting directly with our audience.

What steps did you take to prepare and make sure everything went smoothly?

The Facebook Live broadcast was a significant lift. It had to cover all of Election Night! We made sure that everyone on our Communications-Marketing division and our News division was on board, from the journalists and editors all the way to top management. We didn’t want any surprises or miscommunications.

We’ve had the chance to work with our broadcast production team for previous Facebook Lives. We’re lucky enough to have a great production team on the broadcast side that never shies away from a challenge and genuinely likes working with us to try new things. We’ve honed our processes to ensure that every technical aspect is covered and every team is on board.

What tips do you have for other newsrooms who want to use Facebook Live for storytelling?

On Debate Night and Election night, our online team offered information that complemented what was happening on-screen, from live fact-checking throughout the debate to answering questions and offering clarifications to specific questions asked by our community.

This approach goes somewhat against the accepted knowledge of having on-air talent interact directly with the social audience. We used the straight-to-TV feed; we wanted our on-air talent to focus on reporting the debates and election results. It would have been awkward — and potentially overwhelming for the talent — to also respond to online comments during a national network broadcast.

So our online team stepped in. The tip from this is: Don’t hesitate to split duties — just be 100% clear in communicating that you’re doing a repurposed broadcast. If viewers know it, they don’t really mind “passively” watching TV-on-social. They’re perfectly happy getting responses to their comments and questions from a team member, rather than from the talent.

By following this approach, your comment section can become a second-screen experience itself.

What do you see as the value of going Live around your elections?

Cord-cutting is a major issue for news networks in Canada, especially in light of the (relatively) volatile political climate and the emergence of new parties and nontraditional political movements. We felt the analysis of our experienced newsroom was necessary and important.

Therefore, we just followed our public mandate and general mission to inform as many of our citizens, wherever they may be. So we offered a complementary broadcast that reflected the hard-news, fact-based analysis that our journalists all over the province could bring to viewers who might not have cable (or even a TV!) — and provided a space for citizens to ask questions relevant to their own situation.

National elections are a specific challenge for broadcasters. While the issues are general, local concerns are also important for people. Facebook Live enables us to answer individual questions that are relevant to viewers, while also covering the big-picture issues. For example, someone from a county not being discussed on national TV might wonder what their local election’s status is. They can ask us a specific question that we can answer in the comments, based on our journalists’ previous coverage and expertise.