Is Meerkat the Next Twitter? Lessons from a SXSW Launch

MeerkatsEvery spring, the city of Austin, Texas, is consumed by the South by Southwest festival. Thousands of people flock to SXSW to attend the music and film portion. But in the last decade, it isn’t the musicians and actors that seem to make the biggest splash at South by Southwest. It’s the nerds.

South by Southwest Interactive brings together entrepreneurs, developers, designers and investors for five days of geeking out over technology. This is the event that launched a thousand apps, including Twitter and Foursquare. Tech startups flood Austin every year hoping that their app, equipment or software will attract the attention of the venture capitalist sharks that circle the floor smelling for the blood of the next “It” product. In 2015, that product was Meerkat.

Meerkat is the first live-streaming video app that integrates with Twitter, and it’s all anyone could talk about during and after SXSW. The app syncs with your Twitter account so you can broadcast whatever you’re filming on your phone to followers. In Austin last week, everyone was Meerkatting, and the news of the app spread like wildfire.

SXSWCreating the South by Southwest Buzz

SXSW was the perfect launch pad for Meerkat. Like Twitter and Foursquare before it, the company showed a nuanced understanding of what the festival is all about. South by Southwest is huge, and everyone wants to know what everyone else is doing – and if you don’t want to know, too bad, because everyone is going to tell you, anyway. Meerkat became this year’s trendy new way to tell your friends and fellow attendees what you were up to, where you were, what you were seeing and which important people you were talking to.

The technology will change the way people use Twitter, and the easy-to-navigate app is great. But the real impetus behind its explosive launch at SXSW was Twitter’s announcement that it had purchased a rival application called Periscope. What’s more, Twitter publically terminated Meerkat’s access to its social graph, meaning that Meerkat can’t send an automatic notification to your Twitter followers whenever you post a video. This is a serious problem for an app with the sole purpose of interacting with Twitter.

Ironically, it was Twitter’s announcement that made people really sit up and take notice of Meerkat. Had they let Meerkat slip under the radar and quietly made the move a few weeks after SXSW, maybe Jimmy Fallon wouldn’t be Meerkatting his rehearsals right now.

Ready or Not…

Meerkat is benefitting from the exposure, but it’s also frantically developing workarounds and dealing with the fallout from Twitter’s abandonment. In a display of agility, the app countered with the addition of features like an in-app search for users and the ability to follow a user from Meerkat’s website.

Whether or not Meerkat becomes the next Twitter or goes the way of flash-in-the-pan apps like TwitPic and Yik Yak will depend on how it responds to the Twitter obstacle and the intense scrutiny of the coming weeks. It needs to take a hard look at how it wants to position the product and how best to brand it so that it becomes a legitimate player in the social media sphere. The folks at Meerkat probably have two things on their minds:

1. Meerkat can change the world

The exciting thing is that Meerkat doesn’t only have the Twitter buzz to piggyback on; it has some truly significant implications. Twitter is already a major communication and research tool for journalists, activists and communities, and with the addition of Meerkat, the age of citizen journalism has just gotten richer. Meerkat is perfectly positioned to brand itself as a purpose-driven product, a new technology that provides the societal benefit of engaging people on a civic level. The app has already been used to live-stream a demonstration from Ferguson and the swearing-in ceremony for the U.S. Secretary of Commerce. Meerkat truly has the potential to transform journalism, event planning, marketing, public relations and entertainment – but will it follow through?

2. Meerkat can’t forget their roots

The company also needs to remember what put it on the map in the first place and make sure they don’t lose what made their app so special among SXSW attendees this year. That group served as a beta test for the app’s ability to tap into people’s desire to stay connected easily and instantly. With the touch of a button, Meerkat can post a user’s stream directly to Twitter, reaching all of their followers and promoting the exchange of a new type of social media sharing: instant video. This kind of technology usually catches on among people who work in the digital sphere first before it spreads to the mainstream. If Meerkat can turn their SXSW fans into a loyal base of brand advocates, they’re well on their way to cementing a spot in the big leagues. If they’re smart, the Meerkat crew will take a cue from Facebook’s recent ad campaign promoting connectivity in a product-centric way that tugs on its users’ hearts.

Meerkat has a huge opportunity, but also a huge challenge. This little startup has been tossed into the big leagues, but they won’t stay there long unless they innovate quickly and intelligently. Meerkat has all of the potential to position itself as a valued player. Here’s to hoping they will have made the leap from startup to social staple by SXSW 2016.

We’ve learned so much this year! Click here to see our takeaways from SXSW 2016.