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Dan’s Rules of Multimedia Delivery

Anyone can put video on the internet.  Based on YouTube, pretty much everyone has.  But dropping a video file on the web, even if it’s on your site and nicely framed, is not multimedia delivery for an enterprise.  There are a dismaying number of organizations that haven’t figured out the difference, and I think it’s because they haven’t stopped to think about what they’re doing.

So I have some rules that help outline my planning and strategy:

  • Rule #1: Know Thine Audience

You cannot deliver content properly if you don’t understand who you’re speaking to.  This is more of a content development issue than delivery, but it’s so important and I think so misunderstood that it’s my #1 rule.  Who are you trying to reach – employees? customers? business partners? college kids? grandmas? lawyers? doctors? wandering minstrels?

There are any number of cute, clever, funny, outrageous videos out there.  Likewise there are videos with incredibly good production values that push the envelope with the greatest visual effects ever seen.  I wouldn’t use the first to sell funeral services, or the second to explain to the elderly how to fill out their new medicaid forms.  Before you put pixels to SD card, make sure you understand who’s going to watch.  Which leads to…

  • Rule #2 – Use the Right Tool for the Right Job

Yes, pocket digital recorders are great – they’re cheap, small, and allow anyone to record content quickly and easily.  They also, for the most part, record enough video to capture b-roll, short vlog entries, etc.  What they don’t generally do is record high quality video appropriate for a major announcement from a CEO or a TV commercial.  In some cases (I’m talking to you, Cisco, who apparently now own the Flip Camera) they don’t even have an audio input jack, meaning you can only get halfway decent sound if you’re parked on top of the speaker’s head.

YouTube is another example.  It is a fabulous outlet for enterprises as well as the individual – it’s an excellent way of reaching audiences you might not reach otherwise.  It’s not, however, ideal for delivering important video messages across your intranet that need restricted access and multicast capabilities.

Again – use the right tool for the right job.

  • Rule #3 – Streaming vs. Progressive Download

It’s a bit basic for those who do this professionally, but remember that you’re often talking to execs and business types who can’t tell an FLV from an SUV.  You can’t deliver video across an enterprise of any scale without true streaming, and that means hardware,  bandwidth, and/or a commercial content delivery network (CDN). That means money, network resources, and therefore executive buy-in.

So, video can be delivered three ways:

  1. Download – you literally drop a file on the end user’s computer, and they can’t play it until it’s all on the PC.
  2. Progressive download – you begin downloading the file to the user’s PC, but it begins playing as it downloads
  3. Streaming – you begin sending data to the PC, but it doesn’t live there – it simply travels from the server to the PC without residing there.

There’s more to talk about on the subject, but much of what people think of as streaming is actually progressive download since it’s coming from a web server rather than a streaming media server.

The reason this is a rule is because to do this right across an enterprise you need the stream – it will make the network guys happy, it will keep your assets off end user’s PCs, and you’ll get better performance.  But it costs money, time, and resources, and you’d better be ready to negotiate and manage that.

  • Rule #4: Don’t Waste Resources

Duh.

That means time and money, it means people, it means opportunities.  Technically, it can include bandwidth, server space and IT assistance.  But it’s little things too – why encode audio at 1500 Kbps when it just increases filesize? Why offer full HD video of a guy at a podium when what’s really important are the accompanying graphics that you’ve made teeny tiny? And don’t waste your effort and that of your staff on a project that doesn’t support overall organizational goals.

  • Rule #5 – Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

I can’t stress this enough.  Did I say Communicate? You cannot spend too much time letting people know what you’re doing.  This is especially critical when dealing with employee communication efforts, and there are two aspects I think matter.

First, it’s essential that organizational leadership reach out to their employees to let them know what’s happening at the company, where are they going, what’s important to the leadership, and why. Employees are hungry for this information, and too many organizations are stingy about it.  Video is of course a great method for reaching out to many people at once or over time, and yet leadership can be overly wary about it.  It’s been my experience that every major communication between leadership and the led is devoured by the staff – they want to know what’s happening, and hence you see spikes in video traffic.  If you’re going to manage media delivery and content, this is a vital lifeline for employees and you need to make the management understand.

The second area of communication is explaining your tools to people, especially in an environment like ours where A) mandatory education demands a sophisticated delivery system, and B) employees are not for the most part sitting at PCs all day and may not be as technically capable as in other environments.

If you’re going to drop a new system on people, expect them to take their courses, and oh by the way you have six weeks to do it, you’re throwing people into the deep end without a life jacket.  So give them a life jacket by communicating what you’re doing – tell them why it’s happening, why it’s going to be good for both them and the organization, and above all, tell them how to use the damn thing.

Now, they won’t necessarily read the messages.  They won’t necessarily watch the tutorials, or look at the powerpoints.  That’s really OK – it can take a long time to manage institutional change, and there’s a learning curve to everything.  But if you communicate to your enterprise what you’re doing and how it helps, and you do it frequently, it’s bound to reach some people. And they’ll appreciate it, and if they like it enough you’ll create evangelists for your efforts, and soon you begin to move the needle over so your media and your tools become a valued resource.

  • Bonus Rule: IT is Your Friend

Even if they don’t really get what you’re doing.  It’s OK – they don’t really have to get the whole picture.  They have to trust that you’re doing the right thing, that it’s good for the organization, and that you’ll work with them to balance their concerns with your needs. You depend on the hardware and the pipes, and they have to keep those humming.  Know your stuff, negotiate in good faith, keep them in the loop as much as you can, and success is much more likely.

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