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Periscope: Concerns for the Enterprise

November 12, 2015 Leave a comment

Periscope-Logo

I sat down with some old friends yesterday to chat about all kinds of things in the streaming universe, and at one point we got into a discussion about Periscope, the livestreaming tool available through Twitter. It got me thinking about the revolutionary nature of these new tools and how they might impact the Enterprise.

Make no mistake here – allowing users to livestream with nothing more than a phone they’re carrying anyway is a major game changer. It’s by no means a replacement for a proper setup for anything serious, but the ability to deliver live content even at the relatively low-level of a phone is still an amazing opportunity for users of every kind. The question is, how does this new tool get adopted in large organizations, and what might be some of the concerns facing business owners and IT teams?

There’s no question Periscope, Meerkat and the few other options out there will find quick adoption among smaller companies, and small groups within larger organizations. Enterprise-level adoption, however, almost always demands a deep look into the impact of a new tool and the overall value to the organization. The first concern I think most companies will have is security – can the tool be brought in without increasing the risk of hackers using it to break into systems? With these apps, I believe it’s too early to tell how this might impact other systems which tells me it’ll be some time before widespread adoption.

The second concern is the development of a strategy and a set of use cases to help the organization fit livestreaming apps into their overall business. Why do you want on-the-fly live events? What are they meant to accomplish? Who do you want delivering these events? For large organizations, both internal and external communications can be tightly controlled, and the entire purpose of these apps is to spread the opportunities around to as many people as you can. Adding them to the company’s arsenal requires an ability to surrender control which can be a hard sell to company leadership. It also means developing policies & procedures for using the tools, and that can delay deployment while the necessary documents are created.

A third issue is impact of the technology on existing IT systems & resources. Is some sort of central administration needed? Who will provide user support? With budgets and personnel already stretched farther than advisable, smart IT leadership will ask these questions before committing to including these tools.

It’s hard to wait on interesting and powerful technology, but most large enterprise organizations take their time about adoption until it can be worked into their overall business strategies. Interestingly, the Mayo Clinic is one organization that has begun to experiment with Periscope. I find it notable because health care is one of the most highly regulated industries and providers can be very wary of how they share. I will say that I know some people at Mayo and they’ve been very forward-looking in their adoption of new communication tools, and it’s good to see them taking advantage of Periscope.

Overall I expect these tools will join other social outlets used by large organizations, but probably in a very controlled and limited way. It doesn’t mean employees aren’t already leveraging them, but I’d be surprised to see any major adoption in the near future.

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Enterprise Video Production: Talking Head vs Graphics

July 11, 2014 Leave a comment

I’ve been part of some discussions recently around the approach organizations take to online video. There’s been a push to move away from the talking head style and over to more motion graphics driven video. While I appreciate the value of motion graphics in video, the idea that the talking head as a video format is dead disturbs me a lot. Similarly there are times when despite the cleverness and “coolness” of a motion graphic it’s just not the best way to transmit information to the viewer.

There are times when a talking head is actually a very valuable form of video. When you’re trying to establish the bona fides of a subject, or allow a viewer to associate a face and a voice with a name, you really do want to get that person on camera. Obviously you can do a voice over on top of motion graphics and get some of the benefits, but you lose that critical opportunity to introduce your viewers directly to your subject. More importantly, there’s a strength in body language and facial expressions that can really make a difference in how viewers respond.

You also don’t have to turn out a pure talking head video – the staring into the camera approach of a nightly news desk is actually boring, and I understand the desire to get away from that. This is where some very basic creativity can change the dynamic of your talking head. Multiple camera angles can change the pace up; a stand-up presentation can add some dynamism as well. Developing a combination approach – some talking head, some motion graphics can break up the static shots of the individual speaking. There’s plenty of ways to improve the presentation without losing the chance to show your viewers the person behind the information.

Similarly, motion graphics videos should be thought out carefully – practically speaking the production is more labor intensive from start to finish. These videos need to be storyboarded, scripted and produced by specialists that may have other demands that could interfere with your production schedule. More importantly, many motion graphics videos I’ve seen have been glorified infographics made much busier by the addition of motion. There’s plenty of room for that sort of thing, but in today’s ADD video world I’ve often felt that very little useful information is imparted or retained by the use of very busy motion graphic videos. Motion videos in an enterprise setting should make sure the user walks away knowing something they didn’t know before, and ideally lead to additional business opportunities.

In the end, the choice of video should not be limited to any one type. Much like back-end technology, the key is to use the right tool for the right situation. Don’t toss out the idea of a talking head video if that will provide the best method of communicating your messages to your audience and lead to the best result. Use motion graphics in places where the users will learn the most from the video in that format. Taking an absolutist position of presentation means you box yourself into a corner without the flexibility you need to get your point across.

The Conversation About Enterprise Streaming Video

May 12, 2014 Leave a comment

social_imageThis is purely observational and not based on any formal study, but the nature of the conversation around online video appears to me tilted heavily towards the entertainment side of the equation. The discussions and tweets I see focus heavily on the consumer market – distribution deals for entertainment content, Netflix’s subscriber base, monetizing your original content, etc. I’m heading to Streaming Media East tomorrow, and much of the content at the online streaming conference is focused on these same subjects.

For those of us in the enterprise, the discussions have been more muted. Service providers like Kaltura, Brightcove, Wowza and others are filling the need by at least discussing their own products, but the conversation around video within the enterprise seems much lower key. I have some ideas as to why this is the case.

First, the entertainment and large-scale providers of content are in effect a well-defined industry. Even if Netflix is mostly an aggregator of others’ content and HBO is mostly a standalone distributor of their own, the two are largely playing in the same space. They contract for original content or purchase rights to films and sell their services on to consumers. There are analysts dedicated to these spaces and language for describing the ins & outs of the entertainment business. While the method for delivering the content has changed, the essentials of the business have not and there’s a pre-existing discussion that has added a streaming component to it. Their businesses are now heavily dependent on CDNs, bandwidth, buffering and all the other concerns of the streaming universe, hence the online conversations around those subjects reference them frequently.

Second, the financial implications of the entertainment side of the streaming video universe are enormous. YouTube channels alone are big business with broad impact on the industry’s bottom line. And again, the big players make their money off delivering their content to users in a connected world, so inevitably there will be a lot of talk around the moves they make and their effect on the streaming business.

In contrast, the average corporate or organizational video production effort is a lot lower key. Generally we don’t serve the primary function of our companies. We enhance marketing, communication and outreach efforts, but if your organization is making the bulk of its money off streaming you’re probably already in the mix of the larger conversations. In essence the management of enterprise video is a niche effort. We all know this instinctively, and for me personally I’m used to it – you can’t spend years managing a corporate archives without quickly learning your place within the organization.

There’s room for a lot more discussion on the use and techniques of video for the enterprise. I hope I’m helping to fill that niche by blogging and tweeting on video in the corporation. But I think there’s a lot more room for discussion on it, and I’d love to hear from others focused on the corporate space and how we can help our organizations make the most of online video.

PS – A few people you may want to check out on Twitter who are also active on the subject include:

Image courtesy of emptyglass / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Storytelling Trumps Video Length

November 21, 2013 Leave a comment

A question that comes up a lot is “how long should a web video be?” I’ve talked about it before and the answer should be “as long as it needs to be to tell the story you want to tell.” Apple demonstrates beautifully how you can engage people in a story about your products over a very long period by web standards:

10 minutes is a long time, especially in today’s ADD-infected online world. While the key is to hook people within the first 30 seconds or so (earlier by some people’s estimates), if you tell a compelling story, they’ll stick with you. Apple of course has built up enough credit in the marketplace that they’ll get attention where others might not. But you don’t have to be at their level to develop a great story and deliver it to your users & customers.

The vibe they chose to accentuate here is about the power of their product to help people. In today’s cultural climate, that’s a powerful message likely to resonate with a lot of users. Apple doesn’t need to use a message like this to sell people on their products, as in a lot of ways they all but sell themselves. So a message like this helps to position the company in areas that matter to their customers, and that builds goodwill and a positive image for the organization. And they took a very sizable chunk of time to tell that story, and they did it well. You can learn from what they did, and take the time to tell your story.

H/T to ReelSEO.com for the link (@reelseo)

Managing Video Content Types

October 8, 2013 Leave a comment

Broadly speaking content within the enterprise can be almost anything, but I believe there are four basic areas of corporate video: Marketing, External Communications, Internal Communications and E-learning. Almost everything produced within an organization will fit into one of these categories, so let’s look deeper into the nature and issues related to each of these categories.

Marketing

This is the primary category – perhaps the only category –  of video within the enterprise for a lot of people. I don’t happen to agree, as I think it’s merely one part of a much broader program. One of the reasons it’s so central to some people’s thinking (and the easiest to read about across the web) is that it’s both the easiest category to explain to management and the one that fits best into an ROI discussion. I won’t bother to explain what Marketing means generally, but from a video perspective it’s a video type designed primarily to sell the organization’s capabilities and products.

This can take many different approaches from the very hard sell to the very soft, but there’s a pretty clear purpose to these videos and almost always direction from a marketing person or team to meet their needs. It’s a critical part of any corporate video effort and provides the team the best opportunity to demonstrate the value the department brings to the organization. Where an external agency may be brought in for big ticket productions like TV commercials, the in-house team will often be tapped to develop lower budget, smaller audience pieces. With new web- & mobile-driven distribution channels available at a fraction of the cost of TV & Radio ads, the internal team can really prove their worth by producing high quality marketing pieces for far less than the external vendors.

As I said, executives understand marketing budgets & ROI, and if they don’t get the value of a video program before you get involved in a formal marketing video, doing a great job on a marketing piece will go a long way to getting them to understand its value.

External Communications

I deliberately separated external communications from marketing to draw a line between video designed to sell and video that isn’t, or at least not obviously. Every video released to a public audience is in some way intended to deliver messages about the organization’s strengths; each piece will reveal something to outsiders about the company and it’s important to remember that before a piece is released. But again these videos are not designed as marketing tools, and the tone should reflect that.

Almost anything could fall into a “non-marketing” category, but I think there are certain regular types that appear across the enterprise universe:

  • Educational pieces – product demos & training videos
  • Executive communications – earnings calls, TV appearances, new product announcements
  • Staff communications – conference/paper presentations, expert testimony

Again it’s a broad category, but these pieces are designed more to inform than to sell. It’s important, particularly for the executive communications, to make absolutely certain the subject is presented in the best way possible. As I wrote about the Yahoo earnings call, someone on the video team should’ve made sure the CEO was presented in a way that made her seem natural, at ease and in command of the event.

These communications are a great opportunity to cross paths with influential people within the organization, and thus a great chance to sell the capabilities of the department. Make the CFO look great and you make an influential friend in the c-suite; help a senior manager make a great presentation at a conference and you ensure that she’ll recommend you to others and you can build a network of supporters across the organization.

Internal Communications

Nearest and dearest to my own heart, Internal Communications are often the most undervalued type of video production, and I would argue the most important. These productions are often devalued within the organization and by senior leadership because the audience for these pieces are already owned by the company. The assumption, often erroneous, is that the company’s employees already know everything there is to know about the organization. They’re getting paid, anyway, so why bother selling or marketing to them – their salaries and benefits should be enough to keep them motivated?

I think this misses some essential problems, most critically that all employees by definition understand the company, its purposes and its current strategies. Many employees in fact have little grasp on the broader picture and their place within it. During my stints managing the day to day video operations, every one of the rare executive communications saw tremendous traffic. The employees in fact are often desperate to hear from the company’s leadership as an opportunity to understand where things are and where they might be going. Obviously a video should not give away vital company secrets, but each video outreach is an opportunity to build morale, community feeling and a sense that leadership appreciates the part each employee plays within the organization.

Another problem missed by the assumption that employees know what’s going on is that each employee is part of a much broader network of family, friends and other contacts. You have a captive audience of potential salespeople – your 50, 500 or 5000 employees can spread the word far beyond the reach of your marketing & PR teams. In the very social environment we live in, why ignore the opportunity to get the company’s out via the employees? Make them excited about the company’s future and they’ll tell their networks. Your next employee, your next customer might be in those networks, and you’re missing a chance to reach them if you don’t communicate within your own organization.

The nature of these videos depends on the company and the leadership. Informal or formal, talking head or audience presentation, highly produced or low-budget – as long as the communications come out in my mantra of Regular, Frequent and Two-way these videos are critical to a corporate video program. If you take the additional step of allowing user-generated content, you have the makings of not only a very powerful communications tool to a key audience, but you’ve developed a tool for maintaining institutional memory and knowledge sharing.

E-learning

The last category is E-learning/online education, and may or may not fall under the corporate video team’s responsibilities. It’s often a dotted-line relationship to HR or a formal education department within the company. In almost all cases the educational content is developed by others – they have educational goals to meet, and the video should be designed to support those goals. They may include software demos, regulatory education requirements or continuing education.

It’s important for the video team to provide input during the planning process so concerns about user engagement and video production are balanced against the needs of the educators. I found with software demos, for example, that anything longer than 5 minutes was much harder on end users to process – halfway through a long program they couldn’t recall what they learned in the first 5 minutes. Breaking down a complicated software package into digestible steps and assembling them into a reference library often serves better than an hour walkthrough of every feature. It’s not always possible to focus on the user experience – Continuing Ed, for example, often has set requirements for program length that have to trump viewability. For e-learning, the video team should serve as an advisor to the educators, but the requirements will have to take precedence.

So there are my four broad areas of video within the enterprise – feel free to argue if you disagree, and comments are always welcome.

Planning for Live Streaming

July 25, 2013 Leave a comment

Eric Norell over at Streaming Media Producers offers some great tips for preparing for a live streamed event:

Six Tips for Planning a Professional-Looking Live-Streamed Event

All of these steps are critical to ensuring the technical aspects of the event are smooth and as trouble-free as possible. You always want your viewers to notice your content, not your technology – if it works well, they won’t be talking about the stream. If it works poorly, it’s all they’ll talk about, assuming they stick around.

What he’s underlining here is the need for thorough and careful preparation. What he’s not talking about (since it’s not his focus) is the same preparation needs to go into managing the talent and content that will appear during the show. You can have the best technical setup on the planet, but if your principal presenters are not ready for prime time it doesn’t matter how smooth the stream was delivered.

Here are a few things to think about and prep long before the day of the event – as a video manager you may not have direct control over every aspect, but it’s important to get involved in the process as early as possible and make sure these things are considered. And if you don’t have the CEO’s ear, find someone who does and lay out the details for them, make sure they understand it and hope they communicate it to the on-camera talent.

  • Slides/graphics – often these are at least laid out long before the day of the event. In general slides used for web viewing should be clean and uncluttered, all the more so if they are a portion of the live event. If you’re not the one preparing them, get to whoever is and make sure they understand the value and power of clean, easy to read slides. Test the connections to the slide presentation if you will be switching between a video view and the slide source – is everything readable and the switches are made cleanly? The visuals and delivery of those visuals both matter, and this is something you can check early.
  • Microphones and camera placement – Mr. Norell covers much of this in his post, but from a content perspective this is important as well. Does your speaker turn his head a lot when he talks? Will this have a negative impact on the sound quality? Does she move around a lot when she speaks, requiring a very attentive camera person to follow them as they ping-pong around the stage? The presentation can be affected by a lot of idiosyncrasies and it’s important to be aware of these before the day of the event. One caveat: don’t crimp your speaker’s style – the goal here is to make them look great, and better to adjust the video team’s planning than to force the CEO into a less comfortable format.
  • Switching & graphics – again this is more technical and covered in the original article, but put some content thought into this as well. Will they distract from the messages or enhance them? Are you switching views just to switch views, or is something meaningful being conveyed? Don’t lose sight of the keys here – let your principals deliver the messages they’re here to deliver and use the technology to make that a great show.
  • Audience awareness – make sure both the technical team and the speakers are aware that there’s a virtual audience in the room with them. There can be a sensation sometimes, especially if there’s no live audience, to think they’re speaking to themselves. I was on a live event recently where the cameras were made live – with no sound – 5-10 minutes before the start of the event. We watched the participants chat among themselves as if they were off camera, which of course they weren’t. Keep your speakers aware of the crowd out there watching, and ask them to behave as if they were live until they’re told otherwise. Obviously everyone needs to watch their language and actions throughout the process, but even without expletives and other issues it’s best to act as if there are people in the room.

Again, much like the technical preparation, the content preparation is critical for the best live show possible.

A Tale of Two Earnings Calls

July 23, 2013 Leave a comment

So last week I sat in on the Yahoo 2Q results call and on the whole I was underwhelmed – the performance was lacking and more importantly for me the technology effort was poor. I jumped on the Netflix earnings call yesterday to compare the two attempts. No contest – the technical delivery and overall performance of the Netflix show absolutely blew away Yahoo. Delivery was smooth, the presenters came across as comfortable and prepared for the video experience. The one exception was the camera quality – Yahoo used professional grade cameras, Netflix chose webcams, and that’s a big negative in my view. If you’re a professional company, invest a little time and money in a camera crew for your CEO & CFO to improve the lighting and delivery.

All of this is technical – as a web-delivered video broadcast, I thought this worked very well. Leveraging Google Hangout as a delivery system meant a rock solid platform ensuring a technically successful show (aside from my capture-device issues). Again, the executives were much better prepared for their roles and came across far better than the Yahoo team last week. Others reviewed the experience, and here’s what they thought, along with my commentary:

I think part of the problem here is that these stories are looking at this through a lens different than the target audience. I suspect most in the intended audience didn’t care in the slightest that the production values were lower than they should be. If I had to guess, many of the analysts were listening, not watching – multi-tasking as they had the call on in the background, and they may never have noticed the webcams. I doubt, contra Buzzfeed, that this was more confusing for the target audience – they know what they’re listening for, and I’m quite convinced they know if they heard the positive or negative information they need to tease out a recommendation for investors.

This is the only thing I think that really matters, and plays into my first and most critical rule of video – know thy audience. How did the analyst community react to a very, very different format? Traditionally as I understand it these audio calls allow for analysts to raise any question they like directly to the executive team – I find it hard to believe they were completely comfortable with the moderator role played by the two selected journalists. I suspect, though I can’t prove it, that many in the analyst audience felt the entire exercise was more staged than a traditional call. Not that the moderators were in the tank with Netflix, but that the traditional give and take was restricted by the moderated format.

This is a very important consideration for companies looking at a video earnings call – you have a relationship with your analysts as established by your current earnings delivery mechanism. What might change about it if you switch to a video format? Are you looking to blow up your old model as Netflix did, or combine traditional with video as Yahoo did? Are you prepared to be on camera where your body language and setting will influence how the analysts view your presentation and responses to questions?

What matters to these companies when dealing with earnings is putting the best face on their results so the stock valuation and company outlook are as positive as possible. If you look to change your earnings call to video, the goal for an executive team and the video group has to be to aid the process for the analysts who impact your company’s future.

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