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Other People’s Platforms

June 17, 2016 Leave a comment

mashable

Mashable posted an article about an attempt by the Australian government to hold a live political debate via Facebook. Sadly for anyone interested in watching the debate, the quality of the livestream was terrible, largely due it seems to the low overall quality of connectivity in Australia (the article lists them as 48th in terms of global internet speeds).

There are some lessons to be learned from this exercise for the enterprise user. First, it’s important to consider the likely end user experience, and be extremely aware of the outside factors that can influence it. They cannot be controlled, but they must be accounted for. If you’re going to deliver a live event, are you prepared for the possibility that end users might have a terrible experience? What steps can you take, perhaps with your CDN provider, to provide extra capacity to ease the loads? Are you set up to field complaints properly, both by phone and social & email outlets?

Second, are you prepared to put yourself at the mercy of someone else’s infrastructure? Not everyone can or should build or buy livestreaming capacity, especially if it’s not something you intend to do very often. But are you prepared to risk a major (or even minor) live event on Facebook’s or YouTube’s live delivery options? These are wonderful platforms to be on, and your audiences are certainly there to be reached, but there are risks involved in depending on these tools as your sole delivery mechanism. You have to trust that in the midst of everything else these platforms are doing, your event will receive the attention it deserves.

Finally, think about the level of support you want to have when something goes bad. As the Mashable article indicates, even a Buzzfeed chat with President Obama went sour and they had to shift away to a YouTube feed. If a major media source and the President of the United States couldn’t get their problems sorted by the provider, how much better service will your organization get? Companies like Ustream and Livestream do this as a sole function (and I’m not shilling for either) for large-scale events; they can provide one-off services if these are only needed occasionally; and as part of an arrangement with them it’s reasonable to expect a high level of service in the event of a failure.

By all means leverage every tool at your disposal, and go where the audiences are. But be sure to understand the potential for problems is high, and in the end you get what you pay for.

Image courtesy of Mashable from the article Australia’s first online leadership debate marred by buffering complaints

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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.

A Tale of Two Video Projects

March 27, 2014 Leave a comment

Image courtesy of suphakit73/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’ve gotten involved recently with two separate video projects and the two efforts couldn’t be farther apart in approach. The purposes are different and the end products need to accomplish separate things. There’s also two very different approval chains involved and that changes things dramatically.

The processes of these efforts, however, are the most different of them all and the most instructive about success and failure with a video project. One project has been multiple months in the discussion, planning, back and forth, delays and consultations. The end products are supposed to be extremely short teasers to provide a brief visual and an enticement to the readers to continue on with a text piece. It provides a welcome sense of the writers and a chance to associate names & personalities with their thinking. It should, frankly, be a slam dunk of an easy exercise to settle on a basic approach both technically and content-wise and get some samples in the can and ready for publication. And yet months later we’re still discussing.

On the other project, there was an almost passing request from a colleague to shoot some video for an online tool he’s developed. We arranged a day, I borrowed some equipment, and over the course of a single day we shot what turned into 35 short segments for him to add to the tool. In less than a week I had it all edited to his satisfaction and back over to him. I am by no means a cinematographer and these talking head pieces may not be the most brilliant ever, but we accomplished everything he needed to do in a very short space of time.

It’s no surprise which I consider the appropriate way to get a video together, but it’s not always possible. There are many good reasons to work by committee and often the final product needs the input of many people. There are certainly times when a professional quality videographer, a formal script and trained actors are necessary for the production to reach the level it needs to reach.

But there are also times when programs can overthink themselves into doing nothing. The old 80/20 rule, or the perfect being the enemy of the good really needs to come into play when projects get out of hand. A simple idea often needs a simple solution, even if it doesn’t entirely match expectations. The months spent on doing demos and passing them around and writing slide presentations would probably be better used cranking out short pieces and improving as we go.

As the cost curve on video production continues to bend in favor of cheaper, better video there’s no reason not to take the fast route through. If the end product is short and very targeted it’s really not worth the expense of very high end production when you get extremely good results with basic equipment and a decent understanding of basic videography. Get the lighting decent and the sound great and your average talking head video doesn’t need a ton of work. Even basic b-roll can be added with the same equipment, so why overexert yourself.

I’ve said numerous times during this process there’s a time and place for everything. Bring on the best when the best is needed, and bring on the good when it will do the trick in half the time and a tenth of the cost.

Image courtesy of suphakit73 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Managing Risks in Video Content

January 13, 2014 Leave a comment

Day to day life in content production in my current industry involves a large amount of risk management. Every piece that works its way through the process is vetted for risky content—are we overstating the case? Are we mentioning private information that we shouldn’t? Are we using language that we shouldn’t use? It got me thinking about risk concerns during the creation and distribution of video – what are some of the things we need to think about?

Some industries are more risk-conscious than others. Consulting/Advisory (where I am now), Healthcare (where I’ve been), Financial Services/Banking (haven’t gotten to this one so far) are among the most risk-aware fields out there. A lot of this is driven by the extreme sensitivity of the information companies in these fields possess—critical proprietary business information, your private health information or your money. Some is driven by the need for consumer protection—government regulations abound to make sure the information these organizations hold is protected and safe from prying eyes and that companies do not make promises they can’t keep. 

If you’re in one of those industries, the safeguards on language and information are likely in place. It’s possible there’s a whole department with responsibility for making sure the videos you produce comply with regulations & company policies. As a producer you should be aware of the organization’s needs and anticipate the pitfalls. If you’re writing a script, think about the messages you’re delivering, and how they fit the company’s risk profile. You can save yourselves and the risk reviewers a lot of time and effort by keeping it front and center at every step of the way. Even if it’s not required, think about having the risk people review the script before you schedule recording—if you can spot potential issues ahead of time it can save messy re-shoots later.

If you’re interviewing people (as opposed to a scripted shoot) have a conversation with your talent before the camera rolls about the kinds of things to avoid. While it can get crowded and certainly take some of the energy out of an interview, consider having a risk-aware person in the room with you during the shoot to keep an ear out for risk problems. It may not be ideal from a production standpoint, but it can head off the kinds of problems that will force a re-shoot later to clean it up.

If you’re in another industry where the risk management effort gets less attention, it’s still good practice to think about these concerns. What kinds of language might reflect poorly on the organization? What statements might disturb or offend your key audiences? What private information—including proprietary to your company—should not be shared with a general audience? Even without a formal risk review process, your company’s leadership is likely to be concerned about what gets shared on video. If you can demonstrate to them an awareness and respect for this important consideration you’ll go a long way towards earning their trust to get the job done the right way.

A Video is Worth How Many Words?

December 10, 2013 1 comment

I ran across a statistic the other day in the course of working on a presentation about video. Reported in dozens of presentations, video clips and infographics is the remarkable idea that:

a minute of video is worth 1.8 million words

Try that google search and see if you get the same 38,000 hits I did. With almost no digging at all you’ll see it referencing both Forrester Research and one Dr. James McQuivey. (Who appears to be a very bright guy focusing on digital disruption and touching occasionally on the video space. Here on twitter if you want to know more: @jmcquivey)

It’s a wonderful statistic, and in a single line captures everything most of us want to say about video. It’s so much more powerful than words! You get more out of a minute of video than a book’s worth of text! How can you not do video when you get this kind of impact! Unfortunately there’s simultaneously a bit more and a lot less to this idea than meets the eye.

I wasn’t about to quote such a statistic without understanding the source and the meaning behind it, so I started to dig a little deeper. I am fortunate to have access to Forrester reports, and a few minutes digging turned up a report by Dr. McQuivey from June of 2008 on “How Video Will Take Over the World.” It’s a fine report, and made some smart predictions about the future and some that turned out to be overstated – risks you take when you attempt predictions. And there, in a small paragraph about the next step in human communications being video (a point I agree with, incidentally), is the line leading to the stat. In full, the report states

Now it’s video’s turn because if a picture is worth a thousand words, then a minute of video is 1.8 million words

And then the kicker – following immediately is a hyperlink saying see endnote 2.

Reading endnote 2 tells you that Dr. M did some basic math. A second of video contains 30 frames; a minute of video therefore contains 1800 pictures; ergo, at a picture = 1,000 words, one minute of video = (1800 pics X 1000 words) 1.8 million words.

All due respect to the fine folks at Forrester and Dr. McQuivey, this is how rumors get started and information gets misunderstood and misused. I suspect that this was not intended to be a formal statistic; the old “picture is worth a thousand words” is an aphorism, a popular saying but by no means a statistical truth. I don’t even think the report was trying to be too clever, I think it was just attempting to explain the power of video as an easy to grasp concept.

This is the “less” part I uncovered – you can’t really say that video is equivalent to X number of words since that number is entirely arbitrary. If you shoot at 24 frames per second, or 60, the number changes. Is video simultaneously worth more than 1.44 million, 1.8 million, 3.6 million words?  More significantly, one minute of bad video is considerably worse than dozens of pages of critical textual information, regardless of the general impact of video as a medium. Video may be powerful, but it’s very dependent on doing a good job of creating it.

On the “more” side the essential truth of the statement is that video is an extremely powerful delivery medium, and often provides opportunities to share ideas more efficiently than text can. Leveraging the power of video to deliver messages, sell products and services and build communities is a key responsibility for all organizations. Consumption is extremely high and likely to continue growing, and it’s imperative that a successful enterprise make the most of the opportunities video can drive.

So be careful of statistics and how you use them. To paraphrase a great sage, “Why you keep using that statistic? I do not think it means what you think it means.”

53% of all Traffic is Video! Now What?

November 12, 2013 Leave a comment

There’s some buzz going around, especially on Twitter, that video now makes up over 50% of all traffic on the web. Here’s one story from the Hollywood Reporter:

Video Accounts for 53 Percent of Internet Traffic

Broadly speaking I think this is a Good Thing as video continues to play a larger role in people’s lives and online experiences. But the underlying question for producers remains Now What? What do we as the creators of content, particularly in the enterprise space, do with that information? More importantly, what do we do about it?

It’s wonderful if you’re Netflix or YouTube – you’ve got a large share of a growing market and as long as you continue to make key content acquisitions you’re likely to remain in good shape for the near term. But as I’ve written regarding Cisco’s predictions on the impact of video, more data is not necessarily more important data. From the enterprise perspective, you still need to direct resources and effort towards what drives the organization’s bottom line. You are facing more competition from many more sources, and it can make getting heard a lot harder.

Fortunately, the goals of the enterprise are often a lot narrower than reaching billions of potential viewers. I’ve mentioned before that you want the right viewers – those in a position to make a purchase, offer a donation or any of the other reasons your organization is in business. The additional competition means you will have to work harder to develop a message that resonates with your audience, and keeping that audience central in your production process is more critical than ever.

The “Now What?” question is answered by reviewing every production carefully in light of the greater challenges to attracting viewers. Have I made my point clearly enough? Are the first 10 seconds of the video deeply engaging so I keep viewers attention? Are my calls to action clear and obvious? Am I sharing the video in the places where my key decision makers can be found? Have I enabled social tools around the piece to allow conversations to happen? Is anyone monitoring and interacting with those social spaces?

You should ask these questions in any event, but they become a lot more important as the level of noise increases. We all want to make great video, and this kind of strategic thinking is a big part of it. We can create award-winning pieces, but if our key constituents don’t see them, it’s impossible to see them as successful efforts.

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.

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