Today, communicators have so many options to choose from when delivering messages to their internal audiences. Email and web pages have been the norm for years, constituting the traditional "push” and “pull" communication models. But as technology has become more affordable and easier to use, online video has emerged as a dominant employee communication medium.
Organizations should embrace online video for internal communications for many reasons. Here are some of the lessons I learned during my tenure at Microsoft, where I had the opportunity to launch and manage the company internal video-sharing platform called Academy Mobile.
Why you should care about video
Shel Holtz, ABC, IABC Fellow, principal of Holtz Communication + Technology, said it best: "Face-to-face remains incredibly important, but not always practical. Video is the next-best thing, since you can still look in the speaker's eyes, hear his voice and see his body language. It's not the same as face-to-face, but it's closer than anything else."
It's because of this visual richness that many communicators are extra cautious before jumping with both feet into the online video pool. It requires more work to create a good video than to craft an email communique, and if something goes wrong, it's easier to spot the spoiler. Good is not necessarily synonymous with expensive. Sometimes videos that were inexpensive to make can have the greatest impact. Authenticity trumps professional production, especially given how the YouTube phenomenon has trained our eyes to accept video that is far from broadcast quality at all times.
Video storytelling consultant Drew Keller outlines some of the basic qualities of “good” videos:
- A concise, clear, focused message with a call to action
- An emotional storyline that explains the situation, the problem and the solution
- A prepared subject (as necessary) who is comfortable in front of a camera
- A suitable environment for the shoot
- A proper technical setup (lighting, sound, equipment)
Video production is both an art and a science, and I'd mistakenly oversimplify the matter if I argued that there is a one-size-fits-all formula that works for every organization and scenario. Instead, I’ll highlight how some organizations, including Microsoft, have adopted online video for internal communications.
Meet me now or watch me later
Online video can be delivered in two ways: in real time or on demand. Real-time videos require all parties to be present and engaged at the same time. Examples of real-time videos include a CEO town hall that is streamed live to all employees or a webinar where a presenter delivers an online demo to a virtual team of co-workers located around the world.
Cisco, which manufactures video networking gear, has fully embraced online video as part of its organizational culture. Many employees telecommute from home using unified communication desktop software and, for important meetings (including candidate interviews), there are high-definition telepresence systems available at various Cisco offices.
Wells Fargo bank has set up multiple studios in the U.S. to record regular company newscasts that are delivered daily to each employee’s desktop. The flagship program, called Take Five, is professionally produced by employees for employees and features different themes every day. They also operate mobile webcast stations that are deployed as needed to record presentations at various branches.
Live video events can further extend their reach when they are recorded and made available on-demand for later viewing. At Microsoft, we discovered that, on average, three times more people usually watch prerecorded live videos at their own leisure, often while doing other tasks like checking their email. They also often download the media on their mobile devices. This freedom to consume content anytime, anywhere and on any device is something that employees find valuable, as it fits well with their busy lifestyles.
The three pillars of a company video program
If your organization is seriously considering an internal video program, I suggest you start planning around three key pillars: infrastructure, business processes and adoption strategy.
Infrastructure is essential. Where are you going to put your videos? This is a difficult question because it usually requires the involvement of the IT department, which will inevitably bring up issues like bandwidth, storage, security and probably many other valid points. But don't get discouraged too soon by these obstacles. My advice is to start first with a pilot program, nothing too scary or disruptive from the company intranet perspective. For example, there are external hosting services on the market that can securely store and distribute video within corporate domains, a solution that could alleviate some of your IT department’s technical concerns.
Whatever platform you end up adopting, it should offer users the opportunity to easily comment, rate and share videos. In other words, your intranet should treat media as social tools capable of spurring conversations and not for just plain consumption.
The second pillar is about business processes. Now that you've got an empty platform, how are you going to fill it up with content? Depending on budget and resources, video could be produced internally or outsourced. Another option that we pursued at Microsoft was crowdsourcing directly from the workforce. Through a program called Podcast-in-a-Box, we distributed cameras, recorders and editing software to employees who committed to publish three new videos each month. After two years, this program alone generated more than 2,000 videos at an estimated cost of US$40 each. Of course, not all the videos were great, but this initiative helped consolidate the notion that online media was an integral element of the organization’s internal communication and knowledge sharing.
Even better, as our video platform increased in popularity, we noticed a healthy competition among executives to be among the first to launch regular video updates to their own teams. This trend also ignited a series of requests to set up individual video channels on our platform in order to provide proper branding to key contributors.
Finally, you should consider an internal adoption strategy. Now that you have the video content and a platform, how are you going to attract viewers? Online video should be promptly integrated into your communication rhythm. Lengthy executive memos can be converted into short text summaries that include an embedded video link. If your goal is to promote grassroots contributions, try launching a contest that sparks the creativity of your employees by asking them to make videos about subjects dear to them. Reward their efforts by featuring their best videos on your intranet and internal newsletters.
Just be aware that success will take some time. At Microsoft, it took a full year before our program reached the tipping point.
Online video can be quite an effective internal communication tool, if done correctly. As an internal communicator, you are in a unique position to experiment, learn and engage with this medium. Have fun with it and keep an eye on the increasing opportunity that smartphones and tablets will offer to reach your audience.
Paolo Tosolini is director of emerging media at Run Studios, a major digital video production company in Seattle. He consults and frequently writes and speaks about social and mobile video adoption inside enterprises. During his past tenure at Microsoft, he launched and managed the company internal video platform, which is currently hosting more than 35,000 employee-generated videos. Follow him on Twitter at @tosolini or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Watch Paolo's presentation for more tips about how to harness the power of social video to connect communities within your organization.