FastCompany: “You Must Be A Storyteller.”

Fast Company’s Kerrin Sheldon wrote a wonderful blog last month titled “Why Short-Form Video Is The Future Of Marketing” and I have to agree.

Let’s Talk Audience
Kerrin went on to make a powerful statement: “To create truly high-quality content, you must be a storyteller. You must be able to pull together a large selection of shots and content and pare it down into a manageable short-form video that will engage an audience.”

This conversation takes me back to a dinner I had with Bob Dotson of NBC. Bob is what I consider a master storyteller and his reputation is obvious from the numerous awards and speaking engagements across the country. He took me to dinner after we worked together on a story in Charlotte. I took this opportunity to become a human sponge and soak up as much knowledge as possible.

Let’s Talk Purpose
Bob explained anyone can tell a story…but if you really want to tell a story that engages an audience, you must find an tell stories with layers. As the storyline progresses in a video…the audience peels back the layers, revealing each little nugget of the storyline. Stories using video are visual communication tools…you just have to know how to find them, especially inside/outside you branded organizations.

I love this short little video interview with Bob:

Bob’s comments get you thinking, why we tell stories and how to find those stories with layers. But back to Kerrin Sheldon’s point about short video content.

Kerrin continues in the Fast Company article to share about this growing market of storytelling:
“I predict the next 5-10 years will be huge for video marketing online. Brands are moving further away from direct advertising, whose metrics that are hard to calculate, and into original video content–content that is created not to sell but to engage. They tell a story and they create brand loyalty. The days of direct consumer advertising is dwindling, and the advent of marketing through storytelling has arrived.”

Let’s Talk Delivery
Let’s at the numbers, here is an online video consumption from June 2012 (Based on ComScore Report):
1) 84.8 percent of the U.S. Internet audience viewed online video.
2) The duration of the average online content video was 6.8 minutes.
3) Video advertising reached another all-time high in June as 11 billion video ads were viewed.
4) Google Sites, driven primarily by video viewing at YouTube.com, ranked as the top online video content property in June with 154.5 million unique viewers, followed by Yahoo! Sites with 51.5 million, Facebook.com with 49 million, VEVO with 46.2 million and Viacom Digital with 38.9 million. Vimeo moved into the top 10 ranking for the first time at #10 with 21.4 million viewers.

So let’s look at the channels to share your content:
1) YouTube: “Everyone knows YouTube and it continues to dominate the market. But unless you’re a professional musician or are looking to score the new huge viral video showcasing your friends firing off bottle rockets from a made-at-home cannon, there are plenty of other places to showcase your videos. “

2) Vimeo: “Vimeo.com is the finest collection of artistic videographers on the web. Without outwardly deleting poor-quality content, Vimeo’s homepage and search results make it easy to find awesome content and avoid the endless amounts of useless crap that often plague the YouTube experience.”

3) Pinterest: “Along the same lines, Pinterest’s new video feature gives curators great opportunities to pin videos to their boards. Even more so than Facebook and Twitter, Pinterest has created a sharing experience so simple and effective, it makes the potential or virility even higher.”

So as Kerrin says, “With ever-increasing YouTube lunch breaks and Vimeo dinner dates, online video is becoming a constant companion–one that every brand is rushing to take advantage of. “

***Image from epicamexico.blogspot.com

Creative Inspiration Just Strikes…

You never know when it is going to happen. You never know when that creative inspiration will hit us like a ton of bricks. We spend so much time crafting a story, but we must feel it with our bare skin…our breathe…our inner creative being.

Crafting a story is like the best type of “dance” with the audience…we must see the story through their eyes in-order to communicate the final prose.

So many times I find myself looking for the final way to put a piece together. I spend so much creative time thinking about the storyline…especially as it is developing. I craft initial storylines, what I think the interview will say, how the story will evolve…but we always must be prepared for those moments in time that provide us the epiphany.

We can have the best cameras, the best edit suites, the best lighting, the most innovative approaches to capture the story…but it all comes down to execution. Can you pull all the elements together in a way that gives the audience something, that one thing, that when they walk away…they see it through your eyes. They get goose bumps at the right moments!

Then you wonder…do they (the audience) see those tiny moments exposed.

The craft of storytelling is more than a craft…it is a calling.

Always fun working with Immedion!

It is always fun to work with a new client. Immedion just launched their new website, created by Cyberwoven in Columbia. Natalia Muska (Director of Marketing) worked with me as we crafted customer stories that showcase Immedion’s commitment to “Always On” mantra.

We created two initial customer stories based on two companies Vigilix and Sturgis Web Services. You should watch both videos…interesting companies one of which located right in downtown Greenville. Both companies depend on Immedion’s infrastructure to meet the needs of their customer base.

Both stories come from the customers’ voice, allowing each person to tell their story. We chose this direction so that the audience can hear their story instead of the perspective where we “put words into their mouth.” Lots of fun especially with a little fast pace editing to spice it up a bit.

Here are the two videos for you to enjoy…or you can go Immedion’s website to learn more! A screen shot of their homepage is above!


Sturgis Web Services

There is more to the story than just capturing the image.

Here is a picture that has being shared around social outlets, especially among my broadcast journalist colleagues. When I look at this funny little caricature, I am amused by the technological indicator of where we are as consumers, and how we have become a part of reporting the story.

If you look at the picture…ten years ago, you could flip flop this image. The paid photojournalists were on the right and the lay person was on the left wondering what is going on. Now, even our grandmother’s have access to smartphones that capture and record high quality images and video. They even have access to technology like Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Instagram, YouTube, and a host of other technologies that have larger audiences than a television stations DMA.

It is funny how times are shifting and we as storytellers are having to learn to compete in a space flooded with “that” proliferation of information. It is a new paradigm and it is hard not to get scared of this digital media industry. We as practitioners are trying to find ways to bring value to the craft of photojournalism, digital communication, and documentary storytelling…and separate ourselves in this competitive world of “media.”

I was sharing this photo with a close friend and he asked, “Does this photo make you wonder if there is a timeframe to your industry?” I actually feel it strengthens my mission and my business. There is a distinction between the technology that captures and shares images and the craft of using media to tell stories. It is a difference between the practitioner and the technician.

I am excited to let the community act as the technician with their iPhones and Droids and using their 4G LTE service to share those images. Why? Because I can allow them to share the information and let me tell the story behind the information.

The craft behind storytelling allows “us” to use media(s) to capture, craft, construct, and share a story with an audience…inspiring them to create change. Let’s take the Tsunami in Japan, so many individuals captured this story in real time with their smartphones and share online. The storytellers were the individuals that found the people directly impacted by that wall of water…crafted stories that share the human element of this story. Those are the stories that still grip us and bring context to those images.

Both communities (practitioners and technicians) co-exist and leverage each other’s digital access…the consumer shares the action and the storytellers craft the human element of the reaction.

* Image by Gary Varvel 

Storytelling…it is all about getting the moments.

Sometimes you never know when a good story is going to present itself…so we have to be prepared. Years and years of training and it never fails, when the lights are just perfect, the shot is just beautiful…that perfect moment in time happens off camera.

I have always been one who likes to debate the technical expertise versus the storytelling techniques of listening. I have worked with some of the best technical photojournalist, creating some of the best images, capturing some of the most amazing interviews. But the best storytellers, best photojournalists are the ones that are willing to break away from that perfect setting and capture that one shot that tells the whole story.

It was just the other day, I was in the middle of a shoot with a family who was going to share their experience with a physician. Perfectly crafted shots, perfectly scripted, perfectly composed…but the real shot was when the little boy ran out of the shot to get a sucker from the nurse. Perfect moment in time, captured because I pulled away and followed the boy. The shot was not perfectly framed…it included lots of the lighting equipment in the background…but it captured that moment in time shared between a little boy and a provider.

I live by a mantra, work by a mantra, tell stories using a mantra…one that I learned many years ago:

Two Shots Ahead
Three Shots Behind
Get The Moment

That simple. I am always telling stories with my cameras thinking about the next two shots I want to capture, the previous three shots I just captured…and most importantly to always capture the moment.

You cannot package the storytelling process as a “product.”

There is a huge difference between video production as a product and as a creative service. We can try to wrap it up as a product with some neatly packaged technology. We can try to bundle it with a service for one cut price. We can try to sell it with a mark-up so a sales force can find a way to make a buck. Video production can be a product…but it is based on technology that is an evolving commodity.

I would prefer video production as a creative service…better yet, a creative exploration. As technology changes…you know the technology that allows us to shoot, edit, write, host, deliver, and watch the video product…the creative enterprise is a constant flow.

As one who used to run and own a few companies that tried to package video as a product, I learned that there are two variables that cause a huge disruption in the business model: technology and the creative process.

Each time you tried to package a “video production,” the natural selling point was the technology that will be used to support this creative enterprise. Within a year (or shorter)…it had changed. You had to have a team of individuals dedicated to working solely on the innovation of technology that supports that package price. That is hard to do in small/entrepreneurial business that needs to support a technology staff and a creative staff.

You cannot package price the creative process…at least I do not think so. You can estimate the amount of time, effort, intellectual knowledge, experience, etc…but this is a variable that is most times is hard to predict. You can set a budget as “not to exceed” but have you really achieved the goals? The creative process is sometimes is an evolution…finding a way to package the creative process with technology is challenging.

As I watch so many organizations struggle with this idea of packaging video production as product…how do you sell the metric of results. If the technology fails, the video does not play, the device does not work, the e-blast is not received, etc…then you have lost that one shot to share that video message. So a metric to measure the success of the creative enterprise is not found….because the packaged technology is out of date or not working.

I think about the un-measurable results of video projects, wonderful stories told that create communities of conversations. The ones where a message is carefully crafted with care and love. That message is shared in the right setting at the right time, regardless of the technology. It is then shared over and over whether through DVD’s, YouTube, sharing a link, inside a powerpoint, or even shared when it is least expected. The results create a culture of change, a change in language, change in point-of-view…un-restricted as a product and crafted as a creative enterprise.

Sharing stories is more than packaging video products inside this nicely fit constraint…it is about crafting visual messages that make people connect in ways they have not before. You can not sell that process as a product…it sells itself as a creative enterprise. It comes from years of experience, the intuition of a storyteller, the heart of a person who truly listens, and the soul of those who want to be a part of the storytelling process.

Telling Stories for Social Success

I had a recent chat with a large philanthropic organization about their social media usage, successes, and challenges. They hired someone over a year ago to help manage their social strategy and now they were trying to measure success and justify positions and commitment. As we chatted, I was listening to their metric for success…it was centered around the number of dollars raised and how this “perceived” social awareness has driven individuals to give.

This conversation really had me thinking about ways we could re-tool and rethink the approach. They were using mainstream approached to social awareness with outlets like Twitter, Facebook…using these outlets to promote events and build connections. But the more and more I looked at what they were doing…I had no idea what their story was all about. I had to search and understand why I should “Follow” the conversations, why I should be a “Friend.”  I was not even sure who I was talking to, a brand, a person, a large entity.

So I challenged them to start telling stories, case studies of how these philanthropic dollars help the individuals. I would not find stories of success in their digital space, stories that justify the dollars being spent on research The research that helps people. So…I started drawing!

Social Media does not raise the money. Social Media and online tools are just tools of credibility and connection. Yes…we can connect online and build virtual relationships, but giving hard earned money happens because of a relationships, some due diligence, and checking the facts. Checking the facts, the credibility piece, is where the Social Story is so important.

When I meet someone who is talking about giving to a foundation, an event, or idea…it is through a relationship. A real person. We meet, we chat, then I learn more about the cause. Afterwards, I go home and sit down and start searching online. I begin to read websites, get on chats, follow people on Twitter that share those interests. I begin to build online relationships as a part of this credibility search. This is where the social space is such a great tool, it is the PR/Marketing tool that puts information and people at the fingertips of those who are searching to make a decision.

Telling stories works and it works well. So how can we tell stories in the digital space so  when people are searching for information, it is readily available? Well…it starts with the mothership. You have to have a mothership that is the digital home for all the stories. This is the place where all digital, web traffic will go for the audiences to enjoy. This mothership has to be dynamic, meaning it has to have recent information and continually updated.

In this situation, I would start three processes:

1) Start A Blog – The purpose here is to tell rich success stories in the organization. Write a new story once a week, one that touches the heart of the cause. Once a week, find a new success story and describe what makes it so special. Let it be passionate, let it be rich with ups and downs. Let the textual words of these stories grab at the hearts of the readers.

2) Video Record Stories – Use a flip camera, iPhone, some digital video device to capture tiny moments in time that show the life of the story. Is it the moment that a person has been cured of a disease, or did they get to go home from the hospital, did a child get a toy, something that visually represents emotion…the moment in time that grabs the emotion of the event. Put these stories on a YouTube channel, then embed them in the blog posts.

3) Take Lots Of Pictures – Use a digital camera to show pictures, images of the stories. Show happy and sad faces, struggles, excitement, emotion. Use visuals to paint the picture of the story. Put these images on a Flickr account and embed them in the blog.

All three of these things are centralized on the blog, showcasing passionate stories of the philanthropic organization. Spend months writing, recording, and capturing these stories. Each time you capture a new story, share it with your friends on your social outlets. Do more that just post links to the stories, but tell us why this story meant so much to you to share. You have to be just as passionate in your sharing as you are in your writing of the post.

Over time, you are building a library of stories, case-studies. These can begin to become focal points of your PR/Marketing exercises. Sharing the stories as campaigns. Imagine billboards, tv spots, brochures being created around these stories of success. All driving traffic back to the blog where people can read more. Imagine your PR campaign, sharing these stories with media outlets, enticing them to come write about the stories for their audiences. It all starts with stories and putting them in one spot. Build a library of stories over time.

Disclaimer – A Social Media “Strategy?” Disclaimer

For those out there writing Social Media and New Media “Strategy” for clients…AND…for those who are looking for help with finding your way through this Social/New Media madness, I do not do the following:

1) Manage YOUR social media and new media accounts for you or your organization.
2) Update or communicate your message via Social Media outlets for you.

I believe in empowering the community within the organization with the tools and technology, and help you use these tools to become the true brand ambassadors. It does not make sense for me to deliver YOUR message, you know your message best. Now, I am not a full service agency with tons of AE’s, a big creative department, and tons of interns…I am a small business. The logistics of this business model does not make sense for me.

What makes sense, help organizations understand the the technology, how it works, where the audiences are interacting, and help/let you build your community around your message. I work with people that know their message best. I just help organizations look through a different lens and see how these technologies can benefit your current strategy and help create and measure the social strategy.

It does not make sense to me to convince a large organization that I can and want to Tweet, Update, Check-In, Message, and Blog on your behalf. I want to be a part of your team and work with your community to create best practices and communicate your message. I want to work with people who want to build a community of people around a message…OR…build the message around the community.

These technologies are only technologies…that is it. I makes no sense for me to take over your message…I just want to empower you with the right tools and knowledge to utilize these tools. It is about building a community, connecting with people. How are you going to connect with people when I am the one doing the connecting. OH…YEAH, that gives me control and allows me hold the purse strings of the client. No! I work with my clients as colleagues.

Now…it may seem I am bit of an idealist, but how can I…and outsider of an organization…really speak on your behalf. Maybe this post is a bit brash or sometimes screaming…but I seeing more and more noise. I can work with you to create messages, deliver these messages,  but not speak in real time via these channels for you. It just does not make sense to me.

The reason I wrote this…I am noticing more and more agencies/representatives speaking on behalf of organizations without being transparent via social/new media channels.

Final Disclaimer…the only time I do speak on behalf of the organization is only when it is absolutely necessary because of staffing or an “emergent” situation.

Maybe I am crazy…if so, let me know.