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Public media may be driving what’s been called “unimedia” – where web content encompasses video, audio and text. Integrating media, however, means diversifying skills.

That was the impetus behind a recent training by the experts behind QUEST, the multimedia science production at KQED. A handful of producers presented tips to community partners, who were invited to attend from Bay Area science institutions.

The trainers offered the following advice for creating accessible and readily shared web video:

  • Shoot fairly tight shots for small, mobile screen views
  • Be aware that text still gets the most hits in searches
  • Offer links for embedding in blogs, and DVD-quality versions for download
  • Provide high-definition, as well as standard, podcasts

The main message was that effective storytelling will always be key. With that in mind, start with a hunch of what the story will be about, and explore that. If need be, sketch out a quick storyboard. Anticipate what you can easily obtain given time, travel, and access restrictions. Ideally, your images and audio will all be of sufficient quality to support whatever way you ultimately decide to frame the story when it is time to edit.

Sometimes I think the online video medium will evolve to simple and practical forms – not exactly a la Max Headroom, the 1980s-era show where a video producer formed an entire TV crew, single-handed (or, headed – where the equipment was actually placed). When perusing online how-to videos, I am perfectly happy viewing simple sketches and illustrations shot with narration and a few waving hands. The simplicity is somehow engaging, pleasing and charming.

Already, news crews have shrunk to a single V-jay handling both equipment and interviews. Often, talking heads are beamed from to the studio by lower-bandwidth Skype than expensive satellite uplinks. It will be interesting to watch how explorations of online medium production by new messengers will evolve – ideally incorporating or adapting solutions already devised by pros, such as the suggestions that follow.

Storytelling – in video

Opening with an element of mystery, intrigue, or challenge hooks the viewer, says segment producer Chris Bauer. Clues and context can be sprinkled in like a trail of bread crumbs. As long as the first sentence or two are engaging, the crux can appear in what would be the 10th paragraph of a 100-paragraph piece.

The information should naturally encompass the basic journalistic who, what, where, why, when and how. Framing the story as a conflict that is resolved, such as a challenge overcome, adds drama and narrative thrust.

The piece should also lead to a take-home message, which KQED’s Chris Bauer calls the “and so . . .” To support a conclusion, think of parameters when gathering information – such as, what challenge was overcome to accomplish this? In what way is it superlative – first, best, longest, fastest? What is its context, and how is it unique? Meanwhile, in video, it is nearly impossible to be too over-the-top in dramatic action or gestures, so allowing your subjects to ham it up or go deep will also reinforce an aura of importance and immediacy.

Setting the stage

Quipping that he hates the “corporate plant” – the potted type that is* – Bauer discussed dressing a scene. Producer Amy Miller suggested other practical props, such as the warm glow of a lamp or candles, which typically appear over the subject’s shoulder, in soft focus, in the background.

As for people populating the scene, outfits that look good on camera come in solid, medium tones, like green. Large swaths of clothing in whites, bright reds, or pinstripes can render unpleasant effects in video, so should be avoided.

Some inspired improvisation will nearly always be part of this creative endeavor. For instance, Bauer joked that extraneous intrusions – like freight trains – often seem to find him. He recommends if you cannot avoid a jarring element, then shoot it, so it can be woven in. For instance, having seen a train could prime viewers to accept hearing a train whistle later at the tail end of an impassioned quote or similar material that might seem jarred by that unexpected intrusion, but be difficult to recapture in a more pristine state.

That’s a wrap on this topic for today. The next two posts will delve more into lighting, shooting, audio recording and interviewing.

*N.B.: A reference to Bauer’s dreaded “corporate plant” might also conjure the image of someone doing industrial espionage.

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A couple of things make producing an online slideshow with SoundSlides as easy as 1-2-3. Using the tips below allow images to evenly flow along with the audio track. At the end are links to a tutorial and embeds, as well on thoughts on when a slideshow might be a choice medium.

First off . . .

Audio will be the foundation of the finished product, so complete and upload that first. An interview of perhaps 30 minutes can be trimmed to about three minutes to capture high points and hold the viewer’s attention. If you plan to start with a title slide, the audio track could begin with a few seconds of silence to allow viewers to absorb those few words without distraction. Or, search online for free music and use some of that as a lead-in.

To select enough photos, allow about 3 – 5 seconds per slide. So, if one topic takes 20 seconds of audio track, having four or more images that support the subject matter would be a comfortable amount to start. After you have gathered your images, you can rearrange and add or subtract a few until the sequence makes sense. As with video, you may want to show an establishing exterior shot of a location or crowd, then a close-up, and possibly a graphic or snapshot of an activity being discussed.

Compiling an album

Only jpgs can be used in SoundSlides, so you will want to convert other formats, such as giff or tiff. Also, the color profile must be RGB. An image that was saved in CMYK format, for four-color printing, will display distorted colors when imported into SoundSlides.

To quickly and evenly upload images in order:

Once you have decided the order for your images, use a number or letter to start the file name, so each subsequent image has the next letter or number. For instance, the first slide is 1_filename, the second is 2_another_filename, etc.

The great part about naming images in sequence is that the program will make them fall into place automatically, at distinct intervals. Although the software makes it simple to move things along a timeline, adding more images after importing compresses the final few. It may turn out that their icon is so narrow on the timeline it can hardly be grabbed with a cursor to manipulate. For altering the final quantity of images, it’s probably simpler to renumber them in the desired order and re-import the whole lot.

The beauty of the program is that it is fairly easy to use – having been designed by a journalist for journalists. And the software itself is fairly affordable.

If there are advantages in effectiveness of slideshows over podcasts or short online video, it may be when the goal is to present a broad overview or retrospective. An analogy may be the times that someone would produce a conventional slideshow or even a simple filmstrip, for an anniversary celebration or educational purpose rather than a quick news update. Online communicators are finding it quick and easy to carry a Flip camera and shoot a short statement for uploading, and news sites are presenting fewer online slideshows. Still, a slideshow is one option for a multimedia mix – and there certainly may be times when a narrated slideshow would be an optimum way to instruct, inform, or enlighten an audience.

More on how to produce – and embed – your show

The follow links provide a tutorial and the means to embed the finished product:

Tutorial: http://multimedia.journalism.berkeley.edu/tutorials/using-soundslides/

Embed for WordPress: http://support.soundslides.com/index.php?pg=kb.page&id=71

General Embed: http://tools.soundslides.com/embed/

Looking ahead, a comment on usage today deals with homonyms, those pesky sound-alike words that may pass your spell-check while still having the wrong meaning in context. Say, for instance, foreword – the front of a book – and forward – pointing ahead. They both have a sense of being prominent in a sequence or chronology . . . and nearly sound alike, too! And that’s the final word for today.

The headline is an allusion to a Soviet bloc-produced film I saw in an international film class in journalism school in Ann Arbor. Its title was an allusion to the Communist Party, depicting picnickers seemingly obliviously enjoying a spring outing.

Aside from these overt social-engineering aspects, I bring this up because the movie title had a certain ring to it, and a simple party invitation is yet another analogy for community moderation:

The invitation tells the guest where to attend, starting and stopping times, what to wear, what to bring, and whether to RSVP.

Likewise, community moderation can let people know in advance a code of conduct, or how a community will be moderated. The goal is to keep to established and agreed-upon norms while facilitating trust and open dialogue among members.

A colleague I met through a training offered by PBS Engage adds another suggestion. When community sponsors try new approaches in their social media offerings, he says, alert the community about that and ask for their feedback. In his experience, setting ground rules and not just making a change has been important.

Along the lines of feedback, today I close with the concept of listening and responding to community members’ comments in social media as being not too different from an old-fashioned suggestion board, from the days when a company might post suggestions, comments and questions, along with responses. The tone and transparency and sense of concern and consideration are all similar.

In working with interactive folks to craft Google AdWords, I saw the advantage of merging some skills. Tips from traditional media apply, combined with some added dimensions that take into account how viewers find and interact with your announcement.

Generally, it seems helpful to consider AdWords as more like a freeway billboard than a sign outside your shop. The ads are geared toward having someone stumble upon it, then decide to stick around. (This is why there’s no added benefit to naming your company in the verbiage or keywords, since you are trying to widen your net to find potential customers who don’t already know that name.)

That leads to an initial universal point of writing – consider your audience. Imagine someone, sitting at a keyboard, who wants something, and may act on what you have crafted once it appears on his or her screen.

With limited space, a second basic precept also applies, which is to get to the point – you have perhaps 30-odd characters per line (roughly) to say what you need to say. Clarity will trump cleverness here.

Using an analogy from old media, there is a standard in writing headlines in which it is important for each deck to be able to almost stand alone, or to capture a complete phrase, for ease of scanning.

The best lexicon is pithy and unambiguous, and appeals to what may capture a casual browser’s interest, while authentically representing the site.

Your promotional goal is to have viewers click the site and stick around. You ad will appear at times that search words and terms you’ve identified (and bid upon) are used. For these paid search terms, that operate like unseen tags, I believe a simple rule of thumb is to combine a common term with a specific one, to generate having the ad be likely to appear often, while narrowing that occurrence to instances in which the searcher is likely to be particularly interested in your specific content.

(As an aside, I think beyond being authentic, the AdWords don’t have as much influence on bounce rate – people backing out quickly – as does information architecture or ease of navigation.)

For being found through free keywords in the ad, working in search terms and phrases is great as long as the result is not awkward and polished.

Finally, those visible URLs provide some room for branding. Try to designate a window-dressing type display link while employing an underlying destination link, whose address may be less eye-catching or memorable.

With headlines in mind, I’ll close with a couple that have stayed in mind for either succeeding or being unwittingly confusing. Space was tight when a layout only allowed a single column width to announce a new ordinance against inebriated pedestrians. These four simple words worked:

Drinking,
walking
don’t mix

Next, the following headline stayed in mind since it was initially puzzling because of its ambiguity. I misread it to mean that creatures had interned their benefactor, Diann Fossey, the slain naturalist who was profiled in Gorillas in the Mist:

Woman buried by her beloved gorillas

(It turns out she was buried beside them.)

I ran into an acquaintance the other day, Tamara Helfer, who said she is teaching computer animation to fifth-graders. I was fascinated that students that young could master something so complicated. I discovered her spark of inspiration has led to about 200 kids learning everything from lacrosse to Spanish – all in voluntary programs that didn’t exist two years ago.

Her instruction springs from a drop-and-drag program created to teach college students computer programming basics. Being able to offer an afterschool club took her several months of building support through enthusiasm and perseverance at her sons’ magnet school, Sequoia Elementary. Due to drawing carpooling students from all over the district, the school  had been believed to be unsuited for afterschool enrichment  programs.

Now fully a third of the students from the elementary school participate in one afternoon program or another, organized by an enthusiastic parent committee, and she earns a small stipend.

When she started, the school had just opened a lab with 34 new computers. By the second week of her new Imaginary Worlds club, there were 49 students clustered around to learn creative expression through computer science.

On an afternoon visit this spring, students were listening quietly to her brief lesson about modifying graphics. For the next hour, they broke into small groups or worked individually on animated stories – displaying a minimum of distraction after having already spent a full day at their strict back-to-basics school.

My friend moved between groups, guiding the students to come up with solutions. They needed to complete projects in the remaining few weeks left so their work could be screened for the school community.

The first awards night took place during a heat spell in a room with no air conditioning. The multiuse room was packed all the same. Addressing the families present, the volunteer instructor spontaneously remarked she wanted the students, particularly girls, to remember what they have shown they can do.

This software that creates short, animated 3-D stories, Alice, was created at Carnegie Mellon. Its simple drag-and-drop approach ensures a beginner programmer’s instructions will run without syntax errors. (For her thesis, doctoral student Caitlyn Kelleher subsequently created Storytelling Alice, with images that are meant to motivate a broad spectrum of students, particularly girls, to engage in introductory computer science.)

Tamara said afterwards she was drawn to the interdisciplinary nature of the project, since it could appeal to both kids who like programming and others who like storytelling.  Her pursuit of the project was inspired by the Last Lecture delivered by Carnegie Mellon Professor Randy Pausch. (His group helped create the original Alice software.) She sees value in having the students learn logic, and realizes they are excited and fearless because they have grown up playing with computers and electronic games.

I can imagine these kids moving into a future where they operate at ease with multimedia content, perhaps though using simple software services processed in a cloud computing environment.

In a sense, embarking on the bridge to get there can begin as simply as child’s play, much as someone — like her — who recently instructed teachers about cosmology may once have tinkered with a pinhole camera as a child, using an old shoe box to watch a solar eclipse, and fanning an early fascination with discovery in the process.

In lieu of an ending comment, today I’m opening with a lyric I caught the other day that indicated the digital age becoming, well, lyric – it was Peter Yorn singing, “I googled you in quotes and got no results,” which I found bemusing.

Socializing over the use of social media:

Speaking of getting energized by interaction, at the latest Social Media Breakfast – East Bay, a closing conversation about extrapolating guidance from past emerging technologies seemed to fire up the 20-plus participants present from around the bay.

Jen McClure of the Society for New Communication Research had presented results of a variety of studies about best practices among corporations (http://sncr.org/2007/12/08/research-educational-services/).

Adopting best practices seemed to leave attendees feeling somewhat uncertain about socializing the use of social media within an organization. The meeting’s co-organizer, Shel Holtz, said he particularly likes IBM’s social media guidelines (http://www.ibm.com/blogs/zz/en/guidelines.html).

Overall, the advice was to make employees feel safe by providing guardrails, not rules, while offering training and mentorship if desired.

I’ve always believed social media needs to be integrated into an existing communications program and serves as an extension to that – sort of like the way a car gets you somewhere quicker than walking. Ideally, you will have something of value to share! One measure would be if your posts are picked up and retweeted, or if the twitterstream is recommended by others using the #ff follow Friday tag.

Someone commented that some of the current social media issues in organizations are extrapolations of adaptation of past new technologies, such as email usage. That seemed like a good approach to lowering the barrier for making the adoption comfortable for employees and organizations.

When it comes to community moderation, I had been wondering about handling comments that are not customer-service issues. It’s been well-established that social media channels create opportunities to demonstrate responsiveness to concerns by stepping in to troubleshoot problems for customers when snafus are raised (similar to my friend’s serendipitous luck in having help finding lost luggage after she tweeted about her concern).

What about cases, say, of a Facebook fan questioning organizational directions, or hijacking the focus of the page?

It seemed to me the pre-existing analogies could be a public speaker’s need to handle a heckler, as well as dialogue between executives and employees within an organization, that serves to clarify decisions and hear concerns.

A pseudo-heckler, in the two-sided nature of discussion online, has about an equal voice to the speaker sponsoring the page. For handling vocal detractors, a couple of approaches come to mind. Communities tend to self-police, so another community member may chide the person. The analogy there might be someone shushing a loudmouth at the same table during a live performance. Or, a simple acknowledgement, such as during public comments at a local government meeting, could suffice to keep lines of communication open while not veering far off-topic.

Borrowing from an internal communications perspective, pointing a vocal online community member to resources that explain the organization’s stance could be compared to responding to an employee comment at a workplaceTown Hall-style meeting.

The important point of course is to join the conversation and have something thoughtful and respectful to share – building relationships by keeping the energy of interaction flowing.

Wading in

I was speaking the other day to representatives of a public agency that intends to increase its social media engagement by moving judiciously into this arena. Going in, there seemed to be considerations about perception and resources.

My recommendation to this research organization, whose activities are distributed throughout a region, is to build a presence with the future in mind – including mobile platforms and geolocation services.

A phased approach seems best. Ramping up would entail identifying likely internal participants and establishing systems. Having clear processes and expectations facilitates targeting time and resources to provide frequent updates required by social media. A gradual approach would support researchers’ interests in retaining the estimation of their peers and limiting time on non-research demands.

In this example, an early phase would involve sharing, listening and guiding. Those aspects of establishing a toehold  are described below.

Share: A simple place to start would be to create a Twitter identity, or extend an existing one, and use that channel to send updates about new publications and related announcements. A sensible place to start following groups would be to begin with organizations in the same sector.

What happens then? Chances are many of the organizations will reciprocate and follow back, as well as forward along updates through retweets.

Some of their followers are likely to notice and expand their network by adding this newcomer to streams they follow. Other audiences will find these new posts through keyword and hashtag search.

Listen: Set up Hootsuite or a related monitoring dashboard to track mentions of the organization and/or issues that matter. Listen to what is being said and concerns. Use that knowledge to tune outreach topics or approches.

Promote your Twitter presence in existing media – for instance, send employees a recommended email signature file that includes this information. Add a follow button and/or other social media tagging and sharing widgets to existing web pages. Place the Twitter ID on news releases and other relevant printed material.

Guide: Draft an initial social media policy that encourages employees to act as ambassadors and offers resources (training or answers). Once the policy has been reviewed, approved and issued, keep it a living document that can be updated and refined.

In the middle phase, actively welcome participation. Below are thoughts on doing that through inviting, modeling, extending, building, tracking and reporting.

Invite: Suggest to researchers and others that they might share content, such as photos (might they be placed on Flickr, with a Creative Commons license to publish with attribution?). This spreads the reach farther. Images are already available for use there from public institutions, such as the military! Again, offer coaching/logistical support if needed.

Model: If respected individuals or agencies are already employing some social media practices, passing along those tidbits helps with acceptance of new approaches. Other public institutions, such as the Executive branch or Congress, could set the tone for the types of social media activity and outreach that is deemed appropriate or desirable.

Extend: The new social media program should extend and build on outreach already taking place through existing newsletters, announcements or events. Here’s an example – if a news release results in coverage, send a tweet with a link to the news article. Or, if a partner makes a discovery that creates a big splash, such as finding unusual wayward wildlife, offer additional multimedia and background resources in an online news page.

Share links with related organizations where appropriate – this boosts search ratings. Determine where the people you want to reach are interacting, and consider if there are any downsides to reaching out to engage with them there on occasion by commenting or participating.

Identify a small team within the organization that can provide backup for daily responsibilities and resolve issues raised through social media interactions, such as customer service questions.

Build community: Invite fans to add their photos to an organized Flickr community, started with researcher’s images. Moderate comments, but welcome them to foster a greater sense of involvement. Periodically remind audiences about this presence, via tweets or other outgoing messages.

Track & Report: Tools on YouTube and elsewhere allow providers to see who is accessing their content. Let internal stakeholders know how the effort is going through periodic summaries of tone, impact and measurement.

A mature program incorporates content creation and strong community interaction. Capturing presentations through recording and sharing can be straightforward to execute. With some coordination, additional material can be made available online for sharing, too. What to pick? Consider the needs of the audience, and factor in proactively fashioning opportunities to reach out with relevant information through events linked to online follow-up, or by creating and following an editorial calendar for fresh content.

As the program matures, there may be a small group that closely follows the organization and may function informally as ambassadors. Remote employees or trusted external supporters and advocates may serve as reporters or frequent commentators whose contributions help build community.

Meanwhile, new technologies will continue to evolve and be added to the mix. Below are thoughts on this phase.

Record and share: If resources exist, social media is excellent for sharing slides, podcasts, or other content from presentations that are already being given. The talks can be uploaded and commenting enabled and monitored.

Also, if resources exist to create or gather this content, strong outreach includes sharing multimedia materials with reporters, bloggers, educators, government officials, and event partners. The capability of adding multimedia through a “social media” release on PitchEngine is among the possibilities. The National Science Foundation is very active in encouraging contributions to its channels, such as Science360 – some of its offerings are not limited to research receiving NSF funding.

Serve their needs: An organization’s supporters and constituents may appreciate content that provides safety advice, how-to tips, or educational content. A publicly funded entity can also consider operating as a conduit for information to be made available in an even-handed fashion about policy and programs that may be subject to a diversity of views.

Consider new vehicles: There may be a time in which it makes sense to devote the time and resources to create new outlets – say, partnering on an education outreach event. There, organizers may capture email from attendees and send out an invitation to sign up for an RSS feed or to otherwise invite attendees to turn to the organization as a resource for information or activities.

One new-content-creation approach would be to create short biosketches of featured researchers, and build an annual editorial calendar to rotate periodically among each of them, creating updates about work in progress, research interests, or even a favorite factoid. Post these online, add related links to visuals or video/audio, and announce via social media channels. The goal is to personalize investigations a little and make the research interests generally accessible and engaging for non-specialists. The online posting could be a WordPress site linked off the traditional website – updating content on that blogging platform could be slightly simpler and more straightforward than altering the website itself.

Also, as more and more people participate in Facebook to the point that it is no longer considered a questionable diversion, it may make sense to have a fan page there, or possibly a company page on LinkedIn.

A Facebook thumbnail image could brand the organization’s outreach through using a pre-existing logo. Interactions on fan pages (and demographic breakdowns) are automatically tracked and reported to page owners each week. Employee ambassadors could become fans whose participation could informally influence keeping posted comments on point. Appropriate photos can be posted to generate excitement about the research thrusts, as well as links to more multimedia content.

Mobile is increasingly becoming a favored platform for accessing content, so traditional web pages should be built for clear display in small segments. Geolocation services, such as digital maps and social media tools, offer good possibilities for an organization with widespread activities to publicize.

Down the road, providing contextual information through augmented reality may be feasible and desirable too.