Review: The Viral Video Manifesto by Stephen Voltz and Fritz Grobe

viralThis review was first posted on thespec.com Nov. 22.

The Viral Video Manifesto: Why Everything You Know Is Wrong and How to do What Really Works

By Stephen Voltz and Fritz Grobe

McGraw Hill

$24.95

I’m an old dog trying to learn a new trick.

For 20 years, I’ve worked in public relations and made a career out of putting words together.

Back in September, my colleague and I decided to try our hand at telling stories by video. We picked up a camera, hit record and started posting weekly episodes to YouTube.

Our videos — which are like the Rick Mercer Report minus the humour and rants — showcase our co-workers and the people we serve.

Unlike a traditional employee newsletter, we know exactly how many people are watching. Each unscripted episode is averaging 600 unique viewers and we’re getting good feedback from our target audience.

If we wanted our videos to go viral and be watched by millions, we’d follow the rules set out by authors Stephen Voltz and Fritz Grobe.

Chances are, you’ve watched their videos. They created their first back in 2006 by dropping 500 Mentos into 100 bottles of Coke. The Extreme Diet Coke and Mentos Experiments video has been watched more than 100 million times.

“Viral video is the 21st century sideshow,” say Voltz and Grobe, who both worked in theatrical circus. “It’s immediate and unpolished, and it embraces the bold, daring and unabashedly strange.”

So if you want to create a video watched by millions, adhere to these four rules:

• Be true. Create a direct, personal connection with your audience. Use real people, one camera and no edits. “Viral video is about a raw, unfiltered experience, so don’t dress it up.”

• Don’t waste our time. Immediately get down to business, show nothing but “money shots” and don’t overstay your welcome. “So whether your video will be five seconds long, five minutes long or longer, be ruthless. Make sure there isn’t a second more than is absolutely necessary.”

• Be unforgettable. Show us something we haven’t seen before. Stand out from the crowd. Capture a unique moment. “Show us something new and exciting — that’s the strongest tactic for going viral.”

• And ultimately, it’s all about humanity. “You want to find a place where the audience can see themselves, their emotions or their experiences reflected on the screen. That human element will make your video more contagious.”

Viral videos can be great for business, according to Voltz and Grobe whose viral videos generated sales spikes for both Diet Coke and Mentos.

“You can use online video to build a strong, honest, authentic relationship with your consumers.”

You can also connect with a whole lot of potential customers on the cheap.

YouTube draws a billion unique viewers every month who watch upwards of 6 billion hours of video.

And unlike print advertising and television commercials, it won’t cost you a dime to post to YouTube.

But competition for attention is fierce, with 100 hours of video posted every minute to YouTube.

For every video that gets millions of views, there are others that never find an audience.

These are the videos that confuse product shots with money shots, use actors instead of real people and have scripts instead of spontaneous moments.

Voltz and Grobe recommend your business be the source of the content that makes us smile. “Take credit for being the cool people who made this cool video happen.”

Add a title card at the end of the video that identifies your business as the sponsor.

“Think of a video as a gift you are giving to your audience. You want your gift to make us smile, so that when we think of you, we smile all over again.

“If you give us something awesome with no strings attached, we will love you for it.”

Old dogs, new tricks & rebooting the employee newsletter in the Age of YouTube

I’ve spent a good chunk of my 20 years in PR writing newsletters, newspapers, magazines and blogs for employee communications.

On Sept. 18, my colleague Sean Coffey and I stepped away from our keyboards, picked up a camera and microphone and started turning stories into videos for Mohawk College.

We launched a weekly video series called MoCast.  Posted every Thursday on YouTube, the series sings the praises of our students and grads, faculty and staff and college partners. And we showcase the places where our students learn and our grads work.

Our primary audience is Mohawk’s 1,000 faculty and staff working at four campuses in Hamilton and Brantford, Ontario.

RATIONALE

We launched MoCast for four reasons:

  1. Sean works with our Vice President Academic to put out an e-newsletter to faculty and staff. The newsletter includes a video clip from the VPA.  Lots of faculty and staff watch the videos.  The written content in the newsletter doesn’t generate nearly as many clicks and views.
  2. Other employers are communicating with their staff via video. The Mayo Clinic puts out award-winning videos that served as our inspiration.
  3. Producing and posting videos is a low-cost proposition and we had the skills, journalism training, institutional knowledge plus the tools and technology to make it happen.
  4. It’s the Age of YouTube. More than one billion unique users visit YouTube every month and watch over six billion hours of video. It’s the world’s number two search engine behind Google. And 100 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. Chances are, the majority of our faculty and staff have spent time on YouTube.

IMPLEMENTATION

We didn’t strike a task force, focus group, working group or planning committee. We didn’t put together a proposal, project charter or PowerPoint presentation.

We just started shooting segments in early September. We gave the senior leadership team a preview of episode one on a Wednesday. And then posted the video to YouTube the next morning.

FORMAT

We’ve loosely modeled MoCasts after CBC Canada’s Rick Mercer Report, minus the rants and without the (intentional) humour.

Sean shoots and edits and I do the on-camera interviews. We aim to make the interviews more like conversations and less like hostage videos.

We’ve found that the question that always solicits the best response is why. Why do you do what you do? Why does this matter to our students? Why does this matter to Mohawk? Why does this matter to you?

Asking that question invariably leads people to share their passion, purpose and pride for their work.

Each episode has three recurring segments so our audience becomes familiar with MoCast and knows what to expect week to week:

  1. In Focus – We drill down into a single topic – a project, initiative or issue – that would be of general interest to our faculty and staff.
  2. Spotlight – We showcase students, grads, faculty and staff who are making a difference at the college and in our community. We interview folks who’ve received awards and accolades for their work and set the bar in terms of best practices.
  3. Roadtrip – We get show and tell guided tours of cool places where students are learning and our grads are working. Many of our faculty and staff don’t have the opportunity to travel between campuses so this is a good way of highlighting what’s happening across the college.

In most episodes, we also include some self-deprecating outtakes and bloopers after the credits roll.

We’re getting better at wrestling the segments down to around eight or nine minutes. Early episodes were running 14 to 15 minutes. However, we found the length wasn’t an issue for most of our primary audience because the content is relevant and their interest in the videos is high.

TECHNICAL DETAILS

Sean shoots the videos in HD using a Canon Rebel T5i and a wireless Azden microphone.  He then edits using Adobe Premiere Pro. Sean uses a single camera and we try to keep edits to a minimum.

Beyond attending a Ragan Communications video boot camp, Sean’s self-taught when it comes to shooting and editing.

GROUND RULES

We have just two rules for MoCast.

  1. We’ll never interview anyone who’s parked in a meeting room or sitting behind a desk in an office.  We do all our interviews in hallways, labs and classrooms, with the hustle and bustle of the college as our backdrop.
  2. We treat all our guests with respect. While we don’t script and rehearse the interviews in advance, we don’t ask trick or surprise questions that catch people off-guard. If they ask for a retake, we do a retake.

DISTRIBUTION

We post MoCast every Thursday to the college’s YouTube channel. We share the link to the videos through social media (Twitter at #mocast, Facebook, LinkedIn and the college blog). The videos also play on hallway monitors throughout Mohawk’s largest campus.

EARLY REVIEWS

We’ve received excellent unsolicited feedback from faculty and staff (informative and entertaining is a recurring theme) and we’re getting a lot of story ideas and requests sent our way. The feedback and ideas far exceed what we ever received when we were putting out traditional print pubs.

A formal survey will likely happen next Spring once we’ve broadcast a full season of MoCast.

The episodes are averaging 600 unique users (our goal was 500 users) and the views climb week by week.  While far from 14 or 140 million views, our goal isn’t to produce viral videos. It’s to build and maintain a core audience of faculty and staff.

The videos have also been shown at open houses for prospective students and programs are posting segments on their webpages.

KEY BENEFITS

There are three key benefits to a video series for employees:

  1. It’s informal recognition on steroids. MoCast is proving to be a great way to publicly celebrate the contributions and achievements of our students, grads, faculty and staff. And the folks we showcase can easily share their video clips with friends and family.
  2. It makes the rest of our jobs easier. Yes, there’s a time commitment (Roadtrips take about 90 minutes while the In Focus and Spotlight segments can take up to 30 minutes each).  But we recycle the segments for speeches, media pitches and award nominations.
  3. It gets us out from behind our desks and onto the frontlines. One of the concerns in launching MoCast was that we’d run out of stories and the series would end after three or four episodes. If anything, we’ve had the opposite challenge of too many stories and not enough episodes (we’ve shot the first 12 episodes and have the Winter schedule fully booked). We’ve had the opportunity to meet with dozens and dozens of students, grads, faculty, staff and college partners which has strengthened and widened our networks across the college and in the community.

FINAL WORDS OF ADVICE

So if you’re thinking of adding video to your mix of internal communications, we highly recommend it. Pick up a camera, follow your news judgment and start striking up conversations with folks on the frontlines. Your videos don’t have to be perfect and polished, just authentic.

And feel free to give us a shout for advice or suggestions. We’re still working our way up the learning curve and looking to get better with every episode. Students aren’t the only ones learning at Mohawk College.

sean.coffey@mohawkcollege.ca

jay.robb@mohawkcollege.ca