Jun 07, 2010

Videos: Hot New Communication Tool, or Waste of Time?

As part of every nonprofit's efforts to connect and communicate with members and donors via every media possible, I've heard a lot of buzz about videos of late. Michael Stein, for example, who writes the blog Internet Strategy for the Nonprofit Sector, has described videos as "a great way to showcase your organization's mission and work," and "a growing trend in nonprofit communications." You can check out various tips for using video effectively on his blog. 

But then, wearing my other hat as a real estate writer/editor, I attended a NAREE conference recently during which top journalists from around the United States described their growing frustration with video: It takes away from their other responsibilities; even if you have spare time, filming, editing, and preparing the video takes up a heck of a lot of it; and in the end, very few readers click to watch.

(In one of those classic moments where you can't tell whether you're part of a representative majority or just hanging around with fellow Luddite outliers, I and other audience members leaned to each other with comments like, "Yeah, I never click videos either, they take too much time for too little substance.")

So, what gives? Is creating videos a worthy use of time for nonprofits but not for real estate writers? I doubt it. It's not as though the audience is completely different -- people who buy or sell homes also give to charity.

 Is this perhaps a situation that fits my in-laws' favorite maxim of, "If you're not going to do something well, don't do it at all?" This might be closer to the truth, given that anyone who's online is exposed to new video offerings, both serious and humorous, every few minutes. The novelty is wearing off, though I did laugh at the "4 Laughing Babies" one. Presumably the journalists I was hearing from weren't doing too badly at their video-making efforts, but they'd probably be among the first to say that being a good writer doesn't automatically make someone a good videographer.

Perhaps the most telling nugget of information came from Lauren Beale of the Los Angeles Times, who noted that, among the reporters she works with, the ones whose videos attract a significant audience are the ones who have natural camera appeal and know how to use humor. (No wonder I clicked on those laughing babies!) Everyone is looking for a watchable persona, and the lift and stimulation that humor provides.

But not everyone can do humor. And those who can't shouldn't necessarily try. We've all groaned at the efforts of someone who, trying to lighten up a speech or talk, opens it with a bad joke. Besides, we're talking now about creating videos that represent the work of charitable organizations, which isn't necessarily thigh-slapping material.

Is the inevitable conclusion, then, that unless you've got a natural comedian on your staff who can magically make oil spills and hungry people funny, give up on the video and retreat to the familiar territory of writing newsletter articles? I wouldn't go that far.

Let's think about the mental zone entered by someone who is able to create humor. It usually means the person isn't just cranking out content, but has let the topic enter his or her consciousness in a deeper way, to bring forth a unique personal perspective. What's more, the person cares enough about the audience to want to share the information with them in a way that's genuinely engaging.

That's something anyone making video can aspire to. To me, the takeaway lesson is, don't create videos indiscriminately. Create them if and when you've got a staff person -- or maybe a young intern -- who's really inspired about presenting the content. It will help to have some visual material that you feel like people just hafta see -- the very kind that you'd email a friend. If you make just a few compelling videos, you'll ultimately get a lot more eyeballs on them than with a slew of mediocre ones. (Uh oh, I guess my in-laws have the last word on this one after all.)