It was round at a friend’s house during a birthday party and athletes from Europe and Africa in multi-coloured vests were sprinting around a burnt red track.
“It looked so colourful,” I remember telling my Mum later. “Can we have one?”
We had been without a telly for two years and the images soaked into my television-starved mind. It would be another two before we did.
So, to virtual reality – or VR. The technology isn’t new. It’s been around for several years but it’s starting to cut through to the mainstream. Steven Davies, who I’ve worked with in delivering video workshops gave me a spare pair of Google cardboard in the summer. This is a cardboard self-assembly kit that you fit your smartphone into before watching specially-shot 360 degree footage you can download from Google Play. He’s been experimenting with immersive video for years. I’m starting to think he’s onto something.
There are VR downloads out there on Google Play. There are some amazing downloads to watch. But the download this week that really stopped me in my tracks has been the New York Times footage of three different children caught up in three different wars with the same unsettling outcome. I recommend you download it. The are talking of it as a new form of storytelling. I think they are right. You can pick-up Google cardboard online to watch the film in its full glory. But you can also watch it in smartphone setting.
Sending people to a warzone
Foreign news used to be a journalist being sent off to war zones to file a story through a distant telex machine. Photographers would try to capture an iconic image. Several days later you’d glance at it while eating your cornflakes. You may even read it. Then rolling news CNN-style pushed the boundary again bringing war zones into your living room. The New York Times VR download has changed that. It has taken you into the warzone itself.
Sending you to the warzone
The New York Times download is an ambitious 10-minute film that cuts between three stories of two boys and a girl. There is no commentary. There is no editorial. There is just you. There is the child, their words and there is a bed of music.
With VR you can look up, look down and look all around you. The film starts with you standing in a shattered room. You look down. You see shattered furniture, mess and torn books. Your eyes and your mind compute to tell you that you are in the room. You hear the scratching of chalk on a blackboard behind you. You turn around look up and you see a small boy with his back to you reaching up to write on the blackboard. You can’t believe a boy is standing in such a damaged room. It is eerily wrong.
This is Oleg from the Ukraine.
His words as a voiceover tell you his story. You read isolated sentences of his story that float in the air. He tells you he used to dream with his friends of planting a bomb in his school but he doesn’t now. When the war started he fled with his family, says. He tells you he returned to find his grandfather dead in the garden. He had died several months before and had lain unburied.
Then you are in a canoe with a boy on his own. This is Chuol. You are in South Sudan. He had fled for the swamps with his grandmother but had lost his mother. He stands in front of you his eyes burning with pain and you look away. You look back and he is still there before you. You see a boy who life is kicking whose joy has gone.
You hear the story of Syrian girl Hana too. She gets up with her family at 4am to pick cucumbers.
VR: the verdict from my family
You’ve heard stories like these before many times. But it’s unsettling to see them through VR with them standing in front of you.
I showed the film to my own seven-year-old daughter and watched carefully. She looked filled with concern for the children she saw in front of her and she watched quietly. Afterwards, we talked about how lucky we are to live in a country where we didn’t have war.
I showed the film to my wife. It didn’t have the immediacy of livestreaming, she said. It felt like a film too. She didn’t move around to explore the 360-degree nature. She just focussed on the child. But it reached out in a way that other journalism doesn’t, she said.
VR as mainstream?
“We hope people see this as the moment when VR went mainstream,” New York Times magazine editor Jake Silverstein told Neiman Lab. “Not when the early adopters, gamers and people who already know got it but when those without exposure to it realised what this new medium can do.”
You can download ‘The Displaced’ here.
Picture credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/30364433@N05/18634310535/
You may know it. It’s a two minute film of a little girl spotting the man on the moon looking sad and sending him a present to cheer him up at Christmas time. An old Oasis b-side has been re-recorded for the music.
Not watching much television I wasn’t aware of it. But of course, I remember the penguin TV ad from last year. But I didn’t have to watch TV to find out about the new TV ad. It was being discussed on BBC Radio 5 on the way home and all over Twitter.
But the thing is you don’t have to wait until the ad break of Coronation Street to see it. It’s on John Lewis’ Facebook (4.3 million views in 24-hours), John Lewis’ YouTube (6.1 million views in 24-hours) as well as the 743 entries on Google News . Twitter, as this Topsy 30-day search shows went wild.
Of course, there was also whole sub-genre of stories like the one about Oasis fans being angry at the song being re-recorded and the one about the Twitter user called John Lewis whose worst time of year has just started. Apparently, a bloke in America @johnlewis gets flooded with tweets and patiently tries to reply to them all.
But what does this mean for communications?
Video has never been more powerful. The two minute TV-ad moves the toughest cynic to tears. A little girl has reached out and melted the heart of a lonely old man. If you don’t cry tears watching it there’s genuinely something wrong with you.
But that power doesn’t have to be on TV anymore. It’s notable that the TV-ad was launched on YouTube first rather than on the television. That’s quite post-modern.
Social media fanning the flames is the vehicle for getting it seen. All the buzz, all the sharing and all the think pieces is driving the traffic relentlessly. Why pay for expensive TV slots when people can watch it in their Facebook stream? There were 81,000 shares in 24-hours.
It was uploaded to Facebook direct AND YouTube. There’s an epic battle going on for the future of the web between Google and Mark Zuckerberg. As tech improves and allows people to have phones that can stream video content like John Lewis’ ad can reach people.
Traditional media still plays a role. It may be online as well as in print but the news media retain a footprint in where and how we are consuming content.
Dan Slee is director and co-creator of comms2point0. He co-delivers an Essential Video Skills for Comms workshop in London on November 26. More here.
Almost 80 people took part and props to Ben Capper and Darren Caveney for navigating the discussion.
One post from Simon Hope really caught my eye. Is the comms specialist dead? he asks. Do we need to be generalists? You can read it here.
He makes the point that most people join a team with a specialism whether that’s marketing, media relations or social media. However, thinning teams means that people have to turn their hands at a whole range of different things.
But what skills does a comms team need? I’ve blogged about the 40 skills I think comms teams will need. I won’t repeat them here but they range from everything from writing a press release to using data. Just looking at the broad spread of the list it’s apparent that not everyone is going to have all of them. You just can’t.
So, does that mean we should have specialists? Not really. I’ve long argued that we should share the digital sweets.
The aim to have generalists is a good one. But the reality is that some people will still specialise and actually, it’s right that there should be some space so flair should be encouraged.
Looking back, I worked in a team some of whose members in 2008 did not want to learn about social media at all. So, I was defacto spec ialist. I know of one comms person who was sidelined from making videos, crazily, because they were too good at them. The head of comms wanted to forcibly share the sweets. His colleagues didn’t want to learn new skills and the officer in frustration left.
You can aim to have generalists. But there needs to be some allowance to specialise because it’s going to happen anyway. So, a kind of generalist and specialist-generalist. What that will look like in your team is going to be different from another.
But what I believe you must have is a team that has set of core skills and attitudes:
- you need to know traditional and digital and know when to best deploy them.
- you need to know where the answers are if you don’t.
- you need to know how networks work.
- you need to embrace change.
- you need to be able to experiment.
- you need to collaborate.
- you need to know what comms you are doing will change things for the better
- you need to know how to measure the change for the better.
- you need to ask ‘why?’ a lot, say ‘no’ too and be supported in that.
Sound straightforward? In theory it is. In practice, not so. Teams that find a way to do all that prosper and are valued. Teams that don’t wither on the vine.
There’s a punch-up going on between Facebook and YouTube and the winner gets the crown of King of Video.
When you consider that almost 70 per cent of the web is going to be video by 2017 that’s actually some crown to be fighting over.
If you are even half way interested in digital communications then it is something you need to know about. Why? Because making the right decision can make or break your video.
Technology has improved and smartphones have got more powerful. You can now watch – and shoot – video on an iphone or an android device. Facebook has encouraged people, brands and organisations to upload direct to it with the carrot of its audience.
Ofcom stats reveal that in the UK 66 per cent of adults have a smartphone in their pocket. Of these, 42 per cent watch short clips over 21 per cent TV shows. So, in short, we’re rather keen on snacking on video content.
The game significantly changed when Facebook as the world’s largest social media site has thrown its clout behind video. Inspired by a Harry Potter film they invented auto-opening videos as you scroll through your timeline. It’s also a path that Twitter have gone down with videos uploaded through twitter.com.
YouTube and those who have developed channels there have not reacted well to the challenge. One vlogger Hank Green accused Facebook of ‘lies, cheating and theft’ claiming it of being slow to take down pirated content and counting a view at just five seconds as opposed to 30 seconds on YouTube. As with anything with the social web, it’s hard to piece together exact stats.
Be the blue corner and the red corner
For me, it’s less Facebook or YouTube but rather the both of them.
YouTube remains huge. It’s the second largest search engine in the world with three billion searches a month. So it makes sense to upload content there. But Facebook is also huge. In the UK more than 30 million people have accounts and globally, it’s now running at four billion video views a month.
Erin Griffith in her ‘Fortune’ piece ‘How Facebook’s Video Traffic Explosion is Shaking Up the advertising world’ runs through the scientific arguments. You should read it. Facebook has become a place where its worth uploading video directly, she says. In February 2015, 70 per cent of uploads were direct to Facebook – almost three times the number within 12-months.
Why? Griffin says that video is a way to breathe life into your Facebook page. The secretive Facebook algorithm, she says, will show around four per cent of followers your text update, 14 per cent your picture and up to 35 per cent your video. So, video it is.
A thousand different versions of the same video
But armed with Facebook’s pile of user data is where it can get really interesting. The story of car maker Lexus making1,000 different versions of the same content and used Facebook’s demographics to distribute them is mind-blowing. So a male tech-loving car enthusiast saw a different version to the female from Chicago who loves travel.
Anecdotally, Facebook video outscores YouTube for views. In my own stream, a highlights video released when England cricketer Jimmy Anderson became leading wicket taker nets 47,000 on YouTube and 177,000 on Facebook, for example. Elsewhere, that broad trend is being talked about.
Facebook also does better than YouTube in keeping and holding the viewers’ attention. Almost 60 per cent will ‘complete’ a video. This is almost twice that of YouTube. However, videos posted to Facebook tend to be shorter at 44 seconds.
Facebook for trending and YouTube for the long haul
If it’s trending then Facebook video stats do well. But as that fades the only place to find it and where search engines send you is YouTube. So for my money, do both.
Brian Shin CEO Visible Measures describes it:
“If something is hot and of the moment, such as a newly released campaign, the Super Bowl, or even a cultural phenomenon like Fifty Shades of Grey, Facebook and similar social media sites are incredibly effective for driving the spread of timely content due to the trending nature of the newsfeed. But the strength of Facebook to promote trending content also highlights how powerful YouTube remains as a platform for continued viewership.
“If social media platforms like Facebook want to be longer term video alternatives to YouTube, they will need to amp up video discovery and search options within their sites. Because, at this point, the more removed something is from being ‘hot’ the more often YouTube is the only way to find the video.”
The clear trend is for video to be around and growing. Many comms teams have been caught out and are flat-footed by the gear shift. But video represents a brilliant way to engage with an audience via a Facebook page and via people who are happy to consume content on a smartphone.
Dan Slee is co-creator of comms2point0.
- By public demand we’re running a new round of Essential Video Skills for Comms workshops with Steven Davies. We are in Cardiff on November 12, London on November 26 and Birmingham on January 28. For more information and to book click here.
Back in 1979, the amazing invention called the mobile phone was road tested. We would, they said, no longer have to have to rely on landlines. In 1969, they called school computers and in 1994 it was the internet.
The mood music of it all was that one day, things would be so much different. It would be better but we were in control. For a while now there’s been a few emerging trends that I’ve been trying to make sense of. They’re now just starting to drift into view and they’ll change things for everyone. Not just comms people.
Bear with me. It’ll get weird, but let’s walk through it together.
A man in glasses has told me my fridge will talk to my scales
A couple of years ago a futurologist in sharp glasses told me that the internet of things was coming. This would be objects connected-up to the internet to allow them to talk to each other. Your scales would work out your ideal weight and, if you wanted, tell your fridge when milk stocks were running low to re-order semi-skimmed milk rather than full fat. And not chocolate. Or your smart whiskey bottle will let you know if someone is nipping at your Johnie Walker Blue Label.
Of course, the possibilities of all this are endless. Predictions of the scale of the internet of things – or IOT – range from the seriously mindblowing to the you’ll need to sit down because you’ll be rocking back and forth unable to comprehend. Deloitte says that a billion devices will be shipped in 2015. By 2020, Gartner says this will reach 25 billion devices or the equivalent of six devices for every person on the planet. Cisco says it’s 50 billion. Intel have it at 200 billion. Either way, it’s going to be a lot and my new printer that I can email and has its own URL blinks back at me as proof.
There’s always a trade-off with tech and one that equates to the Native Americans getting a handful of shiny jewels in return for the island of Manhattan. They dangle something cool in front of us and we handover loads of stuff they want. In this case its stacks and stacks of personal data. Think of Facebook. They give us a place to post baby pics and view cat videos. We give them our date of birth, school, University, where we live, where we work, spending habits, political beliefs and who we want to win Strictly. It’s a marketer’s dream. But the University library of information you’ll give to the internet of things will make Facebook look like a Janet and John easy read book.
Your communications will be automated
So, as the internet of things grows the more devices will communicate to each other. We just won’t see it. But what we will maybe see is sharp tailored personalised communication based on our sleeping, spending and drinking habits. It’s happening already to some extent. I think of the Troop canvas shoulder bag that keeps cropping up in my Facebook timeline after I google searched it last week. However, with lots more data the possibilities open up.
“More of our communication will be artificial and less of it will be human,” says Tracey Follows in The Guardian. “It is now common to say that the world is uncertain and therefore can’t be planned for. One thing is certain though. We are entering into a world that’s post human.”
The link did the rounds on Twitter. The tag ‘post human’ certainly jarred with some people in my timeline but it’s an eye-catching line. To some extent it is factually accurate. All that data. All those fridges. All those supermarkets. But to some extent it’s also wrong. The communications that will really stand out will be that which makes best use of the data to personalise it. As a married father of two children who likes cricket, technology and doing things with my family at the weekend anything that takes that data and helps me spend my time and money better is welcome.
Your crisis comms needs to be really, really good
We have the expansion of tech through the internet of thing and others the surrender of all that data. Here’s a really bright and cheery prediction. There’s going to be a massive cyber attack along the lines of a web 3.0 9/11. Not if. When.
Thomas Lee upon sees an internet of things showroom in San Franscisco by US firm Target where a car alarm wakes a baby whose cries are spotted by sensors which play soothing music. It dawns on him:
“We are so screwed… it was all very impressive, but I couldn’t help notice an irony: the retailer that ion 2013 was subject to a hack that compromised the credit card data of 100 million consumers now wanted people to entrust their entire homes to the internet.”
So, I’d maybe look at how you respond when there’s a data breach and things fall over.
Your internet is being automated
Data, data everywhere. That’s for the geeks, right? Actually, no. Not really. In a really challenging piece in Vox Todd Van Der Werff wrote a piece under the headline ‘2015 is the year the old internet finally died.’
He drew a simple conclusions from a number of recent stories which he maps out in the piece here before concluding:
“The internet as we know it, the internet of five, 10 or 20 years ago is going away as surely as print media replaced by the new internet that reimagines personal identity as something easily commodified that plays less on the desire for information or thoughtfulness than it does the desire for a quick jolt of emotion.
“It’s an internet driven not by human beings but by content, at all costs, And none of us – neither media professionals, nor readers can stop it. Every single one of us is building it every single day.”
People prefer the snackable and the fun, he argues. And it’s true. Yet most comms people haven’t got that. They – we’re – born in a world of newspapers and press releases. They – we’re – institutionalised to think that the organisation we work for is the centre of everyone’s waking moment and if it isn’t that’s their fault not ours.
At this point I think back, not for the first time, to the former Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Lebanon Tom Fletcher who said that we need to communicate like insurgents. In other words, fast, agile, snackable, fleet-of-foot content that thought more about the person than the organisation.
Getting good at data… and saying ‘no’
Of course, we’ve said it for years that data will be important to communications. We’ve said it but I’m not sure we really acted upon it. I’ve got a bit testy with the open data community in the past for not being very good at talking to people. But I wouldn’t deny the potential that data has to make the world a better place and to help you communicate better. I think of open data helping to expose massive fraud in Canada. I think on a very micro level the Coast Guard comms person who when I showed her followerwonk realised there was a spike in how active her Twitter followers were at 6am and then decided to schedule some content every day at that time.
The reality is that communications and PR people are very, very bad at using and interpreting data and need to be better. We also need to be much, much better at kicking back and asking for the data to be produced by the people who are asking us to write the press release, set-up the Twitter account or plan the campaign.
There is an art to saying ‘no’ and I don’t think comms people say it often enough. Sometimes, this can be done politely. Sometimes, this needs to be done by banging the table. Or in other words, to be able to command the skills of ‘Yes Minister’ alongside almost but not quite ‘The Thick of It.’ But maybe just be really careful who you are Malcolm Tucker direct with, okay?
So what does all this mean?
It means more things changing faster. It means the Robert Phillips phrase of ’embrace chaos’ being ever more relevant. Why? Because that’s all we can do. There’s a long tail with all of this. This will take shape in some sectors way before they reach others. But this is the direction we’re headed.