Category Archives: Video

Looking at Digital Literacy Through Different Lenses

Research Participant Lens

During my senior year in college, I worked with the electronic company, Magnavox, as a human participant in several research projects they were conducting to get a better feel for what their audience needed/desired with regard to installation instructions.  In each instance, I would be put into a room, alone, with their boxed product and asked to simply set it up based on the instructions in the box.  I was also asked to make edits to the instructions that I felt would help me, the user, to understand them better.  At the time, I was in it for the $100 paycheck I received after each task was finished.  However, looking back I realize that I played an important role in their consumer feedback!

In Chapter 8 of “Digital Literacy for Technical Communication” (Spilka 2010), author Ann Blakeslee discusses the subject of, “Addressing Audiences in a Digital Age,” by conducting five case studies with technical writers from three different companies.

The findings from the five case studies, as a whole, support a problem-solving and contextualized approach to audience in digital environments in technical communication.  In particular, they suggest that while technical communicators may not know their exact audiences, the complexity of the product and the typical environments in which the product is used provide them with guidance in understanding their prospective readers.  Digital audience adaptation, therefore, requires a problem-solving approach that allows writers to identify and analyze their audiences and to learn about their audiences’ contexts and uses for documentation (p. 204).

Her research showed that, “writers have always used a set of heuristics and strategies for learning about their audiences and addressing them specifically.  (Her) findings support the continued use of such heuristics and suggest some specific ones for learning about and addressing digital audiences…some of (which) depend on or are facilitated by digital technologies.” These include:

    • targeting specific users and situations as a way to respond to and address audience needs;
    • developing personas;
    • Interacting with users;

Returning to my experiences with Magnavox, I can see that they put the first heuristic into practice.  However, the last three were not applicable/necessary.  Once I began my work of assembling and wiring the electronic devices, I was left alone (watched through a two-way window) and no help was offered.  I also did not receive any response to my feedback from those conducting the experiment.  As a matter of fact, I was instructed to put my feedback in a box on the table and leave the room when finished.  I picked up my check from the receptionist on my way out.  My only “response” from Magnavox was when I was contacted and asked to participate in the next round of research (I always assumed that meant I did well and my feedback was helpful).

Looking through this lens, I see the importance of giving feedback as a customer.  I like the idea that my voice will be heard, and more so, that someone may actually be listening.

Technical Writer Lens

Just a year after my research work with Magnavox, I began my own career as a Technical Writer for the small water heater company that I have written about several times this semester.  At that time, we didn’t have online documentation (2001), but as the writer of their print documentation, I often felt the need for audience feedback.  Much like Blakeslee’s case study writers from Tax Soft and Secure Net, my company prevented me “from having direct contact with…customers” (p. 208).  Most of my feedback came from the customer service representatives who would field calls from the (usually irate) customer and pass it down to me.  As case study participant, Amanda, said, “…we have to deal with it after the fact and so basically we have to find out from other people that we failed in order to succeed later” (p. 209).

I am not sure if I have shared this before, but my husband currently works for this company at which I was employed in 2001-2002.  It is no longer the small water heater company it once was as it was purchased about 10 years ago by the largest water heater manufacturer in the world, and now employs eight technical writers across the United States.  My husband is the Engineer/Manager to which the four writers at his facility report.  Of course, him being the “boss” keeps me from being able to return to work there as a technical writer (can you even imagine working for your spouse?), however, it also allows me to stay informed and have insight on the way things have changed since I worked for them as their only writer 16-17 years ago. In discussing this chapter with him, I asked whether the company had gone to any kind of digital communication.  He told me that they have, but only in the form of a searchable PDF file of the use and care manuals and installation instructions on their website.  None of those are set up in a way where the “user can access and go directly to the parts pertaining to them” (p. 205) or use them as “walk-throughs” (p. 206).  My husband also sits on the board and is acting Chairman of the ASHRAE (The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers) committee, and, with further questioning, he reminded me that the safety standards (such as ANSI and CSA) require that certain warning labels pertaining to appliances be visible at all times in a written format.  That means that the documents cannot be easily taken apart and sectioned in a type of digital, click-what-you-need format.  If the information appears without a certain safety label in close proximity, the company stands liable should any harm be done or death occur.

While my husband’s company does not put a lot of written literature online due to standards issues, they do produce instructional videos such as this one A.O. Smith Water Heater Pressure Relief Valve for consumers looking to better understand or make small repairs to their water heater.  In fact, they have an entire website dedicated to water heater education called A.O. Smith University. They also have a section where they do live, recorded videos and they allow customers to text them questions during the show to be answered live.  Not exactly top of the line in digital literacy since the customer would have to know when the live show is being held and tune in at just that time to have his questions answered, but it is a start.

Looking through this lens, I see the challenges some companies and writers face when trying to keep up with the ever advancing technology and digital literacy.

Consumer Lens

As a consumer in the digital world, I like instant gratification.  Last week, I received an automated text message at midnight that I was almost out of data on my cell-phone.  How can that be?  The bill just cycled!  Several years ago, I would have placed a phone call to my cell phone provider the next morning and discussed the issue/options.  However, for this instance, I grabbed my iPad at 12:04 am and went to the Verizon app where I instantly began an online chat with customer service.  The representative was able to direct me to the portion of the app where I could see my usage where I realized that I had done a 5-hour live Facebook video the night before while on data.  OOPS.  Regardless, I chatted with him for over an hour while watching Criminal Minds on Hulu and painting my fingernails. I also made a bowl of noodles and called (loudly) for the dog who went outside at one point and hadn’t returned.  As the consumer in this situation, I preferred that hour long chat to a 15-20 minute phone call because it was convenient.  At the end, I received a customer satisfaction survey.  I marked each item accordingly and went back to watching my show on Hulu with a new, unlimited data plan for my next oopsie.

Looking through this lens, I certainly appreciate a heavy online, night or day, presence from the companies with which I do business.  I see the importance of understanding digital literacy and of a company putting it into practice.

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Image from Helpsocial.com

Make Video an Essential Part of Design and Information Architecture

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Presentation of a video channel on a laptop. Source: Getty Images

As video usage and video views continue to grow, so does the importance of making video a key part of digital design. A Forbes headline from June reads “Video Marketing in 2018 Continues to Explode.” Consider this statistic from the article: more than 500 million hours of videos are watched daily on YouTube. In a 2018 survey that Hubspot conducted, 81% of businesses reported using video as a marketing tool, which is up 18% from last year’s survey.

Video Placement Guidelines

Despite the increased profile of videos, many people still place them at the bottom of emails, hide them in links, or forget about them altogether. A 2015 article by Stjepan Alaupovic for OnlineVideo.net has some practical guidelines for the placement of video on websites:

  1. Use a simple video player that viewers are used to seeing such as YouTube or Vimeo with a video play button to provide a visual cue to users.
  2. Place videos above the fold (in the top part of the screen) and in a prominent spot so that viewers see them easily.
  3. Enhance search engine optimization (SEO) with good metadata including a description that includes the word video and a verbatim transcription.

Recently, my own firm was redesigning our website. When the plan for the site was presented at a meeting, video was not part of it. Not only is video a product of most agencies today, it is essential for capturing an audience’s attention and presenting information in today’s digital environment.

Video Gallery or Library

In Chapter 4 of Digital Literacy for Technical Communication on information designMichael J. Salvo and Paula Rosinski discuss the need for technical communicators to consider “findability” of documents and information. Today, users want to be able to find information in many formats including video. Websites should have a video gallery or library that is linked in a tab, card, or area of the homepage that is easy to see. Videos should be organized by category and playlists. Descriptive thumbnail images are useful, too.

Many organizations spend time, effort, and money producing videos, but they fail to consider where the video will be placed online, how it will be seen, and why users will view it. I recommend starting any video project by completing a video creative brief that lists a series of questions that should be considered. One of the most important questions to answer is “where will this video live online?” Below, you’ll find an example of a video creative brief.

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Video Creative Brief by Angie Myers

 

 

The Constantly Evolving Role of a Technical Communicator

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Angie Myers shoots a video with SWE Past President Jonna Gerken. Photo credit: SWE Public Relations Manager Jenny Balogh

As manager of digital media for my client, the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), my role is constantly evolving as I oversee content development and marketing communications for the society. Instead of simply creating content primarily by myself as I would have in the past, today I must find ways to help my clients work together to develop their own multimedia and share it through a variety of communication channels.

Today’s media environment demands a consistent stream of content provided in a variety of ways at a low-cost by a reliable source in an authentic voice. To meet that need, those of us who work in technical communications today have to be resourceful, lifelong learners. In Chapter 2 of Digital Literacy for Technical Communication, R. Stanley Dicks writes that user-centered design, collaborative technologies, and user-generated content are transforming the jobs of technical communicators.

“Rather than the relatively limited contributions of writing and editing in narrowly defined and conceived technical communication jobs, future jobs are more likely to require that communicators engage in the more complex symbolic-analytic work involving not just developing information but also managing, reconfiguring, disseminating, and customizing it for a diversity of audiences and in a diversity of media” (Dicks, 2010, p. 75).

As I encourage SWE to embrace the organization’s communications strategy, I am always looking for ways to help create content and share it through social media. I ask SWE members, sponsors, and staff to write blogs, do Facebook Live posts, and record videos as well as podcasts. When I request their contributions, I facilitate the development of content by explaining any processes or tools involved.

Using Collaboration to Create Content
Using collaborative technology is an essential aspect of developing content in today’s workplace. For example, to write marketing emails, SWE now uses Google Docs. First, I write copy in a Google Doc that is concise and includes multimedia such as videos and images. Next, I share it with coworkers who are involved in program(s) being promoting. They proofread and edit the document directly. Finally, it is viewed and approved by the organization’s leadership. We all have access to the same, updated content that is saved indefinitely in Google Docs to use again at a later time.

Recently at SWE’s annual meeting, I shot video interviews with SWE members who were taking part in programs such as the SWE High School Leadership Academy, Collegiate Leadership Institute, and Academic Leadership for Women Engineers. Prior to the conference, I asked SWE staff who oversee those programs to help me develop questions and select participants for video interviews. After the interviews were recorded, I sent the video files to a transcribing service so that I have a verbatim transcript of what they said on video. Next, I will create a written script of the edited video so that my team can create video graphics and the content can be easily approved to make sure the video includes all of the pertinent information. When I publish the video on YouTube and in a blog post, having the transcript will improve search engine optimization (SEO) and make the content accessible to a broader audience. Using a transcript also makes it easier to pull out quotes while sharing video and podcasts on social media.

Transcribing Videos and Podcasts
For anyone working with video or podcasts, transcribing, captioning, or subtitling can be a time-consuming, labor-intensive and costly task. Transcription services in the past cost a fair amount of money, which made them too expensive for some projects. Fortunately, I have started using Rev.com. It costs $1/minute for transcribing, and the transcripts come back within hours of uploading the content. The service has been around for a few years. The company’s FAQ page says it employs workers in the U.S. and some overseas after business hours.

Using a service like Rev.com is a good example of finding a new solution to a communication problem, which is one of the primary functions of being a technical communicator today. I am always learning new processes and technology in a constantly evolving communications landscape.

You’ve Got 6 Seconds to Make Your Point

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In Net Smart, Howard Rheingold writes “self-control along with the skillful use of attention, participation, CRAP detection, collaboration, and network awareness through social media ought to be taught to future netizens as early as possible.” Rheingold wrote that in 2012, but it has never been more relevant than it is today.

Paying Attention to a Screen
The first chapter of Net Smart is about attention. As a professor, Rheingold is frustrated by all of his students looking at their laptops and smart phones while he is giving his lectures. Instead of expecting students to shut down their devices, he decides to teach them about attention. He also discusses mindfulness and being aware of how you direct your attention, not just how you spend your time.

I’ve noticed in meetings these days no one seems to mind if you are looking at your laptop or your smart phone. In the past, it was considered rude or unprofessional, but today it is expected that you bring your laptop to meetings. Often, we use them to take notes, or we plug them into a monitor to show the group a visual presentation. As long as you are paying enough attention to know the answer when someone asks you a question, being distracted by a screen is acceptable behavior…at least it is in my workplace culture.

In my personal life, it’s a different story. One of the reasons I liked my boyfriend early on in our relationship is that he gives me his undivided attention. When I am around, he never spends time looking at his phone or paying more attention to the TV than me. If that ever starts to happen, I’ll know something has changed for the worse in our relationship. If you truly care about someone or something, that person or thing has your attention. If you don’t really care about it, you can easily find something digital that’s more interesting and holds your attention.

Shrinking Attention Span
Rheingold’s teaching about attention reminds me of the Ad Council’s #SheCanSTEM campaign to get young girls interested in science, technology, engineering and math. My client, the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), is one of the nonprofit partners participating in the campaign, so the Ad Council gave the Society videos to use on social media. Some of the videos are only 6 seconds long. You can watch them on SWE’s YouTube channel.

In one that features SWE member Lisa Seacat DeLuca, a girl asks Lisa, “What do you do for a living?” and Lisa replies, “I work at IBM in our Watson Internet of Things Division.” The girl reacts by saying, “That’s really cool,” and the video ends. (I guess if you don’t know what the Watson Internet of Things Division is, you can always Google it.) Go ahead and watch the video below…after all it’s only 6 seconds.

Allison Fleck reported in Ad Week in May of this year that a survey of more than 300 brand marketers and agencies found that the 6-second video format is the most effective ad type for digital media. Of those surveyed, 81% said that 6-second ads are effective or very effective. According to Ad Week, 53% of advertisers use 6-second ads, and in two years that percentage is expected to climb to 77%.

In a May article in Ad Age, Krishan Bhatia, executive vice president of business operations and strategy at NBC Universal, attributes the success of 6-second ads to “lower attention spans.”

In an Ad Week article from last year, Jake Malanoski, a customer acquisition director, explains that shorter is better because “if somebody hasn’t heard of you, they are not going to give you the time of day.”

Content Management Systems and Digital Literacy

Hart-Davidson hits the nail on the head, Content Management Systems (CMS) “do not do that work by themselves” (p. 14). A CMS can give a company what they are willing to put into it. They are not a solution, they are a tool. They are exactly what we make of it. Hart-Davidson states that “technical communicators typically come to play many different roles and deploy diverse sets of skills over the course of a career” when using CMS (p. 134). The roles mentioned must be assumed, but to successfully integrate the CMS into the company, the company must also integrate one or more company processes into the system to really benefit from it.

Training or some kind of education on how the company uses a CMS is a key to success. I’ve used quite a few systems and have seen excellent and poor uses of them in companies. When companies don’t have any rules around how a CMS is used, it becomes a free-for-all of good and bad information. It’s confusing. There is a plethora of online content available online for learning how to use and manage CMS systems online. However, even if you know how to use the system, this may not be how the company uses it.  The video below only touches on some common mistakes in administrating SharePoint itself and it’s over an hour long.

Michael J. Salvo and Paula Rosinski both discuss “mapping” and “signposting” in information design (pp. 112-114). These concepts are a big part of UX and extremely important to ensure users can become literate in a system. I’ve found these levels of user interface designs are not well applied to most CMS. At one of the companies I worked for I had to redesign the front-end of a SharePoint site to make it more accessible and simplified for others in the company. This tells me that we have a long way to go in our design of CMS from a design perspective. Confusion in using the interface itself will almost surely create inconsistent data, especially when most people will have access to the system.

Process in how you use a CMS is key to making the system useful. Yes, it can allow versioning of documents, but when people are not required to update or sign off on documentation, it can create data that looks trustworthy but is not. Most systems have workflows integrated into them, but unless going through that workflow is a part of a sign off process for the deployment of a product, then why would people go through the hassle?

To make sure our documentation is trustworthy, my team and I will link our documents to specific releases of software. This way it will be clearer in what context you can assume a document may be relevant for. In terms of metadata we make sure that everything is under our team’s section in the system. We also have the option to tag certain customers if the document is specifically relevant to that context. The process we employ around this ensures that we do not have to continually maintain every document, but instead deploy documentation at our own pace and as needed.

I don’t think I could live without a CMS at a company these days, because the alternatives are much worse. But literacy in these systems remains a problem. This is probably due to the fact that the users are not the same as the customer. Additionally, I see many systems treated as a golden solution instead of a platform. It will be interesting to see how these systems and their usages evolve over time.

Movie Hits Are Taking a Hit: Shifting from Mainstream to Streaming Media

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The film and TV industries have always been competitive for sure. You have your A-listers, your B-listers, and so called D-listers. The A-listers starred in hit movies and TV shows. Period. The B-listers did made-for-TV movies and some pretty good, if not short-lived TV shows. And, the D-listers, well, they popped up here and there. I’m noticing all that is changing now and I’m not the only one.

A-listers are appearing in TV series and mini-series. B-listers are appearing in movies—good movies, but no one expects them to be hit movies as blockbusters are few and far between. This applies to music and books too, but I’m a movie buff so I’ll mostly stick to what I know best.

Is This All There Is?

In days gone by, our means of accessing content (whether video, audio, or print) were limited. We went to a movie or drive-in movie for, uh, movies. We listened to the radio, groovy records, and later CDs for music and the like. And, we read daily newspapers, monthly magazines, and the latest from the book-of-the-month club.

What you found from those distributions channels were what executives (with the help of media experts and a lot of market study) thought would make the most money. Anything outside of this realm was more difficult to find. (Thinking about if from the other end, if you were the artist, it was difficult to produce because the market couldn’t reach you very easily.) I remember studying aspects of this as an undergrad in various mass communication courses.

But, the reason we see fewer hit movies isn’t because our preferences have changed; it’s because we are finally able to indulge our preferences.

Changing Channels

It’s not that big hits and mainstream content are going away entirely. The reason seems to be our ability to access streaming media—it’s easy. From the content producers end, it’s easier and more affordable to put content online even if you don’t have a robust following yet. The big hit producers are having to compete with these “alternative” content providers. To do that, they have be “in the media” their competitors are in.

A sentence from Howard Rheingold’s Net Smart (p. 251) gives some insight into this process:

“Social media are permitting people to seek support, information, and a sense of belonging from sparsely knit, loosely bound networks as well as the traditional densely knit, tightly bound groups.”’

Those loose networks can be thought of as non-mainstream, alternative content providers and their enthusiasts. So, it’s not that our tastes have shifted, but we’re finally able to access more of what we’ve always wanted to access. Chris Anderson explains it this way in The Long Tail:

“But most of us want more than just hits. Everyone’s taste departs from the main-stream somewhere, and the more we explore alternatives, the more we’re drawn to them. Unfortunately, in recent decades such alternatives have been pushed to the fringes by pumped-up marketing vehicles built to order by industries that desperately need them.

Hit-driven economics is a creation of an age without enough room to carry everything for everybody. Not enough shelf space for all the CDs, DVDs, and games produced.”

I would say it’s been more than recent decades though. It’s too vast a subject for a blog post, but if you look back on the history of mass media and go back just before it began, you’ll find what we call “niche” content today.

Someday soon, I believe that idea will fall away and we’ll just talk about the latest content whether it comes from big-house publishers or sole (and soulful) artists. Someday soon, we’ll watch the Oscars and hear: “And the Oscar for best documentary goes to that woman over there who filmed the entire thing on her mobile phone.” Very respectable.

Autocorrect Humanity (Turkle-esque)

I’ve got my Intro to Professional Communication students blogging this semester as well, with the main difference from your assignment being that they are to create their own individual blog spaces and post twice a week. The posts aren’t readings-based, but instead should:

  • focus on the issues and trends in communication/journalism/technology that you find most interesting, and
  • cultivate your voice and draws your classmates’ attention to images or articles you’ve found online

See my recent blog post about this project, which includes all the info I presented at The Teaching Professor Technology conference a couple weeks ago. I won’t say more about the work it takes on my end to evaluate 44 separate spaces, but as I do their midterm blog evals I have to say I’ve been impressed!

A few students this semester have shared this video (now at 7.8 million views!), and had I seen it before putting together the midterm exam, I would have included it on the list of supplemental resources. Give it a watch and let me know what you think: