Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Clever promo videos the ESPN way

John Anderson gives up the seat, that he promised to save for Stuart Scott.  I'd give it up, too, if tennis star Maria Sharapova were looking to sit next to me.    

Harvard graduate Jeremy Lin took the NBA by storm early last year, when he played lights-out basketball as a New York Knick.  (He has since been traded to the Houston Rockets.)  Here he lends his smarts to anchor Jay Crawford.   

Olympian Natalie Coughlin has 12 medals to her credit.  Here she catches this little leprechaun red- ... er, green-handed with some of her winnings.

Phil Mickelson, known as Lefty in golf circles, schools Scott Van Pelt on proper body posture and eye sight while anchoring.

These commercial videos require very few, if any, props.  ESPN relies on its set, cubicles and cafeteria as its stage.  The script is simple and clever, and the acting required is minimal.  Of course it helps to bring in well-known athletes and draw on its own anchors as counterpoints.  

So as you conceive your own promo videos, draw on resources, settings and ingenuity you already have.  Persuade select friends or family to be part of it, if need be.  Decide on what appeal to take.  For example, the four videos above have a pretty star, smarty pants, sexy athlete, and zen master.       

Monday, October 28, 2013

Late Roman Republic does social media

Those in late Roman Republic created distributed communities that, according to Tom Standage, were ancient predecessors of social media.  In the particular, the elite wrote each other a lot, copied and shared quotes from one another.  Such exchanges thrived because there was a cheap way to spread them, that is, via slaves (cf. broadband) and also people were literate.

Standage's study under girds my longstanding thesis that Facebook, for example, is not so much a social innovation, as a technology one.  Interacting, conversing and networking are part-and-parcel of the human phenomena, undoubtedly animal life in general, too.  So social has been around for hundreds of thousands of years.  Mark Zuckerberg and his mates simply provided us with the platform to raise and extend social phenomena.

I like this interview with Standage, because it sheds good light on the enduring essence of what we know so well now.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Learning lessons from glitches is the joint creation of CGI Federal (design) and QSSI (coding), and there are such glitches galore with the site that the blame game is on.
The main contractors who designed the glitch-plagued government health care website argue that the Obama administration shares responsibility for problems with the digital rollout. 
Andy Slavitt, who represents QSSI’s parent company, told the Associated Press the administration made a late decision to require applicants to create accounts before browsing health plans. That process has been just one of a slew of complaints about the system. Blame game aside, Congress has been taking a hard line against the plague of glitches. Democratic Rep. Richard Nolan of Minnesota said the glitches have damaged the health care law and told the AP the president “needs to man up, find out who was responsible, and fire them.”
Reference: Obamacare Website Designers Point Fingers at the Government.

Obamacare is meant to improve healthcare, while managing costs and reforming the system.  There has been such political wrangling over this, that it's no wonder some things fell through the cracks with its website.  If you're a small business owner, there are lessons to be learned vis-a-vis the design of your website:
  • You may have partners, investors and other stakeholders, who need, or merely want, to have input in the website.  You must reconcile these potentially conflicting or competing interests, before approaching a designer.  
  • It is not the job of the web designer to decipher, debate, or resolve these interests.  So by the time he or she comes into the mix, you and your stakeholders must have a working agreement not just about the purpose and objectives of the website but also about responsibility and accountability for it.  
  • It goes without saying that the designer must have the ability and scruples to deliver on your purpose and uphold your expectations.  You probably have a tight budget to work with, so you aren't able to engage major design firms.  No worries: The designer simply has to deliver on what you need.
  • Once you and the designer have come to terms on a contract, then be sure you have regular check-ins to monitor progress on the design.  It doesn't have to take a lot of time and effort, but it must be done regularly.  Time and time again, projects go awry because of insufficient monitoring.  
  • Agreeing on, and settling, payments is of course part of the project.  It makes sense to set milestones and timelines, even if it's a small project, and tie these with scheduled payments.  Nothing ruptures the working trust between client and designer more than delayed or absent payment.
  • Finally, a debrief is in order at the very finish of a project.  But I also suggest agreeing at the outset on what follow-on contacts you'll have with the designer, for example, if questions or problems arise.  These are inevitable, because we're all imperfect people with imperfect tools and systems.  
By the way, Obamacare is the common name for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).  Here is a reference: ObamaCare Facts: Facts on the Affordable Care Act.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Avoiding blunders in your website design

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If you’re involved in online business, chances are you’ve already had a taste of the web design process. But now, more than ever, with so many websites vying for customers’ attention, it’s important to hone your skills and take your projects to the next level. 
The latest web design for business requires an understanding of the changing online world including the evolution of mobile Web access. With more competition, there’s a need for greater consideration about what sets your Web presence apart. And with the growing number of skill sets required, there’s also a need for more collaboration with highly skilled web design teams.
Reference: Blunders That Will Sink Your Web Design Project.

Shawn Hessinger writes a succinct, useful article about what not to do in designing your website (and blog, too).  However, I'd begin with formulating your strategy, especially as it first clarifies your purpose and sets your objectives for your website.  This may mean sketching out or story boarding it, before your fingers tap any code.

Once strategy is clarified, and your audience is targeted and profiled, then you can consider how they are likely to view your website and on what device.  This is less of an issue these days than, say, three or four years ago.  Facebook had an app for BlackBerry, but its functionality was so poor that I deleted it.  I simply decided to open the site via browser.  But navigating it was like scrolling a small window all around the same page.  Plus, it was slow as molasses.  It was still a better alternative than the Facebook app.

I have several sites on Blogger, Google's blogging platform, and because Google knows the criticality of mobile technology and users, my sites look and navigate quite fine on my iPhone.

Forging a good working relationship with your design team is crucial indeed.  I had the misfortune of working with designers who were unprofessional, overpriced and undercompetent, so I ended up aborting all projects they were working on for me.  But I knew early on that it was crucial for us to forge a good working relationship and set clear expectations.  I had to rely on them for changes, and they held the key to my sites.

Last year I learned to develop my own websites and blogs, using more user-friendly tools and platforms that again weren't around three or four years ago.  I am a startup entrepreneur, and I have to work with the means I have and the resources I can muster up.  In time I will engage a design team, of course, but for now I relish having control of my sites.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Creating (short) Vine and Instagram videos

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They are the latest diversions of the digital age – those six-second (Vine) or fifteen-second (Instagram) videos that are the perfect outlet for creative smartphone owners who feel constrained by regular photos. But shooting an interesting and engaging short-form video can be harder than it looks. Whether you want to be funny, serious, or just come up with something unique, there are a few basic rules that you need to follow.
I run down these rules, and add my comments:

Map out a storyline

Clarify your purpose, that is, what you want to say with your video. You can sketch it out à la storyboard, or, because it's so short, visualize the storyline in your mind.

Get the lighting right

Be mindful of how your smartphone camera performs under different lighting conditions, that is, outdoors vs indoors and also at different times of day.  I suggest using natural or ambient lighting, if this serve your storyline.

Use a tripod

A tripod, even a small one, is a crucial piece of equipment, as I've realized from experience.  Amazon has all sorts of tripods for sale at low cost.  Just search for "iPhone tripod," for example.

Frame your subject

Most people make the mistake of taking photos or videos too far from the subject. If you're one of them, remind yourself to come closer.  Watch videos you like, on the sites you want to plan to upload to, and see how the subject is framed.

Make it loopy

In other words, once posted, some of these short form videos will function like a GIF.

Practice makes perfect

Optimize your efforts from the get-go, again, by thinking things through and considering these rules.  You don't need to spend all day, conceiving a 6-second Vine upload.  Spontaneity and 'naturalness' can win the day over high polish productions.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Watch out for social media pitfalls

Forbes contributor Dorie Clark reveals four key insights [see screen shots below] from her recent interview with Dave Kerpen, author of Likeable Business, about what your company may be doing wrong on social media - and how you can fix them to get ahead of the competition.
Get genuine engagement going first, before loading the Timeline or News Feed with your stuff 
Keep in mind that ROI in the short term is bound to be negative, but go ahead and keep track of it 
Speak with an authentic voice, and be patient and consistent in establishing it 
Social media may seem huge, but it's just one part of a total marketing plan

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Green Hat Gin does their website good

Green Hat Gin

Entrepreneurs Michael Lowe and John Uselton wanted a website that reflected the story behind Green Hat Gin:  Theirs was the first distillery in Washington DC since the Prohibition, and they paid homage to bootlegger George Cassiday's trademarked green fedora.
"We didn't want to create just a click, click, click site...  We wanted something more fluid and smooth, in the same way you would read a newspaper and flip the pages as you scroll. We also knew a lot of users would be on mobile and tablets, so making it natural to navigate on those devices was the way to go." 
The design not only stays true to Green Hat Gin's storied history, it also creates a brand that is visually distinct from its competitors. Incorporating old-fashioned catalog illustrations, fonts reminiscent of newspaper headlines and text, and cocktails playfully distinguished by hat styles, the product achieves a visual voice all its own.
Reference: The Delicate Balance of Good Website Design.

Lowe and Uselton engaged Design Army to create their website, and the creative firm's advice is the following:
  • Think of your website as a storefront, not a website.
  • Create a website with proper interface for mobile devices.
  • Envision your business growing and your website evolving with it.
  • Work out your budget accordingly. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

To time or not to time your social media posts

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Deron Wagner just posted this on Google+:
Great infographic that shows the best times of day to post on various social media platforms, along with some helpful tips for each of them. 
Of course, the best time of day to post really depends on your target audience, but this is a good general reference guide based on traffic.
I commented:

I definitely agree that "timing is huge." If your target audience is relatively localized, and there is a rhythm or cycle to their day, then it makes perfect sense to time your posts accordingly. But the US alone has six time zones, including Alaska and Hawaii. If you have targets in Europe and the Middle East, as I do, then timing your posts quickly becomes impractical. So, above all, I work at being reasonable with such timing, and include the rhythm of my own commitments and projects. The main things for me are posting daily and blogging regularly.

For business and-or for personal, you decide how to time your posts, in relation to your purpose, objectives or strategies.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Awesome prank is also a promotional video

What if telekinesis was real? How would you react? Our hidden camera experiment captures the reactions of unsuspecting customers at a New York City coffee shop as they witness a telekinetic event.
This prank is  Well-structured, well-acted, and well-filmed.

So what is it promoting?

The third adaptation of Stephen King's 1974 iconic novel, due out on October 18th 2013.  This trailer was posted on April 4th 2013, and right now has 1,829,582 views. The prank was posted just on October 7th 2013, and has an amazing 22,463,613 views.  Go figure.

We business people dream of our promotional videos going wildly viral like this.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Designlab teaches web design by doing

Harish Venkatesan, Deny Khoung and Daniel Shapiro make up Designlab
Four years ago, when a friend and I wanted to design our own websites, there weren't that many options to do so and the few options we had at our disposal were clunky.  After much conversation and brief attempts, we finally determined to sit together one Saturday and work on it.  Alas we spent 10 hours getting nowhere.

Enter, latest in the mix:  Startup Spotlight: Designlab teaches you web design skills with interactive lessons, in-browser tools.
Would you rather have Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: Jobs all the way! We’re here to try to make a dent in the universe.

The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: Booking mentor meetings before 10 a.m.
I like these guys!

Monday, October 7, 2013

How the Osher Clinical Center does a promo video

The Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, a collaboration between Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, is focused on enhancing human health, resilience and quality of life. We believe that by increasing our fundamental scientific understanding of human health, we are moving toward a new model of wellness and healing. 
At the Osher Clinical Center, we believe in treating the whole person. Our integrated treatment model connects gaps in patient care and offers additional healing modalities to complete their primary medical care.
This is a promotional video, but see how the film director framed it as an educational documentary.  Instead of focusing on the Center per se, it focuses on what it does, how it helps, and why it views and remedies ailments in an integrative fashion.  It's nearly 11 minutes long, but I found it captivating.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Business and personal: one or two accounts?

"A home made honey cake is pure happiness," for Maria Sharapova
Alba Fitness asked the following on our Social Media community on Google+:
Got a question for you all!
What's better.. Using a business social media account and a personal one. Or just promote my business from my personal one? 
I find it hard to use both even when I schedule.

What do you all do?
I commented, I keep separate accounts, as I have a different purpose for each one. But I believe many celebrities and athletes use only one account. Tennis star Maria Sharapova, e.g., posts some personal stuff on Facebook and Twitter, because that's how she engages her fans and builds her brand(s). So depending on how you position your business, you may do perfectly fine with just one account and integrate business with personal. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

New (free) Web Designer from Google

As Google notes in today’s announcement [September 30th], Web Designer was developed to allow advertisers to easily create HTML5 ads for mobile and desktop. Until recently, Google argues, advertisers “didn’t have the tools they needed to easily develop content fit for today’s cross-screen experiences” and Web Designer aims to be the tool to create these experiences.
Reference:  Google Launches Web Designer, A Visual Tool For Building Interactive HTML5 Sites And Ads.

Our viewing habits are different from one device to another (e.g., desktop and mobile).  So advertisers faced the challenge of developing content for optimal cross-screen experiences.  As one developer told me, when he was working on an app for me, user interface had to be adapted for particular devices and operating systems, such as Apple iOS and Samsung Android.

Now Google has given the public the capability of doing that.  That is, those of us who aren't programmers or developers per se can learn how to use this new tool.
The tools come with all the usual visual design tools you’re probably familiar with. Some of the more interesting ones Google has developed for Web Designer include a pen tool for free drawing.
It’s worth noting that projects like Adobe Muse, Reflow and others include most of Web Designer’s features, too. But by making Web Designer available for free, Google is putting quite a bit of pressure on the incumbents in this space.
Google decided a few years ago to make its new operating system - Android - open source and free.  To say that this was a disruptive strategy is an understatement, as Android is now the dominant OS across mobile devices from different makers.  

Undoubtedly Web Designer is another disruption in the market.