Moving image as a business tool and a corporate value

I was lucky enough to work with the University of Sussex recently and helped organise a discussion about television values and ideology.

The topic might sound a little highbrow but it addresses some of the fundamental issues around the use and abuse of a powerful medium – whether you’re:

  • bloggers looking to introduce a little video into your mix
  • commercial television companies seeking the next X Factor
  • charities trying to tap into public consciousness
  • commercial organisations looking to oil the wheels of doing business
  • or audiences looking to be entertained, or informed (or a bit of both).

It got me thinking…

Say the word “television” and I initially think of the traditional box in the living room but this is way too old school. The ‘vision’ bit is fairly self explanatory. ‘Tele’ comes from the Greek for ‘far’ or ‘distant’. I had to look that last bit up, but I’m glad I did.

Looked at this way, television is a more apt catch all term than video or audio-visual when it comes to describing the many ways moving images are now delivered into our personal living rooms: that bit of tech space we surround ourselves with as we navigate the world.

If I watch a YouTube video on my smartphone to keep boredom at bay on a train journey, or dip into a Ted Talk on my computer, instead of getting on with some real work, it is, to all intents and purposes, tele-vision. It just so happens that traditional television, delivered and consumed in a linear fashion, accounts for the bulk of it. But the lessons learned can be applied much more widely.

The presentations that formed part of the University of Sussex event covered a huge range of material from how the traveller community has been framed by a Big Fat prefix that modulates our perceptions of their culture and values – some fantastic work done by the event’s organiser Roberta Piazza, Senior Lecturer in English Language – through to Clive Jones, Chairman, Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), and his thought provoking insights on how a disaster appeal must also have televisual appeal if it is to tap into mass market heart strings and purse strings.

You can download a full list of speakers and topics at the end of this blog.

Images as part of the giving process

Mother nature doing her worst under the baleful gaze of the camera can focus attention in a way that aid workers working discreetly in politically fraught environments cannot.

Identify an aid worker by showing them on television one day and one faction or another might take a shot at them the next. Nonetheless, the giving public evaluate available images as part of the giving process. It is a transaction. I receive an image that triggers a response that provokes me to give. Quid pro quo.

Of course, not all of us are looking at this from academic or charitable perspectives. But any organisation considering moving images needs to think about both value and ideology.

Value first. Why use images and is there additional value in images that move?

There is significant research that indicates that images can have a powerful impact. They can aid charitable giving and foster trust in commerce. The images need to make sense.  Whether you’re selling a cause or a product they need need to work and not just take up space (attention and real estate) – show after as well as before, particularly in the case of charitable campaigns.

Givers need to know how money will be spent and be shown images that support this. In the commercial world, potential purchasers respond positively to images of past customers in receipt of their purchases.

But what about images that move? The value of movement has long been recognised. Laws of public decency used to pivot around this point, making nudity legal when static but more desirable when in motion.

But what got me excited was some research I came across under the title ‘At the Heart of It All: The Concept of Presence’ (Lombard and Ditton, 2006), which indicates that virtual reality simulators, video conferencing, home theatre and HD TV provide users with an illusion that: ‘a mediated experience is not mediated’.

In effect, the more like reality it is the more we take it at face value and believe what we see. Moving images are more lifelike. The more like life then the greater these images may play in helping us store information, retreive it and and make decisions based upon it. Moving images also create a degree of harmonised experience shared by watchers. Powerful things all.

Now to ideology. That’s a tricky area.

In a commercial sense this has to be the system of ideas and principles that underpin use. In terms of an organisation looking to use moving images this would seem to cover not just having an ephemeral vision but practical strategy governing that use and budget and goals that can be as ambitious as you like, but have to be evaluated against actual performance (who came, who saw, who bought/gave). Moving images are sexy but that’s not a good enough reason for using them.

If I have an issue with regular TV it’s that as the images have become more real the values and ideology that underpin them become less so. So-called reality TV shows are now no more that poorly rehearsed dramas.

If there’s a fly on the wall it’s only because the documentary-style footage on often smells distinctly fishy.

Finally, to this paradigm I add the concept of self. If as an organisation you plan to use moving image you are also up against not only your competitors and peers but the global audience of individuals who both record moving images and upload them through social media. Welcome to the world of ME-TV. And the subject of my next blog.


Values and ideology in TV discourse: A one-day interdisciplinary colloquium on recent research, University of Sussex – School of English, Friday, November 22nd 2013. Speakers and topics: Values and ideology in TV discourse

So… what are we waiting for?

I’ve just had breakfast with a very interesting businessman. Great proposition, which he’s refined over the last couple of years and which offers material business help specifically to third sector, charities and educational organisations. Help that can be felt in the bottom line. What’s not to like?

He freely admits his brochure is a couple of year’s behind the intellectual curve of his thinking and that his website has not progressed beyond a holding page.

I took him to task – obviously.

But on the way back to  my office I started to think… what gives me the right?

Yes, I’m a wash with experience about how to use digital to change your business but my blog is looking distinctly out of date. I’ve been so busy, you see and my thinking has been evolving at a rate of knots as I work with different clients in different ways.

So… what am I waiting for?

My website is not only my business card and a source of reassurance for those people who have already come across me but it’s also my playground. My blog, in particular, should be where I think out loud.

I recently heard Nancy Kline speak at a conference about thinking for ourselves and resolved to reflect more on how I think and how the way I articulate those thoughts is so often framed by external influences and codes. (Influences and codes which also inhibit organisational thinking.) While ‘speaking my mind’ might be tricky sometimes, ‘thinking my mind’ should be something I allow myself to do more often.

So sorry G, I had no right to take you to task when I should be using iterative, adaptable, powerful and accessible digital media more often. What are any of us waiting for?


Steampunk digital

I’m currently working on a website project for a charity operating in Asia with what might reasonably be described as a shoestring budget.

The strategy for the work is predicated on making the most of all the ‘established’ freeware and open source options available and bringing them together with a little ingenuity.

Underpinning it all is a content strategy designed to build a strong digital footprint, which will: raise their profile, optimise revenues and seek to level the playing field between the organisation in question and the charity behemoths with bigger budgets and significantly more resources. Watch this space.

But the project has also got me thinking about how the technical design and build aspects of projects are specified and implemented within highly refined and defined processes, while content is often (and still) and afterthought; created on the hoof at the point of need and cobbled together from existing collateral, which was itself created for entirely another purpose and delivery mechanism.

What would happen if we flipped the model above, introduced a little steampunk to our technical specification and, instead and as a rule, applied far more rigour, process and resource to the content?

Welcome to steampunk digital…

steam punk digital showing an old fashion steam engine hooked up to modern computer devicesIt you’re not familiar with steampunk, it started out as a literary genre that blended science fiction with Victorian ingenuity and their fondness for embellishment. For those of you who can remember that far back, I’d cite the 1999 movie Wild Wild West, with Will Smith, Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branagh, as a visual reference.

Steampunk isn’t afraid of a little make do and mend. It likes to show what’s going on under the bonnet (hood and head). It is intelligent design with a little bit of Jules Verne imagination. Experience tells me that all projects come with finite energy resource. If too much goes into the technical side there is so much less for the content side of things. All aspects of a project require a full head of steam.

My Top 5 Tips for Steampunk Digital…

Figure 1 Don’t reinvent the wheel. There’s a lot of free stuff out there. Plus, no matter how unique you think your project is somebody will have tackled something like it before. Researching tools, software, competitors and comparators thoroughly can save time, money and red faces.


Figure 2 Apportion time and energy – not just budget. If you think solely in terms of money you start ascribing cheap v. expensive values to things which should not be viewed in those terms. On so many projects the content creation is seen as expensive in pounds and pence terms because organisations think it’s just about writing stuff.


Figure 3 Think ‘elegance’ and ‘finesse’ but only after you’ve thought ‘usefulness’ and ‘clarity’. Oh so clever apps, widgets, Flash modules, social media gizmos… only work if they assist the user and are grounded in a clear business case.


Figure 4 If you don’t know where the bonnet (hood) release is – don’t buy the car. I have ‘walked around’ content management systems where the only thing populating the meta data fields are tumble weed and lost opportunities. If you can’t see how it works you won’t use it properly. Good steampunk is predicated on understanding and being able to use something (and fix or adapt it).


Figure 5 The greatest steam engines ever designed do not work without steam and content is steam. Don’t build it if you can’t be bothered to fuel it (and keep it fueled0. It is a constant stream of content that delivers your website, email programme, social media campaign, etc, etc, to the audiences you want to reach and gets them where they want to go.

Take that back!

All organisations – not just publishers – have to actively manage their content throughout its lifecycle.

But what are the implications, in this digital age, if you need to update, amend or even withdraw something that has been published but then repurposed and reused in a myriad different ways by a whole host of third parties?

Imagine it’s Friday morning and the head office of Wonderful Widgets Ltd is abuzz with the news that their new social media marketing campaign has been taken to task by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA)…

Their claim to be the ‘Best Widget For Bringing About World Peace’ was disputed by a retired Colonel in Chichester and the complaint has been upheld by an ASA Adjudication.

Clumps of hair are being torn out by various members of the marketing team and at their social media agency, Wondiferous, as the claim is embedded in a rather smart video ad directed by someone who once shared a cab with Steven Spielberg, as well as featuring in an app that is proving a rather popular download.

There’s no choice by to take down the video and withdraw the app while changes are made. Somebody also remembers to take down the press release about the campaign.

(Nobody has remembered that a picture from the campaign and some accompanying text – including the offending statement – had been sent off to the team who were preparing the company’s annual report, which will go off to the printers in 40 minutes time.)

The claim has also been used in various articles and sound bits over the last few weeks but nobody is entirely sure where or who to contact next.

How do you take stuff back?

In today’s digital age trying to recant content is a bit like smashing a cafeteire full of coffee and trying to get all the spashes back in the jug.

What steps should an organisation take to recall content that has been appropriated, misappropriated, atomised, reused, abused, reedited, retweeted, shared, pinged and generally tossed upon the winds of social media and other forms of digital transmission or syndication and now resides in multiple locations around the virtual globe?

Chances are that, in the case above, reasonable effort will be enough. But what if the offending material is now deemed defamatory and the subject of litigation, or has been found to contain an inaccuracy that could be physically harmful – a decimal point missing on a data safety sheet, or in the appropriate dosage for a new drug? What efforts must you go to to get take that back?

The fact is we’re all publishers now. And as such corporate vulnerabilities are no different from those in magazine and newspaper organisations. As some of you know, I regard the successful Lord McAlpine pursuit of libel damages from high profile tweeters towards the end of last year as evidence of this paradigm shift.

Smart traditional publishers are reviewing their Ts & cs to put the emphasis on syndication partners being responsible for policing the content they purchase and reuse. Smart corporates may want to look at their own Ts & Cs in this light.

Google cached files

There is also the whole issue around Google cached files, that can linger long after the baseline content has been removed or updated. You can ask Google to remove pages from its cache. I certainly think being able to evidence that you have done this in a very timely fashion is good practice.

Best efforts

Organisations also need to demonstrate that the have made every effort to expunge or recall something. In my book the first way you evidence this is that you know where content has gone in the first place, or at least its departing point. So, for example, the press office in the scenario above really should have a shared written knowledge of the annual report usage. Relying on memory is not good governance.

And that, my friends is the tip of a pretty impressive iceberg.

Content Agility 2013 June 26-27, UK

I’ll be building on this blog post in my presentation at Congility this year, under the title: We’re all publishers now!
Find out more about Congility 2013