Becoming a Better Writer Through Video Feedback

August 29, 2017

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Jordan Wellin


Type “how to” into Google and these are some of the first suggestions you may see.

We rely on the internet to teach us a lot of valuable life skills, and one of the best ways to learn (besides typing questions into Google) is by watching videos.

At Wistia, we’ve championed how-to videos as the best way to support customers and help them get the most out of what we offer. But other companies are finding ways to use video to support their internal teams, not just their customers.

At Animalz, Inc., a New York-based content marketing agency, team members make videos to give each other feedback on their writing. Animalz also uses video to teach new team members about writing, offering advice and support as they learn and grow at the company. But the journey to using video for feedback wasn’t always an obvious one for the company.

Giving feedback that scales

The team at Animalz does a ton of writing every day. And because quality is the top priority, each piece of content goes through multiples rounds of revisions, so you can imagine there’s a huge volume of feedback exchange.

But because of the large volume of their content output, Animalz began to see that their typical 1-to-1 feedback sessions between a single writer and a single editor weren’t as valuable or efficient as they could be.

As new employees were onboarded, editors and experienced writers alike were having to spend extra time giving the same advice over and over again to newer writers, resulting in a decrease in efficiency and productivity. When it came to scaling their writing feedback, the problems the Animalz team was encountering were twofold:

1. Editors were seeing the same issues over and over again in different writers’ work. For example, editors would have to tell multiple writers on separate occasions to craft pieces that fulfilled a shorter word count.

2. Much of the feedback editors had for writers wasn’t necessarily specific to that writer or a particular piece — it applied more generally as a “best practices principle” and would be relevant to everyone on the team. This included advice on everything from creating a compelling title to hooking readers in an introduction.

Yes, this 1-to-1 feedback was a valuable sharing of information and ideas. But it also led to lost opportunities for the rest of the team when they could’ve been learning from each others’ mistakes. If there was a way to share that feedback with everyone, it could help every person on the team create better work in the future.

How video makes feedback accessible to everyone

As it turns out, writing wasn’t an effective way to give feedback on writing — ironic, right? So Animalz turned to video to improve their team’s flow of ideas and internal discussions about writing.

Video enabled Animalz’s editors to thoroughly explain an issue and its solution in a comprehensive way, then share it with the entire team so everyone could benefit from the information. This allowed everyone at the company to get involved in the feedback process, while benefitting from the explanations themselves.

“Video enabled Animalz’s editors to thoroughly explain an issue and its solution in a comprehensive way, then share it with the entire team so everyone could benefit from the information.”

Sure, some people at Animalz had made videos before to explain general concepts, but there had never been a company-wide push to create videos to scale feedback. For Walter Chen, CEO at Animalz, the switch to video was an obvious one, since video feedback would make everyone’s lives easier. Here’s why:

  • Video is personalized and customizable. The format is flexible, allowing editors at Animalz to show anything they need to point out to writers at the company. With video, they can flip between documents, pull up web pages, and make edits in real time for the viewer to see. It’s also more friendly and personal for writers to hear teammates explain concepts and ideas in their own words over video, as opposed to making comments in a document.
  • It can be shared with everyone and saved for future use. Every Animalz video is stored in a centralized hub on Wistia that everyone on the team can access. With specific titles like “Outline structure and accelerating to the point,” writers can search for and share the exact advice they need.

Formulating an internal video strategy

The fact that videos are so personal is a huge plus, but in some ways, it can also be an obstacle.

As you’ve likely experience firsthand, people are often weirded out by the sound of their own voice. So it’s no surprise that the thought of recording themselves made even some of the most gregarious personalities at Animalz cringe. What’s more, many people had never made or even uploaded a video before, so there were multiple learning curves to overcome.

To encourage writers and editors to make more videos, Walter asked a team member to produce a video that detailed the process. Thankfully, the video got the job done; writers could easily follow the visual instructions to better understand how to make and upload videos for themselves.

Shaping video content to match what team members need

As more and more people at the company started making videos, Animalz’s internal content shifted from broader topics like “How to work the video player” to more specific issues like “How to avoid starting sentences with dependent clauses.”

Soon, almost every video made within the company stemmed directly from a piece of information someone on the team could benefit from. (This became especially clear when someone uploaded a video on how to refill the office coffee machine.)

Today, Animalz’s internal video content has evolved to cover a host of topics, including:

  • Big-picture concepts (“What is marketing?”)
  • Tactical lessons (“How to break a title down to improve it”)
  • Structural lessons (“Why you shouldn’t put your roadmap in the intro”)
  • Stylistic lessons (“Writing intros like Paul Graham”)
  • Strategic lessons (“Hub and spoke — quick intro”)

Some of the most viewed videos are simple, high-level explanations that cover areas every Animalz team member needs to know. Many popular videos, including this one, showcase team members’ faces to help forge a more personal connection.

Eventually, the team built up a repository of feedback videos that detailed the company’s best practices. These videos were then passed on to new writers during onboarding, simplifying the communication process and helping everyone get to know each others’ writing styles (and personalities) better.

Using video to improve internal communication

Making and sharing videos is now a dynamic part of the workflow at Animalz. How team members write is influenced by the content they put into their videos, and the feedback that’s shared based on that writing is in turn repurposed for future videos.

What does this look like in action? An editor might post a link in Slack to a video about case studies. This video would give a writer a better idea of how to approach and structure the case study they’re working on — making the content more personal, more specific, and more inspirational, per the advice in the video.

On the other hand, a writer could get a really great piece of advice from an editor about article structure. Then, the writer could make a video explaining how that advice improved the piece they’re working on. In the future, a new writer struggling to create coherent sections in a piece now has easy access to that advice.

Finding an internal communication system that meets your company’s needs is critical for maximum team productivity. But Animalz isn’t the only brand that’s finding creative ways to use video to support their team:

  • PayPal produced “Paypal in 90 Seconds” to quickly give their 14,000 employees an overview about what’s happening at their 48 locations around the world.
  • BambooHR made this team culture video that not only shows the rest of the world what their company culture is about, but also gives employees a chance to define it and be part of it.
  • Microsoft created a company-wide video portal called Microsoft Academy to encourage team members to share learnings with one another. The idea paid off in a very literal sense — Microsoft experienced a 569% ROI from this series of videos.

A scalable system makes for a flexible future

Internal videos have the potential to be a foundational part of company culture and morale. As Animalz has seen, when someone creates a great video, team members share it with each other and give kudos to whoever made it. At the same time, newer members are jumping in and making videos about the feedback they receive and the problems they’re solving.

At its best, video can help facilitate more organized and productive workflows at any company. Putting a learning system in place that’s as adaptable as the team that grows with it means that companies — no matter how large they become — can support their employees at every stage.

Animalz discovered that videos are more scalable than spoken feedback, in addition to being more dynamic than written feedback, and they have a booming video library with hundreds of views to prove it. And as they move forward, their team members can be sure that the advice they give to their coworkers is being watched and heard. Thanks to video, everyone can contribute, and everyone can benefit.

August 29, 2017

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Jordan Wellin


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