March 15, 2016

How to Execute an Internal Product Update Series (and Why It’s so Fun)

Meryl Ayres

Creative

For many fast-paced tech companies, efficient and effective communication is a challenge. At times, it seems like different teams are speaking different languages, and it’s easy to lose touch with anything outside your lane. Unfortunately, adding more meetings is rarely a successful fix, and email novellas are seldom read.

A few months ago, a co-worker on the product team approached me in the kitchen and asked how we could inform the whole company about changes in the Wistia product on a regular basis. It was a communication challenge that we had been facing for quite some time, and as the company grew, it became clear that a consistent product update would be beneficial. We talked through our options and decided to experiment with lo-fi video.

Informative entertainment

Maybe it’s the ex-middle-school teacher in me talking, but there’s no use in teaching someone something if you don’t have their attention. It’s a waste of your time. It’s a waste of their time. When it comes to telling an entire company about product changes, both big and small, engagement is imperative. In other words, there’s an opportunity to entertain and delight. And I take this opportunity very seriously.

“There’s no use in teaching someone something if you don’t have their attention.”

Fun begets fun

Every week, Bobby, the anchor of Wistia News One, and I end up belly laughing at some point during production. There was the time I hit him square in the eye with a marshmallow. And the time he almost took down the background paper while jumping to catch a fruit snack in his mouth. There was the episode when he attempted to sing the news. The list goes on and on.

At the start of each week, we start thinking about new concepts for the Friday shoot. Some work out better than expected, and some fall flat, but we always end up learning a ton and laughing our way through the process. When we happen to capture moments of authentic enjoyment on camera, they’re usually the highlights of that episode. Laughter is contagious.

Holding attention

After an episode receives some views, I look at it’s engagement rate to assess our performance and learn from our mistakes. For Wistia News One, significant drop-offs typically indicate that we’ve gone too long without drawing our viewers’ attention. The following are four tactics we’ve tried out to keep our engagement rates steady.

1. Keep it short
I try my best to keep every episode under 90 seconds, and I’m always excited when we come in around 60. This strict limitation forces us to keep the script as concise as possible and cut down on the length and number of our gags. While I would love to show a 30-second, slow-motion clip of Bobby getting pelted in the face with marshmallows, our viewers are busy.

2. Incorporate new faces
Bobby, our anchor, gains poise and gusto with each episode, but we find that bringing new faces in for cameos always improves our engagement. It’s also a great way for folks to practice being on camera in a low-pressure environment. We’ve had teammates do cameos with no lines, comical interruptions, quick sign-offs, and poetry readings. It all depends on our timeline for that morning, and the guest’s comfort level.

3. Punctuate with the unexpected
When you place entertaining moments at unpredictable times throughout the video, you can create a highly-effective variable-interval schedule for your viewer. This makes watching a video satisfying in the same way that golf and gambling are satisfying. When reinforcement arrives at unexpected times, viewers, golfers, and gamblers are convinced to stick around and keep playing to see what happens. It’s science.

4. Hint at the prize
Every week, as soon as the video is exported, I upload it to our Wistia account and share the link on Slack. In the copy around the link, I sometimes hint at the "prizes" within the episode.

"@here today’s product update features @i.ruedlinger, @mat, and levi the dog, so hold onto your pants."

Hours later, I send out a team email to ensure that I reach people who may have missed the Slack message. In these emails, I like to use an enticing clickable thumbnail. It turns out live animals boost click-through rates.

This thumbnail isn’t clickable. I apologize for the tease.

Limitations

Since the product update represents a small slice of our day-to-day work at Wistia, Bobby and I aim for quick completion instead of perfection each week. It’s amazing what happens when you set strict limitations on a creative project. In many ways, it takes a lot of the pressure off.

“Bobby and I aim for quick completion instead of perfection each week.”

We only have so much time to devote to the project, and sometimes quick, creative solutions to issues end up sending us in interesting, unexpected directions.

Each Friday morning, Bobby arrives with a rough script. We do a table read, make some tweaks, talk out the shots, and begin. It’s a rush of adrenaline to produce a video before 10:30 every Friday, and I find I’m cultivating a new sense of confidence around completing projects.

Of course there are compromises. The sound isn’t always perfect. The edit could be more interesting. Bobby might stutter or mess up a line here and there. But at the end of the day, it’s an internal video meant to deliver information and delight our teammates. We accept our mistakes and move forward. No matter what.

I think this attitude ultimately makes our videos more approachable (and unpredictable). Anything can happen when the people in charge are flying by the seats of their pants.

Working toward proficiency

So, here’s the thing. The Wistia studio has all the video gear you could possibly want at your disposal. It makes it easy for newbies like me to come in and make decent-looking videos. One switch turns on all the lights you need for a typical shoot, and the external mic is almost always in position, ready to record.

While all of those factors make my job much easier, I often choose the lens, adjust the camera settings, set the gain on the audio recorder, direct, shoot, and edit. Every week, my muscle memory becomes more ingrained. I now know the native ISOs for the Canon EOS 5D Mark III, and how to tell if the audio is peaking. I notice shadows and framing mistakes. I direct with more confidence and skill and know what to listen for when Bobby’s reading his lines.

This weekly production gives me a chance to work toward proficiency in a new skill, while keeping the company abreast of news in the product.

I’ve always believed in the power of small wins, but this regular challenge has convinced me that projects with clear goals and strict limitations are hugely beneficial—both for your own growth, and for the effect your development has on your team. If you’ve already got a video setup at your company and your team could benefit from internal video updates, find someone who’s interested in video, and let them loose.

The future of product updates

As we continue to produce more episodes, we hope to do a better job providing context for the information we deliver. This might mean including more screenshots of the product and sprinkling in some annotation links that lead to helpful examples and resources. We also hope to get our newer employees into these updates as soon as possible, because we’ve found it’s a great way to bring people into the video fold at Wistia.

Last month, the product team decided to produce monthly (polished) product updates for external use. When customers arrive at the login page, there is a link to watch a product update. Sometimes all it takes is a proof of concept to get the ball rolling on a larger, external project, and I’d like to think that Bobby and I served as trailblazers for this concept.

For now, we’ll continue to produce our zany internal updates, as they work toward a related, but different set of goals. Plus, "fun work" is a company value, and we’re definitely embodying that principle every Friday.

I realize that you’re probably wondering why we didn’t include an entire episode in this post. Our legal team (pictured left) told us that these videos were too risky. In all seriousness, we take certain liberties in our news episodes that we wouldn’t take with externally-facing content, so we decided not to include them in this post. I hope that the clips provide you with enough flavor to imagine the rest.

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