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7 lessons CEOs can learn from President Obama’s video strategy

TechCrunch TechCrunch 10/04/2016 Vitaly Shter

Regardless of your political orientation, it is hard to argue against the success of the digital media strategy that President Obama and his team implemented to engage millions of Americans over the past two terms.

Since Franklin Roosevelt’s famous radio fireside chats in the 1930s, presidents have always aimed to engage the American people by speaking directly to their hopes, dreams and fears. But President Obama was able to leverage the opportunities of digital age technologies (such as the Internet, social networks and online video streaming) to become, seemingly, the most engaging, transparent and communicative president the world has ever known, reaching audiences that ordinarily would not be paying attention.

CEOs of companies, while dealing with challenges of different scope than that of the president, are in essence trying to achieve similar goals, such as: aligning the masses behind a strategy or an initiative, communicating and explaining decisions to other stakeholders internally or publicly, encouraging individuals to work hard toward common goals, communicating confidently at times of crises, defending strategies and agendas and portraying a positive self-image.

Therefore, many CEOs and corporate communications teams could borrow a few best practices from the president, and apply these examples to their corporate communication strategies.

Clarify ownership over the video strategy and allocate appropriate resources

The most important part in jump-starting an effective video-centric communication strategy is assigning clear ownership with an adequate amount of empowerment and resources to reach video strategy goals.

CEOs and other leaders in the business world can no longer afford communicating with their employees via traditional means.

The White House, for example, appointed Silicon Valley veteran Jason Goldman as the first-ever White House Chief Digital Officer, which showcased the emphasis the White House put on digital media for its overall strategy. By emphasizing the importance of video and assigning clear ownership and resources, the White House has essentially become its own media production company, using cutting-edge technology to advance the president’s agenda, policies and initiatives, such as healthcare reform.

Most enterprise customers assign the video production task to corporate communication departments, which are equipped with visionary and expert personnel, appropriate budgets and the backing of the CEO (as well as the IT department) to help them achieve their communication and engagement goals.

Use video where it drives the most value — beyond the traditional corporate events

For previous U.S. presidents it was mostly about working with the traditional media (i.e. news agencies, TV networks, newspapers) and occasionally addressing the nation over the TV during the State of the Union, or from the White House during special occasions. Not so for President Obama.

Leading up to his last State of the Union address, which was streamed over the Internet, the White House published a series of its own videos — including one video of Obama aboard Air Force One announcing a community college tuition reform plan (8.4 million views). Additionally, they used less-traditional video communication, such as a Google Hangout session where Obama was answering questions submitted by regular people at home over video.

Such direct video-based communication worked well for Obama. Videos that support initiatives like the “It’s On Us” pledge (to prevent sexual assault on college campuses) and climate change have attracted millions of viewers and pledgers online (one video had more than 42 million views on Facebook, making it the most-watched Facebook video ever published by a U.S. government or political entity).

Similarly, corporate communication departments representing the CEO must implement a progressive video strategy that goes beyond streaming quarterly investor relations and downhill presentations. While these are crucial and must be flawlessly delivered to the global employee base, these are “table-stakes” for today’s modern internal corporate communication strategies.

CEOs of companies, while dealing with challenges of different scope than that of the president, are in essence trying to achieve similar goals.

Enterprise video content nowadays often includes everything from live and on-demand video addresses from senior management, to “ video fireside chats” with the CEO or other senior managers (similar to Obama’s Google Hangout sessions), to video news flashes about what is happening in the company, informational videos about new product launches, deep-dives into introducing specific departments or projects, video contests, diversity initiatives videos and many more creative projects that drive engagement and provide a back wind to the corporate pride and a feeling of being “in the loop.”

For CEOs specifically, this means using video where it drives the most value, such as promoting initiatives, communicating in crisis situations, showing transparency by sharing information openly and authentically by recording video addresses from anywhere on any topic and connecting with  employees on a personal level and recognizing them for their achievements.

Launch an enterprise video portal

In 2015 alone, White House officials posted more than 400 videos to YouTube and Vimeo; the videos have been viewed for a total of more than 174,497,605 minutes. The CEOs of America need their own enterprise video portal to engage their employees — employees who are increasingly expecting consumer-grade experiences at work.

To that end, many leading enterprises deploy internal video portals where all communication videos are centrally hosted, accessible by all employees with varying permissions levels, segregated into channels and categories and where all content is easily searchable — which is very similar to the way it is on Vimeo and YouTube, only with the addition of enterprise-grade capabilities such as SSO integration and tight security.

Such portals are extremely effective for communication and knowledge sharing, not only for the CEO and senior management, but also for the entire organization, where departments like training, HR, Sales, Finance and IT all have found unique use cases to drive their day-to-day business with video.

Video + social is a winning combination to maximize reach

Obama’s digital strategy team is using all social venues possible — including YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, blogs, etc. — to target specific messages to specific audiences, while vastly increasing the overall reach.

Similarly, as our workforce is becoming increasingly digitally native, senior managers must adapt to the social trends and communicate with employees via social mediums within the organization. It’s not just about the aforementioned enterprise video portal; progressive organizations have also been deploying Facebook-like social business software such as Jive, IBM Connections, Yammer, Slack and, most recently, Facebook at Work.

Nowadays you either engage at scale or quickly become irrelevant.

These tools provide advanced knowledge sharing capabilities within the social context, while all sensitive content remains behind the firewall. Progressive corporate communications departments are increasingly using these tools to communicate with employees and to create a more transparent corporate culture. When you combine these social tools with video content, you maximize engagement.

Two-way conversation

Social media is all about a two-way conversation — people share information and their contacts consume it, comment on it, like it, share it and so on. It’s no different when it comes to video, but it’s not only about streaming videos to relevant audiences and soliciting their feedback via comments, shares and likes.

It must be a two-way conversation, whereby your audience can respond via their own videos, by producing “low production” UGC (user-generated content) videos — these often bring the most value and maximize the effectiveness of many-to-many communication. One example is what the White House did with a video contest — the 2015 White House Student Film Festival on “The Impact of Giving Back.”

Similarly, in the enterprise, it is not only about professionally produced videos but also about the videos produced using a webcam by the senior managers or by any employee. Great examples from the corporate world are video messages to the team, how-to-videos, white-boarding sessions (here is an example of one of Obama’s staff members), video contests, etc.

This content is much easier to produce but is significantly more authentic than the professionally produced videos; hence, it becomes the “one tail” that drives value and scales video communication and knowledge sharing.

Rely on other popular leaders in your organization to relay important messages to the teams and to help align the organization behind a unified vision

For example, President Obama encourages not only his own staff to get in front of the camera to talk about policy topics (see Joe Biden’s video), but he also mobilized several YouTube stars to engage their followers with policy-related topics.

The key is for CEOs to leverage other influential members of the organization to use video for driving impact and aligning employees behind the CEO’s strategies.

It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it — be authentic!

Obama “humanized” himself by participating in videos that show him in the day-to-day routines of his position. He essentially opened his office to the nation by producing the West Wing Week show — a weekly episode that informs the audience about what is happening in the White House and in the Obama family life.

This doesn’t mean CEOs should open their personal lives for the entire employee base to watch, but a few videos that show their personality and authenticity, outside of what employees hear in a quarterly call, can certainly help establish more trust in the CEO and help employees relate to him/her. Connect with people at a personal level to become authentic and likable. Show them what you are like and what your interests are. For example: brewing beer in the White House or using humor.

The U.S. is going to elect a new president this year; it will be interesting to see what digital strategies and video practices the new president will adopt to engage with the masses.

But for me it is equally interesting to see how the CEOs of America are increasingly leveraging video technologies to achieve their communication and engagement goals. It is very clear that nowadays you either engage at scale or quickly become irrelevant, as CEOs and other leaders in the business world can no longer afford communicating with their employees via traditional means (quarterly calls, emails and an occasional blog).

Instead, they need to put themselves out there by adopting a modern video-based communication strategy à la President Obama.

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