By Shae Geary — Senior Communications Strategist
Now that most of us are working virtually, video conferencing has become the new normal. But not all video conferencing software is created equal or suits every purpose. As communicators, we know that the vessel used to communicate is just as important as what we are communicating. In that spirit, we’ve taken a look at four video conferencing software solutions with our best advice for when and how to use them. Full disclosure: This is not a comprehensive list of video conferencing apps, rather those with which we’ve had some personal experience or knowledge.
FaceTime Takes the Place of the Office Drop In
Video conferencing software hardly gets easier than Apple’s FaceTime. Platforms like FaceTime are great for quick check-ins with co-workers or clients. However, they often have limited capabilities for anything other than chatting. In the case of FaceTime, all participants have to have an iPhone or Mac. Some people also find FaceTime’s group chat distracting since faces zoom in and out depending on who is speaking.
Alternatives: Alternatives do exist for Windows and Android users. Facebook Messenger has a video chat option and is easy to use with people in your follower network. Google’s Duo works across Android and iOS devices and allows you to chat with up to 12 people. Subscribers to Slack also have the option of video chats.
GoToMeeting is Ideal for Team Meetings and Smaller Group Presentations of 250 or Fewer
The team at (W)right On Communications has been using GoToMeeting video conferencing software on a fairly consistent basis. This is a paid platform, with a free 14-day trial, and has proven easy for our weekly company-wide team meetings and client partner meetings. Users have access to features such as screen share, text messaging with other participants and the option to highlight just the speaker on screen.
One feature especially useful is the choice of computer audio or audio via a dial-in phone conference line. In a household where several of us are using Wi-Fi bandwidth at the same time, the dial-in conference line allows you to continue to hear the conversation even when video may pause due to slow connection time. Another helpful feature is the personal join screen prompt. This provides you with the opportunity to adjust camera angle and background clutter before joining the call.
Alternatives: Skype has many of the same functionalities and is free for up to 50 people to meet and collaborate. Microsoft Teams, which has video conference capabilities with Skype integration, is another alternative for those who use the Microsoft Office suite of software. G Suite users have free access to Google Meet, which supports multiple users and doesn’t require separate software installation.
Zoom Supports Large Group Presentations and Gatherings
Zoom has quickly emerged as the most popular video conferencing software. Quick growth has not come without controversy including security concerns (hello Zoombombing!) and allegations of sharing private user data with Facebook. Challenges aside, basic Zoom features can be used free of charge with paid plans offering enhanced video conferencing features.
While Zoom can be used for just about any purpose and has all the functions that you’d expect—shared screen, appointment setting and ability to invite people to chat on the fly—it has quickly become a standout for meetings and presentations to larger audiences. The video conferencing software offers a number of handy features for larger group conferences. Examples include non-verbal feedback (such as hand raising), screen annotating for both presenter and viewers and ability to record a session direct to your computer. I particularly like the virtual background option, so people don’t have to see that you are actually calling in from your bedroom!
For instance, check out these beautiful vineyard backgrounds from our client partner, Visit Napa Valley.
Invite Your Co-Workers to Happy Hour with Houseparty
Let’s be honest, all work and no play are no fun. When it’s time to just socialize with your team, Houseparty is where it’s at. This video conferencing app alerts you when friends are “in the house” and allows users to jump in and out of chats as desired. There are also some fun features like games, including Heads Up!, Quick Draw and trivia, so you’ll feel like you are at the local pub for happy hour!
By Licia Walsworth — Communications Strategist
How businesses can adapt via the virtual world
Individuals and businesses alike are experiencing a profound shift in reality, with life feeling more and more like the plot of a novel or movie. Organizations have seen their entire workforces confined to their homes. Schools and universities stand vacant. Small business owners have no customers coming through their doors. Friends, colleagues, teammates, and extended family members suddenly find themselves isolated from one another.
But a remarkable thing happens when people are faced with a challenge: They become innovators, problem solvers, and out-of-the-box thinkers.
Physical Distancing – Not Social Distancing
Technology makes it possible to keep the economy moving. It enables us to remain connected in ways that would not have been conceivable just a decade ago. In a world where coworkers had typically been spending more time with one another on a weekly basis than with their own families, the virtual world is now providing people with a unique opportunity for valuable human interaction — on a personal level, as well as on a professional level. Companies are adapting to virtual team meetings and telecommuting on a grand scale. If carried out correctly, these shifts can result in a greater sense of engagement and self-worth on the part of employees.
Connecting online actually does more than keeping us connected. It is strengthening connections by creating more personal or intimate interactions than coworkers could ever have had before. On a video conference call, for instance, coworkers might glimpse one another’s kids, pets, and home-based work spaces. This levels the playing field in a new way; it makes everyone human and more than just a title or job description. This increases the emotional investment coworkers, managers and direct reports have in each other. The old adage stands true: You work harder for those you care about and those who you know care about you.
That quick knock on the door to ask a question or to chat briefly has been replaced by such platforms as Microsoft Teams or Slack. The ability to quickly bounce ideas back and forth without multiple emails or an extended meeting makes for more efficient communication and a valuable savings on time.
Business-to-client interactions have seen a dramatic change, too. Marketing messages are more mindful, taking on a human element over sales-driven campaigns, as businesses of all kinds recognize that everyone is living in a new state of reality. Communicating to your target audience may mean pulling back from your business-as-usual marketing, but it does not mean sacrificing your brand. As client and customer priorities change amid crisis, companies must take the time to coach them through this next phase — whether that means making sure a client’s business keeps running or reassuring a customer that you will be there for them through the thick and thin. Interactions in this new reality matter; relationships strengthened in a time of need will continue to prosper moving forward.
From Karate to Cake-Making
Communicating in new ways is forcing innovation everywhere. Karate instructors are using Zoom to hold virtual classes. Schoolteachers and principals are using Twitter to stream book read-alouds or to recite the Pledge of Allegiance first thing in the morning. Grandparents are sharing cake-baking lessons with their grandchildren via Google Duo. Maintaining that level of interaction with students, loved ones, and your community during this time is crucial.
Business owners at all levels can find similar ways of engaging their customer base, strengthening connections in the virtual world, in order to continue moving their work forward and ensure they remain financially stable. That does not mean that you need to push your products or take advantage of your customers during a difficult time; it means staying true to your brand and what you can do for your audience. Consider distance learning education companies that are sharing strategies and tools for free not only with teachers, but also with parents who now find themselves homeschooling. Airlines and hotels that are waiving change and cancellation fees for travelers. Keep your loyal customers and be an example of goodwill during a time of crisis.
This is the time for strengthening connections to push a heightened sense of community and trust, to serve as a resource to your clients, and be an example in the virtual age to your team.
When I learned to fly, my instructor beat into my head a simple phrase: “Aviate. Navigate. Communicate.” The idea is simple but powerful. First, fly the airplane. Then, figure out where you’re going. Last, tell someone.
It speaks to priorities.
There’s little sense in figuring out how you’ll get from A to B if you haven’t corrected the nosedive that’s about to render your flight obsolete. And once the plane is stable, there’s little point chewing up valuable mic time until you know where you’ll next point the plane to conclude the flight safely. Pilots have unfortunately been so distracted with their heads deep in a map or talking with controllers that they failed to notice the fuel gauge or mismatched engine readings at the root of their problem.
In the years since my training, I’ve realized this lesson applies to so many other areas of our lives. In this unprecedented time of a worldwide pandemic, it’s easy to get caught up in talking about the drama without realizing we’re not yet actually taking the priority actions. Case in point, our President bungling his communications while not yet role modeling the avoidance of handshakes let alone practicing social distancing. Or our Vice President prioritizing the lavishing of praise on our President versus using all of his precious communication time with an audience of millions to relay information people actually need.
In times of crisis, there can be a tendency to subordinate communications in favor of less important things. But other than remembering to actually fly the plane and figure out where you’re going, communication is the third most important thing to do! Aviate. Navigate. Communicate.
In business, this means quickly stabilizing things to a new but temporary operational norm and planning next steps to emerge as strongly as possible once things play out. By definition, both need solid communications to achieve. And solid communication also means, for example, adapting marketing messages now to avoid tone deaf messages because they were programmed three months ago; acknowledging fears and anxiety; and contributing helpful information into the national discourse when possible. It also isn’t the time to attempt distracting news desks with an unrelated PR hook for brand mentions that don’t help. In other words, now is not the time for newsjacking the coronavirus.
With operations and planning in hand, communication itself then becomes the next most important focus. Those organizations that move more quickly than others through the grief stages will emerge stronger than those organizations that act like a deer in headlights.
While the current pandemic is an unprecedented threat, and events are playing out with startling speed to which we’re simply not accustomed, it isn’t hyperbole that we’ll get through this. Unprecedented action is being taken the world over and ‘this too shall pass’.
At (W)right On, we’re assisting our client partners with their temporary operational adjustments and plans development. Communication isn’t slowing, it’s being redirected to support the aviate and navigate priorities. But recognizing that as inevitably as the wave is coming it will recede, and that post-pandemic attention for marketing messages will be a scarce resource, some are already beginning to explore more creative communications to take advantage of competitive opportunities to emerge. With solid aviation and navigation in place, our client partners are already planning to increase marketing communication in the weeks and months ahead to ensure that, as the wave passes, they are poised to protect and increase their market position. Like those that wait to deal with operations and navigation, organizations that unduly subordinate or arbitrarily delay marketing communications won’t do as well.
Pundits are hoping for a slow smolder in the USA with a peak to come in the months ahead after which life will begin returning to a new normal. In the marketing communications world, this timing is relatively imminent. It heightens the importance of not only embracing communications now to effectively aviate and navigate, but embracing communications to, well, communicate.
At (W)right On, we’re solidly behind our client partners and team members to move through this together, and following the guidance of experts and community leaders to ensure we help remain part of the solution. Comment below and/or let us know how you’re adapting your communications to rise to the occasion called of all of us, and to rise to the opportunities that will inevitably emerge as the wave passes.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: As CEO and Managing Partner, Grant provides oversight and senior-level communications and business counsel for the agency’s client partners while also overseeing agency management and administration. Grant Wright has more than 30 years of senior management experience including external affairs and business development leadership roles for major American and Canadian corporations and their subsidiaries. With extensive skills in all aspects of communications including media, regulatory, governmental, community outreach and labor relations; he has also led major infrastructure project development, M&A due diligence and implementation management, marketing and brand development, strategic planning and business plan development for small through Fortune 500 companies.
By Julie Wright —President
The future of public relations and journalism are two sides of the same coin, and both are experiencing powerful technological advances that are reshaping how the media and professional communicators tell and distribute stories. While these changes have disrupted old business models and best practices, they’ve also benefited people by making it easier to access and consume the news and content they want, whenever and wherever they want.
The next wave of innovation is immersive storytelling and it’s poised to take content producers and consumers well beyond the two-dimensional experience of today’s news reports or public relations’ white papers, case studies, press releases and b-roll.
What Does the Future Look Like for Journalism?
There are already more mobile phones on the planet than toothbrushes or working toilets. USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism Associate Professor Robert Hernandez shared this insight to provide context during his opening remarks April 28 to the Society of Professional Journalists’ 2018 regional conference hosted by the Greater Los Angeles SPJ chapter.
The annual conference attracted hundreds of journalists from across the southwest to the Universal City Hilton, and (W)right On Communications was proud to sponsor Hernandez’s presentation, “What Does the Future Look Like for Journalism?”
Well regarded in media circles as an academic and as a veteran of web journalism, Hernandez urged journalists to become early adopters of new technologies and embrace it for storytelling. It’s a message that holds true for PR pros, content marketers and brand journalists concerned about the future of public relations.
Hernandez pointed out that TV took 38 years and radio 14 years to reach 50 million users but the web took only four, the iPod three and Facebook two to reach the same milestone. Technology is changing how we communicate and doing so at a breakneck pace.
On May 1, Facebook announced that it is introducing augmented reality into its Messenger platform. Soon, Facebook advertisers will be able to provide filters in Messenger that potential customers can apply to experience their product—like a new lip color, furniture or fashion—before buying.
On April 30, NBCUniversal and Google announced that they’ll be partnering to produce original virtual reality content for the NBC, Bravo and Syfy networks including NBC’s Saturday Night Live and Bravo’s Vanderpump Rules, which already has some 360 video available on YouTube. Will virtual reality content for NBC News be close behind?
My guess is that Hernandez would hope so. He urged news media to jump on these new technologies—including immersive 360-degree video, augmented reality and virtual reality platforms—and begin using them as storytelling platforms.
“If you think this is the final form, you’re fooling yourself,” said Hernandez of today’s mobile phones, mobile cameras and social media platforms.
The Future of Public Relations is Tied to New Storytelling Tech Too
Public relations professionals—particularly content marketers—should also be experimenting with these platforms and preparing for the near future of public relations where immersive storytelling becomes mainstream. We have the opportunity to adopt and adapt immersive platforms to communicate not just key messages but key experiences. Imagine how much more persuasive such tools would be in motivating a belief or behavior from your target audience.
And imagine how media outlets would appreciate content like 360 video or interactive augmented reality graphics to support a press announcement or event coverage.
With so much content competing to engage consumers and B2B customers today, it only makes sense that communicators adopt the most engaging and breakthrough new technologies to raise their content and messages above the din.
As Hernandez noted, for cash-strapped newsrooms, this technology doesn’t have to be expensive. He shared a VR tip sheet that includes apps to convert your mobile phone to a virtual reality recording device, several 360 video cameras and VR headsets at varying price points.
Hernandez heads up a VR journalism program at the Annenberg School, creatively named JOVRNALISM. He and his students have produced 360 video reports from places like Friendship Park at the border between San Diego and Tijuana and Korea’s demilitarized zone.
In this video, you can use your tablet or smart phone screen to explore a 360-degree view of the DMZ and listen while South Korea’s loudspeakers blast Lionel Ritchie’s “Hello” across the border.
Media outlets on the forefront of augmented reality include The New York Times. Hernandez cited their AR piece on David Bowie, which documents his costumes and style through the ages. Open The New York Times mobile app or navigate to their mobile website and search “augmented reality” on your iPhone or Android device to see and experience and be inspired by these incredible AR features.
Hernandez described AR as a “new type of journalism.” Here’s how The New York Times described it in their AR guide for readers:
“If photography freed journalists to visually capture important moments, and video allowed us to record sight, sound and motion, then our augmented reality feature goes a step further, making flat images three-dimensional. AR brings our report to you in a way that makes it more immediate than ever before. Imagine if journalists applied this technology to stories on the homeless and other topics where immersive technology can bring an experience to life.”
– Your Guide to Augmented Reality in The Times
Imagine what content marketers can do when they deliver an immersive case study experience for their targets rather than another six-page white paper.
It’s not difficult to see how immersive storytelling could more effectively drive behavior change or swell a nonprofits’ donor rolls with an immersive public service campaign. Imagine using virtual reality to put your target audience in the passenger seat next to a distracted or drunk driver, in a homeless shelter, in an animal shelter or in a wilderness refuge being threatened by deforestation or climate change.
With augmented reality, imagine that for every donation of $100 to a wildlife cause, an app creates a 360 video of you surrounded by elephants at a watering hole or sitting with a panda bear in a tree and gives you the option to share it on your social networks. On the other end of the spectrum, picture an immersive corporate annual report that takes shareholders into the boardroom, onto the factory floor and into the field.
A new frontier is opening up that incorporates sensors with immersive technologies, says Hernandez. He has tried on a virtual glove that allows you to feel things in a 3D world—from a spider running across your hand to a cup of hot coffee. While this technology is still in the lab, it’s what’s coming next.
Hernandez didn’t omit the ethical questions that these immersive storytelling technologies prompt. In the immediate future, these technologies will be used to manipulate reality for “fake news” and misinformation where virtual reality cannot be distinguished from truth or actual reality. This is a scary downside, given how susceptible to fake news and conspiracy theories the public has shown itself to be.
Just like data privacy, cybersecurity breaches and social media bots; manipulation of virtual reality is another threat that communicators, journalists and society will need to navigate, but the sooner we adopt and become proficient in these technologies, the sooner we can put them to use for better storytelling experiences and the future of public relations and journalism.
“Content is king. This is still holding true. It doesn’t matter what technology we use. It’s how we use it to tell stories. It’s your attitude as a journalist and how you view that technology that determines the future of journalism.”
– Robert Hernandez, USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism
If your attitude as a communicator is one of curiosity and comfort with change (and I hope it is!), then immersive storytelling technologies should excite you about the future of public relations and the new frontiers they will open for our craft.
By Julie Wright —President
If you’re a communicator today, that means you’re also an information junkie. What choice is there? If you don’t keep an eye on social media algorithm changes, newsroom shuffles and the next big thing, your next campaign could miss its mark.
Podcasts can make it a lot easier for PR professionals to keep up. While you’re driving, commuting or walking the dog, here are five fascinating podcasts for PR pros that you can queue up in your favorite podcast app to stay ahead of the curve or at least keep pace with the shifting media and digital landscape.
1. HowSound: The Backstory to Great Radio Storytelling
Why is HowSound worth a listen for PR pros? Because it’s all about great storytelling, and all great PR campaigns must start with a story worth telling and well told. HowSound digs into the stories that leave you parked in your garage waiting for their conclusion. It also shares the choices radio reporters and podcasters make to more deeply engage the listener. In short, it’s an opportunity to hone your own craft as a storyteller.
Tune in to episodes like “The Value of a Sympathetic Character,” which goes behind the scenes on the popular Heaven’s Gate podcast. Or “Don’t Write. Tell” which explains how a Planet Money reporter made a story on flood insurance memorable.
2. Social Media Marketing Podcast
Each episode of the Social Media Marketing podcast is a deep dive into a topic related to—you guessed it—social media marketing and explored through host Michael Stelzner’s interviews with experts. The information is always up to the minute and insightful. As a podcast for PR pros, it will help you make the most of the social and digital tools available for your storytelling. Stelzner, of Social Media Examiner, and his guests are generous with their knowledge. I really enjoyed listening to Sue B. Zimmerman’s interview last month on “Instagram Stories: How Business Can Make the Most of Stories.”
3. How I Communicated That from PRSA
I’ve only listened to the first two episodes of this podcast for PR pros that launched on the PRSA Member app in February, but I have high hopes for it. Its public debut on the PRSA website is expected in April. The first episode featured career advancement insights from a recruiter and the March episode featured a communications leader from the prestigious Cleveland Clinic on the changing role and expectations of her department. April’s episode features a Chipotle executive speaking on reputation management. How I Communicated That promises listeners “real world experiences that help communications professionals hone their skills amidst a rapidly changing environment.”
4. 2Bobs: Conversations on the Art of Creative Entrepreneurship
David C. Baker and Blair Enns are the only voices you’ll hear in the 2Bobs podcast, but for PR and other creative agency principals, CAUTION! 2Bobs can become habit forming. Baker and Enns mine their experiences as agency consultants and conduct incredibly open, frank conversations about the agency business. Take, for instance, this episode titled “How to Drive Your Employees Bat Sh*t Crazy.” (I, of course, have never done that to any of my employees, at least never more than one a week.)
5. Honorable Mentions
I’ve got so many favorite podcasts that my fifth pick is a bit of a cheat because I’ve turned it into a grab bag of favorites that are loosely connected to communications, media and PR specifically. However, here’s my take: as I stated off the top, to be a communicator today means being an information junkie, and that often means a lot of information is competing for your attention in a swipe-left, 280-character world. So, these podcasts are an opportunity to immerse yourself in a topic or a story as opposed to your constant multitasking. Think of these as a meditation or the equivalent of a Sunday Times long read.
Let’s start with Criminal with host Phoebe Judge. It rarely disappoints. The recent episode, “Cold Case,” I found mildly interesting until around the 24th minute at which point I was hooked for the last 10. Check it out if you enjoy a little true crime or mystery. Phoebe’s voice is the crème brulee of podcasting. Listen and you’ll understand.
The podcast Reveal which is a co-production between PRX and the Center for Investigative Reporting is always engrossing. Their episode on Silicon Valley and diversity creatively tackled the subject of gender and race in tech company leadership ranks. They did it by assembling a choir and contrasting a chorus that proportionately represented each gender and demographic. So, you could hear the small number of female voices/CEOs counterpointed against the large male chorus/CEOs or the near solo-sounding voices of African-American singers/CEOs contrasted with growing choruses representing Asian, Hispanic and white singers/CEOs. I suppose you have to hear it to appreciate its genius.
But tune in if just to listen to corporate spokespeople trying their best to cope with uncomfortable questions about issues like diversity, pay equity among female engineers at Google or Tesla’s safety record in its plant.
Hidden Brain with Shankar Vedantam uses science and storytelling to reveal the unconscious patterns that drive human behavior, choices and relationships. It’s always thought-provoking and often applies to the art and science of strategic communications.
I’ll save some of my other favorites for a future blog post. But if you’re not already listening to these podcasts for PR pros, you’re missing out and quite possibly falling behind! Let me know what podcasts you think we’re missing! Shoot me a note on Twitter at @juliewright.