February 2013 Meeting Discussion: Using Video to Assist Your Users: Part 2

Presented by Michelle Sharron and Dean Atchison and reviewed by Riley VanDyke

For the chapter’s February 20 meeting, Salesforce’s Michelle Sharron and Dean Atchison jointly presented “From User Manuals to YouTube: Using Video to Assist Your Users.” The community’s interest in the presentation topic was evidenced by an SRO audience that may well have set a chapter attendance record.

Their separate yet intersecting responsibilities at Salesforce enabled Dean and Michelle to provide complementary perspectives on the management, development, and delivery of video-based user assistance. Dean, as Manager of Documentation and User Assistance, integrates and manages video as one component of Salesforce’s comprehensive body of user-assistance deliverables. Michelle’s work as Senior Video Specialist has acquired impressive insights into the process and technical challenges that must be addressed when designing, developing, and delivering video user assistance.

The presentation began with a concise summary of the benefits that well produced videos can deliver.

Many organizations begin thinking about video within the context of service and support. In this context, video’s benefits are framed primarily, if not solely, by their ability to do documentation-like things such as describe new product features or reduce support costs.

While videos can indeed improve adoption of new features and reduce support issues (cited was a decrease in logged support cases ranging from 13 to 40%), properly designed and produced videos can also deliver benefits to other parts of an organization. Marketing, sales, social media managers, and other organizations not typically thought of as consumers of user-assistance deliverables can become enthusiastic customers of videos produced primarily for user assistance purposes.

After a quick review of the benefits video can deliver, the presenters moved on to the significant investments in planning, staffing, process management, and (to a far lesser extent) tools required to reap video’s benefits.

When an organization commits to incorporating video into their user assistance repertoire, the conversation often centers on tools. The most important point in Dean and Michelle’s presentation was that while tools are one obviously important consideration, tools costs are trivial compared to the investment in planning and management required to make truly effective videos that one or more target audiences will want to watch.

That point is, not incidentally, an important one. For videos to be effective, they must be at least as carefully structured as traditional written documentation. They must then be carefully scripted and narrated: Michelle estimated that a two to four-minutes video requires approximately 40-hours to produce.

Developing a new video begins by identifying its topic. Here, one can collaborate with a customer-facing group such as support to identify a particular “pain point.” Identifying a pain point for which there is a clear and simple answer will not only help identify the video’s topic, it will also help identify the video’s target audience. With the pain point and target audience in hand, it then becomes easier to quantify the video’s learning objectives.

After defining the video’s topic and learning objectives, it’s time to develop the video’s structure and script. Because revising a video is not only time consuming but also likely to produce inconsistent results, it is essential to get the video’s script formally approved by any parts of the organization with a stake in the video’s contents.

After capturing the visual content, the video’s narration can be added. Here again, planning and process management are necessary to achieve consistent results. A sufficiently high quality microphone and some sort of acoustically “dead” environment are, practically speaking, necessities. Additionally, an audio editing program such as Audacity (freely downloadable from http://audacity.sourceforge.net/) enables one to record a video’s narration, configure its sounds levels, and edit portions of a narration.

Michelle also made the point that narration is part science, part art: One must learn through experience what to say (don’t read screen text verbatim), when to say it (pace the narration to complement and support on-screen activity), and how to say it (use the same voice throughout).

Finally, where and how the video is hosted will play a large part in determining how well the video serves its target audience’s needs. Hosting videos on a public site such as YouTube offers some advantages (searchability, shareability, viewership statistics), while bundling video with a product may be desirable for other reasons (version control, accessibility where the audience may not have public network access).

As noted, the presentation began by describing how Salesforce and others have proven that high-quality video can indeed complement and supplement other user-assistance media. But the presentation’s more important point, the point that recurred throughout all aspects of the presentation, is that to realize video’s benefits, the organization must carefully consider the larger management and process issues that far overshadow the relatively trivial considerations of what tools to use.

Riley VanDyke has worked as a contract and consulting technical writer since 1998.

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