[This article was originally published in the On Think Tanks 2017 Annual Review. ]
I had a professor in graduate school who was a particularly active member of the ‘grammar police’. Run on sentences, missing punctuation, turns of phrase that just did not sound right were all deadly sins that had a disproportionate impact on our grades. “If your presentation is sloppy,” his reasoning went, “people will assume that your ideas are sloppy too.”
As creating videos and providing a steady stream of multimedia content increasingly becomes a requirement for think tanks interested in influencing public opinion, my professor’s words are worth remembering. Strong stories told through well-crafted videos not only help think tanks get their policy ideas into the world, they also boost institutional credibility. Poorly produced videos, however, can have the opposite effect. At best, they can prompt your audience to move onto the next thing in their feed. At worst, they can affect your status as a reputable content source and tune out your ideas.
This presents a problem for think tanks who are interested in using video to disseminate their ideas and boost their standing, but do not have a Hollywood budget. There are three ways to get around this issue.
- Share high quality content produced by peer organisations.
How did Netflix become Netflix? The streaming service and production studio that is taking the movie industry by storm only moved into the original content space recently. For years, it built up a customer base (an audience) by becoming a reliable purveyor of high-quality content. Your think tank can do the same without spending a dime.Do some research into other organisations who are working on similar policy issues and find the ones who are putting out high-quality video content. Then share this content through your own social media channels, but offer a quick take or unique insight with your post. Do not worry that you have not produced the content yourself. By sharing it with a diverse group on a consistent basis, your organisation will become a place where users can turn for engaging and insightful content. This will help build up an online audience that trusts you as a curator of ideas, creating more opportunities to share your organisation’s own products online. A secondary benefit is that by sharing this content with your networks, you will be building up valuable online social capital to be cashed in when you have your own content to share.
- Use social media to share short and engaging content that highlights your organisation’s personality.
Through new online video platforms like Snapchat, Instagram stories and now Facebook’s own stories feature, videos filmed on smart phones have a growing role in building you up as an active member of the online video sharing community. Think tanks run into trouble when they try to use smart phones to create high-quality video content. However, when used well and appropriately, smart phones can serve as an ideal tool for creating short and intimate content that offers a behind the scenes look at your organisation, helping to build an institutional personality.This content should be unscripted and unedited with far less regard for camera angle and lighting. The only rule here is to be engaging, timely and consistent. And remember, the video style should follow the content: informal and honest. Stay away from stiff, formal interviews and try brief, casual conversations with a coworker as you walk together and discuss a pressing topic. Try to post short videos like this multiple times a week if not daily. To ease the burden, share the responsibility for creating these videos and make them just a few seconds long.
- Use your limited resources to create well produced, high-quality ‘signature’ content.
As you build your audience by following the steps above, it is important to invest in ‘signature’ content from time to time. This can anchor your video channel with high-quality, original content. Depending on your budget, you may only do this annually or every quarter. These videos should be tied to a high-priority policy initiative or report that your organisation is already heavily invested in. Take your time with this sort of content and remember: “if your presentation is sloppy, people will think your ideas are sloppy too.”
As the head of a video production company that works almost exclusively with think tanks and other non-profits, I have seen many organisations struggle. Given the costs, many organisations decide to take short cuts, producing low quality content that wastes resources and can have a negative impact on their credibility. By first refocusing on curating content, think tanks can build up their credibility along with their audience, saving their resources for when it makes sense to produce their own original content.