Category Archives: Marketing

PUFF: My guide to giving a successful talk

microphone

I’ve spent a lot of time around stages. Some of it on them; I’ve performed a few hundred shows as a musician and given professional talks a dozen or so times. But I’ve also selected and coached speakers for 5 conferences over the last 10 years. And I’ve learned a few things. Key among them is this:

smart person ≠ great speaker

Not by default, at least. But a lot of times we stick smart people on stage and expect them to blow minds and deliver great results. Which brings us to our second, perhaps more surprising point:

great speaker ≠ effective teacher

If the goal of the event is to entertain and wow people, then being a great speaker will work out fine for you. But if the goal of the event is to teach people things, then you need to be an effective teacher as well as a great speaker.

The number one complaint I’ve seen about conferences (aside from temperature) is that there weren’t enough practical talks. People will come back and buy tickets again (or buy your book, if you’re the speaker) if you teach them something. Simply wow-ing them probably isn’t enough.

Ideally, you leave people wowed, their minds expanded, and their skills improved.


 

Based on my speaking experiences and coaching around a hundred speakers, I’ve developed the following system for developing a great talk.

PUFF:

Practiced

Unflappable

Framed

Focused

We’re going to go through it backwards. (Why? Because FFUP is not nearly as good an acronym).

Focused

Focusing a camera

Have a Thesis

So you want to do a talk about marketing. Are you Gary Vaynerchuk? Or Jay Baer? No? Then why would people care to listen to your talk on marketing? Why wouldn’t they just go to a conference where Gary or Jay are speaking? Or go online and watch a talk from one of the experts?

The key to a great talk is focus. You should have a thesis. Share something that hasn’t been shared before. Share something unique. Share something personal. Share something that will catch the eye.

Look at the titles of some of the talks I’ve done:

“Everyone’s Customers Are Wrong and Their Data Is Lying”

“Community Management ROI in 20 Minutes”

“Critical Issue Escalation: Our Process”

“Cultivating Your Community Garden”

These aren’t generic. They’re focused, sometimes surprising, and generally clear about what they’re going to teach you. I’m not Gary Vaynerchuk, so I can’t just go up on stage and wax on “community”. I have to focus.

So what are you passionate about? What do you uniquely know? What topic have you not seen represented at other conferences? These questions will help you find your focus. Nobody comes to a conference for a 101 “intro to” talk – they can find those resources online. They come for your unique, well-delivered perspective.

Drop Everything Extraneous

Inevitably, you’ll be collecting thoughts and come across a great story or lesson or idea that is extraneous to your thesis. Drop it. Period.

The problem with this information is that it’s not a bonus feature. It’s a distraction. It makes people wonder how it relates to the thesis or if they’re missing something or if you are missing something. It’s not worth including.

Personally, I like to write down everything I know related to my thesis in very simple form and then cut out the things that don’t seem to fit. Recently I did this with sticky notes and it gave me an even more visual way to keep things focused.

Have Your Audience in Mind

It doesn’t matter how amazing your talk is if it isn’t helping your audience. What do you know about them? What can the event organizer tell you? What might they already know? What do they want to know? Ask all these questions as you figure out where to put your focus.

Framed

chalkboard in frame

Repeatability

A great talk isn’t worth anything if the audience can’t remember and repeat it. You are trying to make them come away feeling smarter. Your goal should be to communicate your thesis so clearly that the audience can explain it to their mom. 

This is very different from simply communicating the concept – this is about framing in a way that people can understand, repeat, and apply.

Framing Tools

Framing tools are key here; it’s hard for most of us to absorb a bunch of words. Books have chapters, titles, paragraphs, emphasis, etc so that they’re more absorbable. For your presentation, you’ll want to heavily uses frames like charts, images, acronyms (PUFF, anyone?), and the like.

Some of my favorite framing devices I encountered during my time at CMX:

The SPACE Model: Support Product Acquisition Content Engagement
SPACE is both a memorable acronym but also a descriptive one that allows for visuals to enhance your memory of it.
The CMX Community Engagement Cycle
The Community Engagement Cycle is something you can easily sketch on a piece of paper, making it an invaluable tool to walk away from a workshop with. Plus the icons help you immediately understand each phase.
The Community Commitment Curve
The Commitment Curve isn’t so much revolutionary as a great way to visualize something that you may already roughly understand. I’ve landed consulting gigs almost purely on showing them this – it makes the concept of community concrete.

 

Shiramyd
My friend Shira Levine’s “Shiramyd” is super-goofy, but you ain’t gonna forget it.
The Community Strategy Canvas
The canvas here is probably the weakest image in this batch; it doesn’t have an acronym or a visual analogy. But it’s still more useful than a bunch of bullet points – it gives shape to a concept.

Although some framing tools can be more effective than others, any sort of frame will be better than simply explaining the concept.

Exercises

The best way to ensure your audience is actually retaining the knowledge you’re sharing is by leading exercises. This might not always be completely possible in a conference setting, but there are a lot of ways you can handle this (in order of increasing complexity);

  • Asking the audience to repeat a concept you shared (“So, what is PUFF again?”)
  • Asking an audience member to answer a question using what you just taught them (“Choosing your thesis is part of which section of PUFF?”)
  • Asking the audience for examples (“What are some examples of framing devices you’ve seen used in a talk?”)
  • Splitting the audience into groups and having them do the first step of the lesson you’re teaching them (“Take this concept and develop a frame for it”)

It’s important for these sort of projects that you don’t try to have them complete every step of your program/concept – give them an initial step that helps them understand and feel confident about the subject.

Unflappable

confident dog

Physically Prepared

Presenting can be nerve-wracking. I’ve been on stage many, many times and I can still get nervous. The first step to avoiding this is preparing your body.

One way to do this is develop a ritual that helps you feel more confident. For some people this might be blasting a Beyoncé song. For others it might be doing some jumping jacks. For others it might be deep breaths.

That said, it’s important to remember that stress is actually good for you. It’s your body preparing for action, so don’t stress out when you feel your heart rate increase. It’ll pass once you’re in the groove, so just thank your body and let the adrenaline flow.

Mentally Prepared

Unflappable doesn’t mean inflexible. So you need to be prepared for curveballs, because they will come. And there’s nothing worse than delivering a great talk and then getting skewered in the Q&A. (It’s definitely happened to me!)

Do your presentation for coworkers. Do it for friends. Do it for your mom. Then see what questions they have. You have the Curse of Knowledge. They don’t know what you know, so they’ll undoubtably show you where the gaps in your presentation are or what questions you need to be prepared to answer during Q&A.

Still nervous? Picture the experience. The most nerve-wracking thing is something unexpected, so look at pictures of the stage, find out where the screen is going to be, find out if there’s a slide remote (and get one if they don’t have one) – eliminate all the unknowns you can.

Starting Strong

All the prep in the world won’t help if you start your presentation badly. So prepare yourself for a strong start.

The way you present yourself before you share any information will color how people accept that information. You don’t want to wander on to the stage, staring at the ground, loudly clearing your throat and shuffling through messy handheld notes, and then dive into your presentation without saying hello.

Be confident, whatever that means to you. It might be impossible for you to bound onstage with smiles and handshakes like some speakers. If that’s not you, don’t do it. I like to throw out a goofy joke (something self-deprecating or ridiculous). For you, maybe it’s actually nervous excitement – channeling this into an intentional style is better than awkwardly fighting it. I love Liz Milch’s fun, goofy intro in this CMX Summit talk.

Context is crucial. You need to ensure that your audience understands exactly what it is you’re going to be teaching them. Otherwise, the experience will be like wandering into a biology class in college halfway into the lecture: confusing and pointless.

Stick with that old gem: tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them. Just like in advertising, the more you repeat, the more likely they’ll remember it.

Set the stage for why people should be listening to you. This doesn’t mean 5 minutes of your bio (please don’t do that), but means touching on your relevant experience and perspective. That latter point is important. Unless you have a really impressive resume, you need to convince them that you are going to be relevant to speak about this topic. So that might be “I’ve been fascinated by this topic and taking notes on it for years” or “I had this special opportunity to discover this unique take”.

You can also drop examples from your work into the lessons you’re teaching, further emphasizing that you actually know this stuff and aren’t making it up.

Lastly, don’t let this section scare you! Screw-ups are ok, and they happen to everyone. Most speakers are nervous. It’s how you handle nervousness, or errors, or unexpected curveballs. If you screw up, move on very quickly or laugh at yourself. Don’t apologize – you’re just making an awkward moment more awkward. If you’re not super-confident onstage, don’t try to overdo it – just make your flaws an endearing part of your presentation. If something breaks, don’t complain about it or point it out, just roll with it.

Practiced

swimmer in a lake

Actual Practice

“Duh, Evan. Of course I need to practice.”

Sure, but there’s practice and then there’s actual practice. Mouthing your talk while flipping through slides on the train is not actual practice.

Instead, you should stand up, speak loudly, hide your speaker notes, and practice as if you were on stage. Then record video of it, and watch it. Then do it again. Yep, it’s gonna be painful.

When you actually practice you’ll suddenly realize sections you added are way too wordy. You’ll realize you don’t know what to do with your hands. Or that you’re staring at the floor. Or that your talk is 10 minutes longer or shorter than it needs to be!

Memorize Beats, Not Lines

One of my favorite speaking tips comes from The Moth. It’s pretty simple: if you memorize (or worse yet, read) lines on stage, you’ll have very little energy and won’t connect with the audience. In a professional setting, it also comes across as a lack of knowledge about the subject. (If you know it, why do you have to memorize the exact lines or read off a piece of paper?) Instead, memorize the beats.

This has an added advantage if you run into any issues. If technical issues crop up, you can continue without your slides. If something unexpected happens (someone drops something loud in the back of the room, you drop the mic, etc), you don’t have to remember exactly what line you were on.

I have a painful, distinct memory of a talk a number of years ago where the presentation computer kept auto-advancing my slides. In fact, you can watch it. I am incredibly awkward until, finally, they just turn off the slides. And then? Suddenly, I’m confident and knowledgable. I had memorized the beats…I was just relying too much on the slides. Your slides should supplement the beats that you know by heart.


 

Most people think they can’t speak professionally. They have a lot of arguments: I’m not as knowledgable as those people on stage, I’m not as charismatic, I’m not experienced in teaching, I don’t have fancy graphs, etc.

This is all surmountable.

You have some unique thesis that nobody else can present as well as you.

You have your own style you can embrace and polish.

You can frame your learnings with something as simple as an acronym.

You can become a great presenter. You just have to work hard, believe in yourself, and PUFF.

 

You’re so vain, you probably think this (support) is about (acquisition)

“When your [customer support] representatives start seeing themselves as marketing staff instead of troubleshooters, they can turn questions and problems into opportunities. They can listen to what the customer wants or needs and:

1) Educate customers about your company

2) Upsell your products

3) Build buzz for upcoming product releases”

From Turning Support into Marketing


I promise you if my support team focused on this, our customers would hate us.

I agree with the premise that support should not just be damage control. I agree that the people on the front lines talking to customers are extremely valuable to the company. I even agree that the occasional upsell can make sense (Warby Parker’s support team just upsold me thinner lenses the other day – after doing an amazing job solving my issues.)

"Notice - prices subject to change according to customer's attitude"But putting the support team under sales or marketing is dumb. Those departments are focused on acquiring customers. While some support work can contribute to acquisition & sales, the goal of support should always be on retaining customers. (And if you don’t think that’s valuable, read Jamie Quint’s post on how it can be MORE valuable than acquisition.)

I’m not trash-talking Sales or Marketing – I’m just saying support goals don’t generally fit into their paradigm. It’d be like moving Sales under Engineering. Does the Sales team have value to the Engineering team? Sure: they can provide customer feedback and find beta testers. Does that mean they should work under Engineering and focus on those tasks? Of course not!

It’s distressing to me how acquisition-minded the tech industry continues to be, despite the waning effectiveness of acquisition channels (see Richard White’s UserConf keynote for a great overview of all of this). Retention is hugely important, and the sooner companies realize this and build departments and executive roles around it – encompassing support and community – the sooner they’ll be poised to survive beyond their early success and buzz.


Full Disclosure: I previously worked for UserVoice, a Desk competitor. I’ve got nothing against Desk though…they were always nice to us. 🙂

Ryanair is failing, and I couldn’t be happier

 Ryanair CEOThe problem with the balance between marketing and caring for customers is that marketing is often immediate. You can put an ad out and immediately see people visiting and signing up and spending money. You put effort into customer service, community building, or just basic user experience and you don’t see an immediate result. But us community professionals swear that you will see a long-term benefit.

That’s why I’m so pleased to note that Ryanair is seeing its worst annual revenues in five years. I’ve been saying for years that Ryanair’s tactics were going to explode in their face, but people kept saying “they’re selling tickets, so apparently is not an issue”. To me, this is fantastic validation that caring for your customers does make a difference and treating them badly does affect the bottom line.

Finally, a marketer realizes social media is not marketing

“We marketers are awesome at talking about ourselves.

In fact, our penchant for this may be the single most compelling reason that marketing should not own the social channels. We are TOO good at promoting and selling and social is not for direct selling, really.”

From Social Media Explorer

I cannot tell you how much it excites me to see marketers saying this. Finally, they are realizing that the immense value of social media is very hard to tap if you abuse it…and marketers are not built to focus on engaging instead of selling.

I disagree with her assessment that community managers are marketers (no, you’re probably interacting with social media marketers who really wanted the title of community manager). But I think she’s getting at the exact right thing: the department that is focused on making customers happy (in my opinion, this is the Community Department) should be running social.

The new Gmail tabs are exactly why community-building is important

handshakeAs someone who sends email newsletters for many projects, including to tens of thousands of UserVoice customers, I was as scared as anyone that the new Gmail tabs were going to hurt my open rates. I even sent a message to one of my lists encouraging them to set my newsletter to show up in their “Primary” tab.

As someone who enjoys innovation and largely appreciates Google’s work, I decided to give the tabs a try myself. As much as the email marketer in me hates to admit it, I like them. Instead of a huge pile of mail I see the important stuff first. If I’m feeling social I can scope out the social banter, and if I choose to I can scope out “Promotions”.

Here’s what I was surprised by: I’m actually checking “Promotions” pretty often.

Here’s why: these new tabs display an “x new” message when you get new messages.

Gmail tabs notifications

This highly encourages you to scope out what’s going on in each tab. And because it’s not an aggregate (like the intimidating “15,000 Unread Emails” message), it never feels like a chore. Which means I’m scoping out “Promotions” regularly.

What I’m not doing is opening these promotions unless I think they’re worthwhile…which really isn’t any different than life before Gmail tabs.

Which, as many things do, brings me to community. If Gmail tabs aren’t really affecting my exposure to these promotional emails, then it boils down to the quality of these emails and my emotional connection to the sender. I usually open emails from concert promotion companies because I love live music and they provide a concise collection of shows for me. I will continue to open emails from Jason Calacanis and The LittleBigFund because they’ve established an emotional connection with me.

Once again and as always, community and emotional connection trump all. A slight speedbump isn’t going to get in the way of someone and the thing they love. But if they don’t love the thing you’re making, don’t be surprised if they disappear. And don’t blame it on Gmail.


Handshake photo courtesy of Aidan Jones.

Who cares about the homeless? I just want to read the funny pages.

homeless man in trenchcoat quietly reading a newspaperDon’t give me that look. Clearly you don’t care about the homeless, because you don’t buy Street Spirit.

Street Spirit is an independent Bay Area “publication of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) that reports extensively on homelessness, poverty, economic inequality, welfare issues, human rights issues and the struggle for social justice”. AFSC generously pays for this publication to be printed and then hands it out to homeless people to sell to support themselves. It’s a great idea, and I want to be clear that this post is not a criticism of AFSC’s goals – it’s an admirable organization, and I only want it to succeed.

The problem: people are not especially altruistic.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is an essential concept for anyone dealing with humans as part of their job. It’s quite simple: we have different levels of needs, and it’s hard to focus on the higher levels (example: creativity) when we don’t have the lower levels taken care of (example: breathing).

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs pyramid, from bottom to top: physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem, self-actualization
Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Giving a homeless person money is arguably part of the “Esteem” level. While one might suggest that it’s self-actualization, I posit that most people like to advertise when they are donating to someone. While some morality is involved, a great deal of our motivation is gaining respect of others.

However, more important to humans than Esteem is Safety. This doesn’t just mean physical safety – it also includes financial security. And dealing with the homeless exposes our brains to the possibility that we too could, potentially, end up with no money and no home.

So the Safety requirement of our brain is fighting with the Esteem part of our brain…and most of the time, we just look down and walk by that homeless guy with the Street Spirit.

Part of the problem with Street Spirit currently is that it’s full of political articles about the homeless. While, again, it’s admirable that the AFSC wants to help inform us, this is again triggering the Safety-fearing part of our brain. Not only do we have to confront the potentiality of homelessness when buying Street Spirit, but we also have to read about it? No thanks. 99% of people I know who buy Street Spirit don’t ever read any of it.

The solution: make this a product that we want to buy. Appeal to both our need to seem like a good person AND our personal desire for entertainment.

Make Street Spirit an all-comics newspaper and the homeless will make a lot more money.

man smiling while reading the funny pagesWe all love comics. Pretend all you want, but anyone who reads a paper is just waiting until they have read enough of the real content to feel justified in reading the funny pages. The opportunity here is this: nobody reads newspapers anymore, but they still want to read the funnies.

Seriously. Find some independent comic strip artists (or see if you can’t get some big-name webcomic artists to contribute) and try this just once. I guarantee you’ll see a huge increase in sales. We get our Esteem, the homeless get some cash, and the world is a slightly better place.

Dry Erase Girl is Going to Re-convince Executives That There is a “Viral Button”

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into marketing – Dry Erase Girl attacks.

If you’re not familiar, follow the link. I won’t claim any superiority here: I absolutely and completely thought this was real, and spread the story. It was clever and well-done, and the creators deserve credit. However, this is a terrible thing for people in the social media space.

Cheapo executives are now going to re-focus on the notion that if you hire the right people and post on Twitter enough, something is guaranteed to be viral.

I’ve been in this position before: “create something viral, Evan, and keep it cheap”. The problem is that you can’t fully predict what will become viral. Sure, there’s more and more science around virality that can increase your chances, but at the end of the day there is still too much chaos to be able to really predict what will go viral (one article states “Mind-opening and emotionally rich articles are more likely to make the most emailed list, as are more practically useful, surprising, and positive articles.” Wait, so you mean GOOD articles?). You can post at 11am, include pretty girls, make sure to make it lo-fi, etc…but you can’t guarantee a hit. Much like a musical hit, it’s part talent and part randomness (or part huge-amounts-of-money, at which point you can’t really call it viral).

Don’t point out Old Spice Guy – I think (thankfully) that most executives saw that there was both a great deal of effort put into this campaign as well as a staggering of the different parts – they were ready for the character not to catch on and to nix the YouTube campaign.

But White-board Girl is the epitome of cheap & viral: written on napkins, shot with a cheap camera, not promoted by celebrities. I wouldn’t be surprised if within minutes of the announcement that she was fake that executives were emailing their underlings saying “do this”.

Am I suggesting that viral content isn’t something we should strive for? Absolutely not. But viral content is fire, fire, fail, fail, aim, aim, fire, fire, fail, MAYBE win. Don’t bet on anything more than that.

Bottom Line: Steve Jobs Shouldn’t Have Lied

I’m pretty Apple-neutral. I adore my iPod (though I specifically bought a 5th generation because I like it better), I use Windows, I own an Android phone but I absolutely appreciate the genius of Apple design.

iphone 4But this time, Apple really screwed up.

Not in building or designing the phone, mind you. I get it – lots of phones have this issue, it’s only affecting a small percentage of people, the media has clearly blown it out of proportion because it’s a juicy story.

But Apple finally got bit in the ass by their “we make the news” policy. And they’re crying about it.

In the press conference this morning, Steve Jobs admitted that they knew about the iPhone4 reception issue before releasing the phone. Again, I understand – all products have flaws, and I don’t really think there is anything wrong about not highlighting them. People can make their own decision based on reviews.

But Steve Jobs specifically told us that this wasn’t an issue. He told us that we were holding the phone wrong. He lied so he wouldn’t have to deal with the consequences. That’s just wrong.

My #1 rule for fostering a loyal community: be honest with them as much as you possibly can.

People value honesty incredibly highly – I’ve had to deliver devastating news to customers before, and taking the time to tell them the whole truth of the issue often results in a surprising response: gratefulness. Yes, people often respond to bad news positively if you’re actually honest. There’s so much dishonesty in the world (especially the corporate world) that people are just relieved to know what’s going on. Ever had a mysterious ailment? If you’re anything like me, what’s worse than being sick or hurt is not knowing what it is or how bad it is. We, as humans, want the truth.

Apple could have saved money and face by being honest, at least once the initial reports came out.

Had they noticed the buzz in the first week they could have simply announced (hell, via Twitter if they had an account): “Yes, we’re aware of this. Yes, it’s a problem. Most phones have it, it should only affect a small percentage of calls and people.” You know what? Most people probably would have been fine with that. And if they weren’t? Offer free bumper cases to people who came in and requested them. It’d still save a lot more money than shipping them out to people (many of whom probably haven’t experienced this issue, but will ask for a case because of all the hoopla).

In short: even Apple’s might can be damaged by dishonesty. I’m impressed that Apple is actually admitting the truth and listening for once. I hope they keep it up (and their stockholders should too).

Photo courtesy of mkuma443.

I Heart Physical Keyboards

G1 android phone with keyboard open Everywhere I look, I feel like I see the tech press dissing physical keyboards on smartphones.  TechCrunch, specifically, seems to use a phone with a physical keyboard for 3 days, declare the keyboard stupid, and then go back to misspelling things on their iPhone soft keyboards.

[The G2 Android Phone] is much more usable as a device. And we can thank one thing for that, as well as for much of its much improved design: The removal of the physical keyboard. – From HTC Killed the Physical Keyboard. Smart Move.

(I happen to love my G1, TechCrunch. As does everyone I know who has one.)

The argument against physical keyboards seems to be that they waste space, which strikes me as incredibly odd. From an interface perspective, a keyboard that slides under the screen doesn’t waste space. From a bulkiness perspective: really? Why do you need/want a phone with the thickness and weight of a granola bar? I like sleekness too, but you may want to have your doctor check you for osteoporosis if you really find the G1 too heavy to handle.

I want to make a very clear statement here to phone manufacturers: I heart physical keyboards.  In fact, I refuse to buy a phone without one.

I’m not saying they’re for everyone – I’m sure soft keyboards are just fine for some people.  But there are several reasons physical keyboards are a smart choice:

1) Some people, including myself, have big fingers.  It’s really hard to hit those tiny soft keyboard buttons, and I spend WAY too much time fixing spelling errors than actually writing. Wasting time = bad.

2) Physical feedback always wins. While the slight force feedback and click noises of a soft keyboard are a nice touch, they don’t help me feel find my way around.  I learned to type on a computer keyboard with actual keys, and that’s how I’m used to typing.  Not to mention, the snap of sliding the screen back to get to the keyboard is just straight-up enjoyable.

3) Fast writers. My brain is usually slightly ahead of my fingers even on a computer, and using a soft keyboard makes it impossible for me to communicate my thoughts in any form of real-time.

G1 android phone with keyboard slideout

4) There’s a reason that soft keyboards come with automatic spelling correction and word completion – because they are hard to use. iPhone users may be used to taking 5 minutes to write “hey I’m drown at the zebra, do you witch to come buy?”, but I find those messages obnoxious to read and embarassing to send.

5) The two aren’t mutually exclusive! You can have a physical keyboard and still provide a soft keyboard.  If you’re a TechCrunch writer and you hate physical keyboards, you can simply NEVER OPEN IT.  Magic.  Everyone is happy.

So please, phone manufacturers: don’t stop making physical keyboards.  Please don’t.  Because if you do, I won’t buy your phone (or recommend them to my friends).  And you wouldn’t want that, right?

Photo 1 Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/alwayshere/ / CC BY-SA 2.0
Photo 2 Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tomsun/ / CC BY 2.0

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The Beginning of the End of Piracy -or- How Monty Python Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the YouTubes

Video goes with piracy almost as much as music does.  For both mediums, a new phrase may need to be coined: “piracy is the sincerest form of flattery”.

Monty Python YouTube page with ripped, stop that, and hacking captionsI’m not joking, not really.  While this is only speaking from my personal experience and conversations with others, I suspect that most piracy is not for profit.  People grab their favorite clips and post them online because they think that they are hilarious and need to be shared with the world.

In the last few years the struggle between studios and privacy has been one of threats, inaction, and bitching.

This year we’ve seen a dramatic turn from the bitter fighting over video rights online to an embrace of the open nature of the web.  It’s truly amazing, and not something I expected to see happen so fast.  Let’s look at two examples.

Hulu

Hulu is a project that I (and many others) harbored intense skepticism towards during it’s development.  The whole concept of the television studios ganging up to create a rival to YouTube seemed childish, and we all expected them to do a horrible job.

Whatever the intentions, the people who actually built Hulu did an amazing job, and my personal TV watches has almost entirely moved to Hulu.  I’ve heard many others raving about it, including the usually skeptical Michael Arrington.

Why do jaded Web 2.0 users like Hulu?  They’ve done a few things right, and a few more great.

Giving The People What They Want
Hulu could have gone the cowardly way and only offered up lame, old shows that nobody was interested in.  Netflix faced this issue with their “Play Now” option…studios only OK’d stuff that was unlikely to get rented anyway (although their selection continues to improve, and I love watching SeaQuest on Netflix).

Instead, Hulu has provided some of the top shows on television: The Office, The Daily Show, House, The Colbert Report, The Simpsons, 30 Rock, Saturday Night LIfe, The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and Family Guy (a YouTube favorite, which currently has 88,100 probably illegal results).

Don’t Be Stingy
When you hold all the power, it’s tempting to stingily hand out goods at the slowest rate possible.  Hulu managed to resist this, and their shows often show up the next morning.  It’s hard to beat the experience of waking up on a Wednesday morning and watching The Daily Show from the night before while still in bed.

Hulu does sometimes set experation dates on their shows, but they make this very clear.  I think the average consumer understands that if they want constant access to a whole season they should buy a DVD.

Monetization Is Changing
In a move that is in some ways more innovative than any monetization work YouTube has done,option on Hulu to watch the full Tropic Thunder trailer in exchange for an ad-free watching of Men in Black Hulu has started offering the option to watch a full-length trailer or ad (like the Tropic Thunder trailer seen in this image) in exchange for not showing any other ads during the episode.  I assume (and hope) that they’re tracking this and adjusting their advertising appropriately.

Innovation
One of the most innovative features to come out of online video in the last few months didn’t come from YouTube or any of the newer “Web 2.0” video sites…it came from Hulu.

Being able to select any part of an episode and send/share it as a clip is probably the most obvious and brilliant answer to the multitude of Simpsons clips on YouTube.  And Hulu does it very, very well, making sure to suggest that you might want to watch the rest of the episode after your clip is over.

Monty Python on YouTube

Along with Family Guy clips and embarassing teen confessionals, Monty Python is a common search on YouTube. With over thirty thousand results on YouTube, it’s safe to say that this is money lost for Monty Python, who aren’t exactly actively promoting their old (and brilliant) material.

But, in a move humerously described by John Cleese as “deeply disappointing”, the comedy troupe has started a YouTube channel and is offering high resolution versions of their videos for free. This is a brilliant move for several reasons.

If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em
In their introductory video (embedded below), Monty Python jokes that “for three years, you YouTubers have been ripping us off, putting tens of thousands of our videos up on YouTube.” It’s funny, but it’s also true, and probably a bit irritating for them. Yet instead of throwing a tantrum, the Pythons made the smart move to work with the existing trends and technology instead of uslessly flailing against them. In admitting this, they give YouTubers some credit and foster a sense of belonging instead of reluctant surrender.

Transparency In Advertising
A lot of advertising I see online feels like an apology. “Sorry, I had to slip this in to be able to keep doing this for a living”. Worse, they are often purposefully ignored. “Ads? What ads? Oh, how did those slip into my blog?”

Refreshingly, Monty Python has ignored this. They know they have a piracy issue, and they know that online video does not monetize nearly as well as TV.

The solution? Ask.

Monty Python simply asks their raving fans to do them a favor and click their ads. Simple as that. During a the “Ministry of Silly Walks” video I clicked a Bombay Sapphire ad. Would I have done that on a normal video? No. But I did it for Monty Python, and actually discovered a cool recepie widget on the Bombay Sapphire site.

Listen To The Wisdom of the Crowd
Again, instead of taking the stingy path and only putting up the less funny Monty Python skits (if there truly are any), our British friends took a look at the most popular Monty Python videos on YouTube and worked to get those up as the first hi-rez videos on their new channel. They listened, and will likely be rewarded by a number of views.

Is The War Over?

Nah, of course not. Many TV studious (notably ABC) have not gotten involved in Hulu, and many companies still work to try to sue people who are “stealing” their videos instead of working to satisfy these people. Still, it’s impressive to see the progress made this year and encouraging to think that even large companies can wise up and come up with something as smart as Hulu. Next up, the music industry?

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