Taking Users In Through the Out Door With Interactive Video

Interactive video compositeA key objective of any content strategy is to speak to your target audience or user and draw them into the story. The rising trend of interactive video enables you to do just that — almost literally.

Interactive video blends linear film or video with interaction options. It’s been on the rise since 2005 thanks to the growing quantity of users who can access the internet at broadband speeds, combined with streaming and other technologies that support it.

Various forms of interactive video include:

  • Exploratory Videos – Videos that allow the user to move through a space or look at an object, such as a painting, from multiple angles, as if they were looking at it in real life. Video loops, not stills, depict the space to create a more ‘live’ feel. To experience this, check Look Around by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers.
  • Hypervideo or Video clickthroughs – Videos encoded with clickable hotspots that entice users to try and take control the story, such as this Shoot a Bear ad.
  • Conversational Videos – Videos that enable the user to interact with it or direct the conversation, almost as though they were having a simple conversation with the characters in the video. In this ESPN video, fans can cut to the chase to hear Jon Hamm (aka Mad Men’s Don Draper) address the topics they care about most.
  • V-Commerce – Video solutions that integrate e-commerce, marketing, merchandising goals. For example, this Ssense celebrity music video entices users to click desired fashion items worn by the celebrities. When they click, they trigger a process to buy that item.

Video helps an organization emotionally connect to users through a story that comes to life with sight and sound. It also helps communicate a extensive information with less risk of misinterpretation than text, images or audio alone. Combine video with social media and today’s other distribution tools, and it becomes mobile, searchable, sharable and measurable.

Interactive video propels these benefits to a new level through a powerful, user-centred digital experience with hands-on engagement. I also think these videos are particularly effective because, they:

  1. Empower the user to control the story and sometimes the amount of information they want to take in at a time.
  2. Elicit a high volume of opens, views and shares, because they are still rare enough to be novel.
  3. Deliver a message that users will likely reinforce through re-plays that let them change their responses to see different outcomes.

Interactive videos work for various applications, such as:

  • Instructions and training
  • Promotional ads for cars, electronics, travel and
    consumer packaged goods
  • Music videos
  • Movie and game promo trailers
  • Fundraising and awareness campaigns

I think they offer huge value to not-for-profits because they can bring the user into the story, pull at their heart-strings to foster empathy and drive offline actions like donations.

An anti-abuse interactive video by Marshall Fenn Communications achieved this by bringing the user into a chilling, domestic scene video with a father threatening his son. It persuaded viewers to stop the abuse by calling a 1-800 number to donate to Boost for Kids Foundation.

Videos like this are often produced as part of an agency’s pro bono efforts to give back to the community. Maybe we’ll see a rise in these not-for-profit videos, as technologies become more cost-effective and the number of free or nominally priced DIY solutions grows.

We’re just beginning to scratch the pixels of interactive media’s potential to evoke emotions, engage users and deliver a rich experience for multiple purposes that create real world impact.

Image Source: Composite image featuring clip from Carly’s Cafe, an interactive video that enables the viewer to experience the sensations of autism.

Digital Alone is Not the Message

Home screen for niche social media network
For my senior project, I produced an interactive media prototype of a social media network for unpaid caregivers at: http://rmafpf.axshare.com/#p=home
flower store mobile wireframes.
Wireframes are a key step in developing an interactive solution. Effective ‘how it works’ notations are almost more important than well-drawn screens. Here are mobile screen wireframes I developed for a flower store site.

Despite rising focus on STEM skills, effective communications is still the gatekeeper to success. Even the most brilliant discovery or algorithm falls short if its message is missed or skewed.

To start, ‘speak’ like your audience and tell them what they care about — or why they should. Better still, embed a story to draw them in, sustain attention and boost retention.

Some say digital counters this approach. That it distracts and muffles the message. I disagree.

You can effectively integrate digital in traditional PR/MarCom strategies but only IF it brings you closer to meeting your audience and their needs. Online media rooms can help reporters meet tight deadlines with 24/7 access to photos/facts. Links to videos, articles or other sites, give readers the option to learn more, without losing time to search. With mobile, we can reach time-strapped audiences and tap into their up-to-the-moment needs.

But a ‘locked’ media room, mandatory ‘fluff’ video or cut-off text on a smart phone will kill the message before you can say: “The medium is …”

Digital can also enrich stories with its non-linear format, making multiple subplots or endings possible. And interactive media helps reach auditory and kinesthetic, as well as visual learners.

Back to School

Recognizing digital’s rising value, I disappeared for a year to immerse full-time in a post-grad interactive media management program at Centennial College and sharpen my skills.

My goal was to master technology. But the more I learned, the more I realized effective communications and empathy for the audience or end-user, are the life blood of a successful user experience (UX). Website audits and user test analysis drove this home, with rampant examples of dead ends, static buttons and broken links — sometimes on global brand sites.

Most telling was my prototype project for a niche social media network for caregivers. Technically, it works.  But I need to build in steps to reinforce users’ learning and encourage return visits.  I also need clear communications and clutter-free screens. Without these considerations, it’s just empty code.

Sure, I boosted my analytics skills, learned how to create wireframes and prototypes in OmniGraffle/Axure, mark-up HTML5 pages with Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and edit video in Premiere Pro.

More important: I learned the value of user testing, how to optimize the UX, efficiently produce software and the necessary trade-offs.

Optimizing the UX

For example, tools like Jakob Nielsen’s 10 usability heuristics cover broad interactive design principles, such as applying real world images and conventions to interfaces. You can use them as a checklist to objectively assess any UX design and counter subjective arguments about a website or other screen. This way, they help you advocate for the end user’s best interests and set them on a path to purchase, subscribe or ‘convert’ in another desirable way.

Drawing of Agile / scrum process
Most interactive projects are developed via an Agile methodology with an iterative ‘scrum’ process focused on developing an MVP — a radical shift from PR’s typical ‘waterfall’ project management path.

Agile Efficiency

I also learned and practised ‘agile’ project management to efficiently produce software. This methodology is collaborative, fast and means striving for a minimal viable project (MVP) — a tough mandate for perfectionists.

Tough Trade-offs

Achieving an MVP also includes making trade-off decisions between:

  • Responsiveness and Resolution or how many message prompts do you need before the user reaches their goal?
  • Optimization and Ubiquity, such as deciding which screen, tablet or smart phone will offer the best experience and which will be adequate.
  • Customization and Design or drawing the line between the features you’ll let users decide and those you’ll ‘hard code’ in the design.

Turns out, the ‘Medium is the Massage’  typo-hindered phrase may be partly right. That is, the medium must be massaged  into an MVP, injected with content and tested to ensure the audience ‘gets it.’

I’ve graduated, have a part-time contract digging into app analytics and global market research for LongStory — a digital role-play game. Long-term, I’m looking for a content or digital strategy role. In the interim, I’m busy merging the best of digital with my communication skill-sets.

This blog will still focus on my discoveries and how to do the right thing well but with more of a digital twist or ‘interactive for good’ feel.

Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 11.44.56 PM
My favourite project was a narrative between personas (audience/users) to show how a niche social media network (Senior Care Share) would make caregiving easier for them. Click through to run it.