Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Obama Saves on Gas

On March 26, President Obama took questions in East Room of the White House, but there was a twist. The East Room is usually the scene of press conferences where the President submits to questioning from the White House press corps. But in this case, President Obama took questions directly from an internet audience as 67,000 viewers watched a live stream of the event.

There are many interesting implications: the bypass of the media filter; the virtual town halll; the modern fireside chat; the 21st century version of participatory democracy.

But on a very basic level the event contains a significant lesson for corporate America.

An Associated Press article cited in the dailycamera blog quotes presidential spokesperson Robert Gibbs:

"It's not a whole lot different than were we in California doing the meeting," Gibbs said. "It's just we'll have people hooked up from a lot of different places all over the country, but he'll be able to do all that from the East Room."

"It's a way for the president to do what he enjoys doing out on the road, but saves on gas,"

IVT's client NEC, a leading provider of IT network integrated solutions, documented annual savings of $250,000 replacing road shows with webcasts.

How much can the White House save by using webcasting to bring the American people to the East Room of the White House rather than traveling around the country to take questions in local town halls?

Has any politcal town hall been held in a venue that could hold 67,000 people?

Monday, April 6, 2009

Webcasting versus Internet TV

President Obama's recent press conference on March 26 was available for online viewing.

According to an article written by Chris Lefkow on Yahoo, 67,000 watched the webcast live. Of course, millions if not tens of millions watched the press conference live on broadcast television so what is the big deal about another 60,000 or so watching on the web?

I wrote about the democratizing effect of using the internet to bypass the Washington press corps and taking questions from the people in my last post.

But there is at least one more point of interest. The Obama press conference exemplifies how video can be used to great effect in the enterprise.

The internet will never supplant television's ability to broadcast to tens of millions of people. Why pay for the bandwidth to replicate the scale and quality of a broadcast platform that already works very well?

But the internet does scale rather well to the needs of the enterprise: an audience of tens of thousands. And there are several "internet television" services that are emerging to deliver video across the corporate network to the employees.

But this begs the question: why should a corporation or organization invest in a network able to deliver video across its enterprise and then settle for pre-recorded video with no interactivity?

It was not the video feed that made the Obama press conference so noteworthy. It was the 104,129 questions that were submitted by the American people. Enterprise video is much more effective when it is combined with interactive rich media features like live questions and answers, live polling, surveys, testing and certification, synchronized PowerPoint, whiteboarding, registration and reporting, etc. Choosing to merely deliver the video - live or on-demand - is choosing to ignore the strengths of webcasting and get the least bang for your buck.

Why invest in servers and hubs and routers and content engines and then settle for a video platform that does not enable interactivity?

According to research done by Steve Vander Haar that he shared in a recent webcast, 68% of executives polled believe streaming video has measurable value only when it is combined with a registration system that enables reporting about who watched.

Registration and reporting adds accountability to internal communications and adds measurable results and lead generation to external communications. Internet television gives that capability away when it simply loops pre-recorded video in a window on one's website.

President Obama's press conference is a template for the effective use of internet video in the enterprise. Just as the televised Nixon vs. Kennedy debate serves as the defining example for understanding the difference between television and radio in politics, I believe this press conference will be regarded similarly for its effect on politics and on business communications.

There are plenty of corporations out there who are already doing a great job with rich media. Some of them are my clients. But the nature of corporate communications is that much of the content is for an internal audience, so there is not an obvious opportunity for organizations to learn from the successes of others. But the Obama press conference lays the formula bare for all to see.

Friday, April 3, 2009

President Obama Webcasts Press Conference

Last week President Obama held a press conference and took questions from a virtual audience in a video webcast.

According to an article written by Chris Lefkow on Yahoo, 67,000 watched the webcast live. The White House website was open for questions for 36 hours before the press conference. 3,607,837 votes were cast for 104,129 submitted questions.

The President answered seven of those questions. One of them was about the legalization of marijuana. Some groups banded together and used the opportunity of this process to submit a high number of questions about that topic, and the despite the fact that vetters tried to avoid that issue, President Obama weighed in with a firm no.

My point has nothing to do with the politics of marijuana.

If I can be so bold as to be self-referential, my first post on this blog was to equate the power of webcasting technology to that of the printing press. The printing press broke the monopoly of a relative few (for example, monks) who had the ability to publish the written word and decide which books were worthy of reproduction and distribution (most often, the bible). The printing press made publishing accessible to the masses.

Regardless of one's politics regarding the issue, I think everyone would agree that those who favor legalizing marijuana are not in the "main stream" or among the more influential interest groups in this country. Yet the President of the United States specifically addressed their question.

The Washington DC press corps is not going to ask that question - rightly or wrongly. But the webcast by-passed the traditional media filter and brought the concerns of this group of people to the attention of our country's chief executive.

How does that translate to the corporate world? Well, what is the value of getting real feedback from the rank and file? What corporation would not benefit from taking their executives out of the bubble on the 40th floor and exposing them to the concerns of the people at the sharp end of the spear?

What is the value of a corporate culture? Most companies do a poor job of communicating and maintaining a corporate culture from the top down. But the best companies leverage webcasting to enable communications from the bottom up and include that feedback in the corporate culture.

There are perhaps a few hundred journalists with access to the President. These journalists are the only way 300,000,000 Americans can hold their leadership accountable between elections. That is, until last Thursday when webcasting allowed the people to submit questions to their President and their President decided to answer them.