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Video: Direct-to-Camera with “Real People”

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AmydirectsIt happens more often than we’d all like to admit that inexperienced speakers are selected to deliver important information directly to the camera. Whether they are the head of a department, the leader of an initiative, an enthusiastic volunteer, or the child of the executive producer, this person might not be all that comfortable with a teleprompter, or might not work with cameras and crews every day the way professionals do. That doesn’t mean you can’t direct a confident delivery.  But your approach will need to differ from how you’d work with an actor or an experienced on-camera speaker.

I Need to Direct My Boss on Camera, Now What?!

One strategy for encouraging a natural delivery from your speaker is to do a quick Q&A with them off-camera first. I often stand farther away than is truly necessary, and lean forward. This is to encourage a slightly louder speaking voice from the talent. It forces us both to connect on purpose, not simply by default.  It’s surprising how often this Q&A approach works quite nicely, and feels natural.

Another strategy is to suggest in advance of your shoot day that the “host” practices a bit by recording themselves with their phone. Even though I have spoken before rooms with hundreds of people, before I taped my first Lynda.com course, I did the same thing. Speaking to a lens is vastly different than talking to people who react in real time. The first thing that struck me about my pre-recording was I didn’t smile enough. Even thinking about smiling helps the delivery seem more natural and congenial.

What About a Teleprompter?

Most folks aren’t aware of how much skill goes into reading from a teleprompter. Some people also do better with bullet points, rather than full copy. If you intend to use a prompter, you will need to add 30 minutes to your recording time for several rehearsals, to let the person get used to reading the words naturally. Most people trip up on one major issue: that the prompter follows them, not the other way around. They will get progressively slower as they read, waiting for the prompter to “catch up” when the prompter is actually following their speed. You’ll also need to add some big gaps to force people to slow down their read.

How to Work with Kids for Direct-to-Camera Videos

Kids are naturals. Don’t over-coach them. Do give them examples in advance from kids’ shows they like to watch.   Remember that audition pre-interview? Ask a few questions about shows they like, so you can reference them just before and during the shoot. Encourage kids to practice with their i-things at home. But the best thing you can do with kids is be a supportive cheerleader.  Use the same tools for keeping parents out of sightlines that you use with other gatekeepers: give them their own monitor, preferably out of the room. But check in periodically to be sure they’re happy.  Because a happy parent will be a great ally for you as you create a positive experience with your production team

This blog post is excerpted from my new book The Producer’s Playbook: Real People on Camera (Focal Press/Routledge). Purchase the book here Buy Real People on Camera. Or if you are coming to #NAB16 please stop by my Post|Production World session on getting the best with real people on camera – info Amy at NABShow on Real People.

 

Music Tells Your Video Story, Too

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ADMAR 2013

Hey, here I am playing a  violin solo in concert!

Most people focus on visuals when working on video storytelling. It’s a natural instinct. Our world is dominated by visuals-rich social media like SnapChat, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter and more. But the audio track for your video is a critical part of your storytelling toolkit.  There are two options for music for video: original scoring and licensed stock music.

Original Music Scoring

A professionally composed score-to-picture, which usually includes at least one set of revisions, will run you a minimum of $2,500-3,500 for a 30-second spot, at least $3,500 for a 5 minute video, and upwards of $8,000 for a half-hour documentary. Name-brand musicians can cost you much more.  Fees for session musicians (a band or orchestra) are extra.  And don’t think about using your friend who plays an instrument–session players are pros who read every type of music imaginable and have perfect intonation on the first take. Many composers can do without live musicians for smaller-budget projects by using good quality sampled sounds. And most composers will negotiate on fee based on how busy they are right now, how quickly they think they can do your project, or simply because you are offering an interesting challenge or a distribution exposure that interests them.

Before you give up on an original score because of cost, remember that this music works PERFECTLY with every visual on screen and creates EXACTLY the kinds of moods and transitions you need from scene to scene. Trying to find stock music that fits the bill requires hours of your time to audition tracks, and then more hours of editing time to mesh them together and finesse endings that are usually not right for your visuals. So for many projects, an original score is well worth it.

What’s the Original Score Workflow?

  1. Cut Scenes to “Temp Tracks”. This means finding music–even pop songs you can’t license, since you are going to replace them–that are the right tempo and mood to edit your scenes. I might use three or four temp tracks in any given short form project. Or nine or 10 for a half-hour show. This would be a mess to edit, but we will simply replace all of these with our custom score (a process called “laying back”) once the original music score is finished.
  2. Get “Picture Lock”. Before you can score, you need a 100% approved video, with all the images and voices and “sound-ups” (where you hear what someone is saying during a piece of background footage) in fixed locations in your video timeline. Any slippage by even a few frames will mean adjusting the score with the composer.
  3. Output Video to Composer’s Specs. Most composers want a video file that has a visible time-code window, so they can be sure they are achieving perfect synchronicity with your show. Depending on the type of software they use, a composer will request a particular type of video file they like to work with.
  4. Talk! You’ll want to discuss with your composer what goals you are trying to achieve with your film or spot, and what different moods you want to create with various scenes. If I have a particular genre or style of instrumentation that I want, I will also share temp tracks as examples.

An experienced composer may be able to write your music to picture for a very short film in a single day. Depending on how I’ve negotiated the fee, we’ll usually go through at least one round of tweaks before we get to a final score and go to lay back.

Using Stock Music

There are many online sources for good stock music, which can range in cost from $35 per cut to $500 per cut, depending on the source and the kind of distribution license you need. Be careful to purchase a license for online distribution, even if you have other ways of getting your video out, because YouTube now regularly pulls down videos for lacking the proper music license.

Premium music libraries that offer better-sounding orchestrations, a wide range of musical styles, and different lengths and underscore versions of tracks include www.apmmusic.com www.killertracks.com and www.audionetwork.com . A great feature of  Audio Network for me as a musician is that they list the key the music is in. That allows me to search for a related key for a transition from one piece to another, rather than having an ugly transition between two keys that don’t sound good together, or are identical. There are also lower-cost libraries such as www.premiumbeat.com and www.audiojungle.net which have plenty of great tracks to choose from. My only issue with their music is that the mixes are often muddy and require additional audio adjustment work in a sound studio if you plan to use them in a large room for live event playback.

Why Music Matters

Whether you go with stock music or scored music, you need to create the right mood for your message. I recently had a client send me a series of cute kid testimonials in a series of promo videos that they had shot. Something in the rough-cuts of these video just wasn’t working. They wanted me to help re-arrange the soundbites for a more compelling story. But the first thing I did was send them the same cuts but with new soundtracks for each. Presto! You see, their corporate music track was completely undermining the quirky, real-world comments of the kids. With just a little bit of re-tooling, I had a much happier client, and a better video story.

Amy DeLouise is a video director/producer who is passionate about great music. Her new book The Producer’s Playbook: Real People on Camera comes out this spring (Focal Press/Routledge).

 

Tips for Branded #Storytelling with #Video

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Storytelling through video can help you advocate for a cause, raise awareness and money, train, and motivate.  And with video engagement levels and distribution platform options at an all-time high, charities, associations, government agencies and corporations are producing more reality-based short video content than ever before. But many communications teams launch into producing videos without a solid script. That can throw up unnecessary roadblocks to success. With a plan for your  nonfiction story arc and a script-to-screen process, producers can lower their overhead costs and improve storytelling impact and audience engagement.

Identify Characters: Be sure you’ve identified a main character (protagonist), which might even be your organization. Are there supporting characters? Those might be other people who can speak about this person or product or initiative.  Don’t use more than 3 or 4 characters in a less than 5-minute video, or you’ll overwhelm viewers and confuse your narrative.

Write a Script: You wouldn’t build a house without a blueprint. Don’t shoot a video without a script. Even if your video is largely based on real people interviews, you want to have some kind of game-plan going into those interviews so you can craft a compelling story. Your script can include bullet points for the topics of potential “soundbites”–something that helps you create your interview questions and craft the story line on paper before you start spending money in the field or studio.

Create Storyboards: Particularly if you’re producing a graphically-driven piece, you will need storyboards to help guide the way before you invest in animation.  For other types of videos, your storyboards can be as simple as stock images in a Powerpoint with a few descriptions beneath each one. These visuals can really help you when you’re faced with choices of how to light, shoot and edit your production.

Get Interview Transcripts: If you are interviewing people for your show, get transcripts made–a very small investment of a few dollars per minute–so you can select your soundbites on paper before spending time and money editing clips together.

Build an Editing Script: Once you’ve inserted your favorite soundbites or options into your initial script, you’ve created an editing script. Add in your selections or options for stock music and other visuals, such as stock or archival photos, videos and graphics, and you’ve got your guide-posts for a streamlined post-production process.

For more detailed tips about how to create an effective short-form branded stories on video, try my new Lynda.com course in nonfiction Scriptwriting.

Amy DeLouise is a director/producer, speaker and author who makes branded short-form videos for impact.

Top Writing Challenges for Short Nonfiction Video

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“Helping people understand what can and can’t be communicated through video” and “Keeping viewers engaged” are two top sticking points for the video writers who attended my workshop during GV Expo this morning. We covered strategies and tools for writers to get better results with video. Top tips include:

  1. Define the goals for your video. Use a Creative brief to outline these goals, along with your story approach, point of view, creative look, and any budgetary or scheduling requirements.  Include a few success measures–“if this video is successful, what does that look like?” This might mean a lot more than number of views. It might mean the number of minutes reduced in customer service calls, or the number of registrations for next year’s event. Think measurable goals!
  2. Define your characters. A 1-2 minute video doesn’t need more than one main character.  Supplemental characters include setting and music, which play an important role in how the audience views your subject.
  3. Define your story arc. Everyone thinks about narrative arc with fiction, but engaging nonfiction stories have them, too.  What’s your hook? It needs to grab your audience in the first 15-30 seconds, before the dreaded initial drop-off in viewing happens. What’s after your hook—how do you give the back story quickly and efficiently? What’s the central challenge of the character and how do they overcome it (the climax)? And as your story winds down, do you include a call to action?
  4. Use tools and workflow. Get transcriptions done if you are creating an interview-based story. The roughly $25 per person will be worth it! Then you can focus on finding those elements that move your story forward. Plan a writing workflow that gives you the flexibility to find the hidden stories, but develop creative that meets your goals. Especially if you are writing for animation, you will have to be very detailed in your approach to story so that you allow time for storyboarding, keyframes and animation tests.

Amy DeLouise is a scriptwriter and video director working in short form nonfiction. A slide deck from her writing workshop at GVExpo is on the Speaker tab of this website. Don’t forget it’s #GivingTuesday. Join me in buying a gift for a child in need through Central Union Mission Operation Christmas Miracle.

Ram Tough Branding to Women

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Women are Ram tough. That’s the message from Ram Truck’s newest commercial “The Courage is Already Inside” featuring women doing hard things. It’s a well-produced and welcome message in the usually testosterone-obsessed truck segment. (Dodge has even produced some negative portrayals of women, notably in its Charger commercial during Superbowl 2010.)

As many of you readers of my blog know, I am a car-lovin’ gal, and so whenever there’s a convergence of great branding and car stuff, I’m all ears and eyes.  This new ad from The Richards Group agency caught my attention. Directed by Jaci Judelson, the spot breaks new territory in car marketing to women. Judelson’s images are gritty, nuanced, and human. She has worked on Dove’s “Real Women” series, among other commercial ventures, and directed the new Sundance series Single Stories.  Marketing to women has come a long way.  And by positioning this brand to appeal to strong-minded women and men, Ram is leading the charge.

 

Amy DeLouise is a nonfiction Director/Producer and consults and speaks on branding, marketing, and digital storytelling. Join her with fellow speakers at GVExpo December 1st and 2nd at the Washington DC Convention Center.

Board Diversity Impacts ROI

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It’s hardFoliage as Shapes - IMG_0052 s.c to find an organization today that’s not focused on, or at least giving lip service to, diversity. But have you ever considered the cost to your organization of not having a diverse leadership team? When Catalyst first came out with their study about the ROI for investors of companies with more diverse boards, many were surprised. But the numbers were clear: Return on Equity, Return on Sales and Return on Invested Capital were all significantly higher (53%, 42% and 66% respectively) for companies with more women on their boards.

The same is true for nonprofit boards.  Boards lacking diversity can make poor financial decisions, such as investing the bulk of their endowment with an investment manager  “everyone knows.” Boards lacking diversity can miss big opportunities to reach new communities and new donors. They can miss out on creating new partnerships.

So how can you create a more diverse board?

First, let’s define diversity. When I meet with boards on this topic, everyone’s first instinct is to think ethnicity and gender. These are important. But just as vital to decision-making are having people of diverse ages, life experiences, socio-economic backgrounds, family structures, and more.

Range of Ages. The most common lack of diversity I see on boards is related to age. And the most common form of ageism I see is against younger people (which on boards tends to mean under- 35). Yet the views of the 18-35 set, and their facility with the internet and social media tools, makes them especially valuable on boards.

Varied Life Experiences. Another area where boards often lack diversity is in life experiences. That’s because so many people are recruited to boards by friends, business associates or college/grad school classmates. So if you have one corporate lawyer on your board, you’re likely to have two or more. That’s not to say anything against lawyers, but there is also diversity among types of legal expertise and it could benefit your board to have more than one kind. Life experiences also include living overseas, blended families, military families, LGBT, and religious background.

Personal Attributes. A third area for boards to focus on when attaining diversity is a mix of personal styles and personality attributes. Even if you’re board is every color of the rainbow, if every person on it is a forceful leader, you’re going to have trouble filling your committees. By the same token, if everyone is a quiet, behind-the-scenes type of operator, you’ll have trouble finding committee chairs every year. You need a mix of several personality types to make a board fully functional.

Varied Connections. Finally, board diversity requires diverse community connections. One of the most overlooked areas for recruiting board members is among the clergy. Rabbis, priests, and ministers tend to know a lot of people in their communities, as well as other organizations that are making a difference there. That makes them great “connectors” to have on your board, irrespective of whether your organization has a religious mission. Other great connectors are people who volunteer in communities in which your organization wants to reach. And also don’t overlook individuals who serve on national boards, where they make contacts all across the country.

Tapping diverse talents always leads to a stronger board. And a stronger board helps you avoid costly mistakes and deliver on your bottom line: the mission.

Amy DeLouise is a video producer/director and consultant who works primarily with nonprofits and their leadership teams.

4 Things Movie Producers Know That Will Change Your Business

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Lynda2AmyWhen my carpet installers failed to show yesterday due to a broken-down truck, I thought, “this would never happen on a movie.” That’s because our industry lives and breathes by what is a relatively new idea in other lines of work: “supply chain management.” This is defined on Wikipedia as “getting the right product into the right consumer’s hands in the right quantity at the right time.” Basically, ensuring everyone—employees and vendors—who have anything to do with your brand relationships has skin in the game and a reason to deliver high quality every time. Skip the MBA. Here are four things we do in video production that you can apply Right Now to making your business or nonprofit enterprise more successful.

1. Hire a Smart PA. Or Two. “Find a Way or Make One” was the motto of my high school, and is the guiding mantra for any PA (production assistant) in the video, TV or movie biz.  If my carpet installation was a movie, we would have instantly deployed a PA to the broken-truck-guy’s house to drive him to a U-Haul store and rent a truck for the day. Problem solved. Customer happy. I have deployed PA’s to buy a camera-friendly tie for a CEO’s on-camera appearance, to pick up replacements for gear that has failed, or to drive a client to the airport when her time is of the essence. Once, back when I was a PA, I figured out how to ship and install thousands of pounds of rubber matting on the bottom of the Washington Monument reflecting pool so Important Actors (aka Tom Hanks and Robin Wright) wouldn’t slip in a scene there. So make a small investment in a few young, smart, problem-solvers. People who can research, find answers, are unafraid to use the telephone, and know how to build personal relationships. Don’t worry if they don’t have specific skills for your enterprise–those can be learned on the job. The goal is to ensure your business can deliver on customer promises.

2. Invest in Creative Thinking. Problem-solving is all about looking at issues from a new perspective. There’s a lot of talk about why we need more training in STEM. That’s great. But science and math also need creative thinking to discover new inventions, new drugs, new ways to power cars or fly through space. Steven Hawking understood this when he suggested that we need to put smart people (well, actually he said brilliant people) together in inspiring and creative intellectual environments, where they can go do their best thinking. Again, in the movie biz, we work in teams of incredibly smart, creative, people, who all pull together to solve some interesting problems in pursuit of creating a compelling story.  Build teams who care about your brand story, and the brand stories of your customers. Give them the inspiration to do their best work. Give them the license to fail and try again.

3. Invest in Creative Spaces. Tech firms in Silicon Valley have forged their businesses on this model, and also led the way in building creative physical spaces to inspire collaboration and thinking. Now corporations and nonprofits are following suit. Here are some great examples. Production companies have always built creative spaces for their teams. Wall colors are less monotonous. Graphics suites have walls filled with inspiring designs. Employees and clients share meals during shooting breaks in the studio. Folks lounge on cushy chairs in a casual give-and-take environment while edits render. I think this is why so many of my clients like to come hang out with me during edit sessions. It’s a nice break from the Land of Grey Cubicles. But don’t be fooled by the fun stuff–I do a lot of my best writing work alone, in a room with a door.  Build a creative space for your creative thinkers. Use color. Use light. Create spaces that are both private and quiet (for brainstorming) and large and open (for group collaboration). Use chalkboard paint so people can draw what they think.

4. Focus on Outcomes. When people get stuck on process, it’s usually because they’re not focused on the final outcome. In movies, we have storyboards. They help guide our thinking, so everyone can visualize the outcome of a scene. That doesn’t mean we can’t rethink a camera set-up, or rework a sequence in the final edit. But it does give everyone a shared vision of the goal. Every business can build its own storyboards for What Success Looks Like on This Project. And because your team of creative thinkers are probably visual learners, that storyboard posted across your new, colorful walls, will inspire them to new heights.

Amy DeLouise is a video producer, writer, blogger, speaker and author, appearing soon at #NABShow. She is still waiting for her new carpet to be installed.

 

Hacking Video Interviews

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LyndaAmyInterviewingCoupleYou’re on deadline and need a great sound bite from your boss for the new podcast. Or you’re building a long-form documentary and are interviewing an expert. Or you’ve got five minutes till broadcast and are trying to get a moment with a VIP. Whatever kind of interview you are producing can be made a little easier with a few simple techniques.

  1. Make Your Subject Comfortable. It seems obvious, but often the interviewer is distracted by the crew chatting, the room getting uncomfortably warm, and the fact that, oh, a Camera is Pointed at Their Head. New low-heat lights prevent sweating, thank goodness. But there are many other little touches to keep an interviewee comfortable: hide as much equipment as necessary (I use silks in larger spaces, or just put things away in cases or adjacent hallways in smaller ones); place water on a small table at arm’s reach; Smile when you ask questions (unless you’re on 60 Minutes). And–not for the faint of heart–consider interviewing the person while they are doing something (working, driving, walking), since most people don’t just sit still and talk. These little things will go a long way towards making your subject feel and speak more naturally on camera.
  2. Familiarize Yourself With Content. Again, it seems obvious. But I can’t tell you how many times I hear an interviewer ask a basic question that they should have researched in advance. The result is your subject now thinks you’re an idiot, and you aren’t going to get the story you really wanted. Oh, and stop looking at your notes! Memorize them. Focus on making eye contact.
  3. Find Out Your Subject’s Learning Style. With a few quick questions in your warm-up chit-chat, or by watching previous interview footage, you may be able to discern whether or not your interviewee is a visual, auditory or kinesthetic learner. Why does this matter? Because the way you ask questions to each should be slightly different, and the kinds of answers you will get will be much richer and more useful when you do. More on this in my Lynda course The Art of the Interview.
  4. Plan a Story Arc, Be Prepared for Something Else. Ideally, your interview will follow a narrative arc. Within this arc, you’ll be gently guiding your subject along the path of the central story for your video—the introduction, the central theme or challenge, and the conclusion. Along the way, there will be meanderings, of course. But if you map out the story – not just bullet points for questions–you’ll be that much closer to building a better final video.

If you’re attending NAB this year, I’ll be presenting an In-Depth Session with the talented Director of Photography and Producer Eduardo Angel on How to Capture Great Interviews.  We’ll cover equipment, lighting, camera position, as well as interview techniques. We hope to see you there!

 

Brain Chemical Connects Us to Human Stories

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When we watch cSigning a Checkharacters on the screen, why do they make us laugh or cry? And why does one story make us want to support a charity or social cause? It turns out compelling human stories trigger a chemical response in our brains. Neuroscientist Dr. Paul Zak has been studying the neurochemical oxytocin for years, and learned that humans have a chemical response similar to animals when we find another human trust-worthy: a spike in our oxytocin makes us feel connected to another human being. Even when watching the human on a screen, this response is triggered—what Dr. Zak calls the golden rule response: “if you treat me well, in most cases my brain will synthesize oxytocin and this will motivate me to treat you well in return.”

Most recently, Dr. Zak conducted a study with several short films from St. Jude’s Hospital. When viewers connected with the characters in a short film about a father whose young son is dying of cancer, they had an increase in cortisol and oxytocin. That chemical boost ran parallel to feelings of empathy with the characters, which was increased when there was a strong “narrative arc”—a powerful dramatic rise and climax to the real people story line.

This doesn’t come as a big surprise to those of us working in nonprofit direct response and impact story-telling. We know that to get donors to give and communities to care, we have to tell powerful stories. We know that viewers must connect emotionally with our characters, just as they would with characters in a fiction film. We do this through not just their words and images, but through lighting techniques, music scoring and the pacing of our edits. But building empathy isn’t enough. We have to create a dramatic arc that builds to a climax. We have to create suspense around some kind of obstacle that the characters must overcome, whether it is in their past or present. And our viewers have to relate to that obstacle, even if it is not precisely the same for them.

This is why pre-interviewing potential characters is so essential for documentary-style stories based on real people. Before they go on camera, we need to understand what will be compelling, what will not be relatable, and what will build suspense for our viewers.  And now it turns out that what we’re also doing is triggering those chemical responses in the brain that will make our subjects and their story connect to the brains of our viewers.  In the case of nonprofit storytelling, we need those chemical responses to be strong, because we are usually looking for a response that extends to well after the video ends: we want a viewer to get involved in a cause, donate money, write to their elected officials, or change some previous behavior (stop smoking, lose weight, etc). So it turns out that all these years I thought I was an English major-turned-filmmaker, it turns out that I’m in the neuroscience business: triggering a brain response that helps people act on the golden rule, and do great things for others and the world.

Amy DeLouise is a director and producer who tells real people stories to help viewers connect with causes and take action.

Brand Resolutions for the New Year

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Sky at Sunset Who doesn’t want to polish up their brand for the New Year? Here are five issues and strategies to consider for your brand this year.

 1. Storytelling Still Matters. As more and more channels and platforms emerge, a compelling story remains the reason users/viewers stage engaged. Whether you are telling a story with info graphics, with photography, with words or with video, make the story Matter.

2. Beware of New Algorithms.   Gmail’s new message organization system is having a big impact on brands who drive customer and donor engagement through email campaigns (i.e. pretty much everyone). Be sure your writing and images (that will be pulled up in Highlights) help users decide your content is relevant to their lives.

2. Get Leadership Engaged in Social Media. Gone are the days when the intern writes your tweets. Customers and donors expect to a personalized experience with your brand’s leadership–whether that is blog posts, tweets or photos on Instagram.  Let the Thought Leaders in your institution–your C-Suite team and your Board leaders–have human personalities, and authentic voices.

3. Ask Movers and Shakers for Brand Mentions. The tweet is the modern equivalent of getting an autograph, but more useful for your brand. When one of my nonprofit clients gave a facility tour to Justin Bieber (and encouraged him to tweet about it, which he did), they got 10,000 new followers in a matter of hours. Find out if any key personalities, well-connected customers or donors might be willing to give your brand a shout-out.

4. Location-Based Content is Here to Stay. iHookupSocial.com and yikyak are the latest spawn of location-based apps. While their purpose is different than Foursquare, the motivation is the same–users want content that relates to where they are right at this moment. Think about how your brand can deliver this content in new ways for users–(re)think conference and events, sightseeing in a town, touring a college campus, and more.

Amy is a video content director/producer,  speaker and author who mainly cares about telling great stories.