Get visual for “The Year of Video Marketing”

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In an opinion piece in Forbes earlier this year, technology writer, Aj Agrawal, called 2017 “The Year of Video Marketing.” Certainly, video content has seen tremendous growth and expectations are for that to continue. According to a recent report by Hubspot, this year, “video content will represent 74% of all Internet traffic.” For book promotion, authors and publishers have been using video in the form of book trailers for years and in that time, the trailer format has gained fans and detractors.

But digital storytelling can take many forms – and there are many tools now to make video creation – animations, topical timelines, interactive maps, slide shows and advertisements – easier than ever and they’re often free. I’ve written in the past about some of the timeline and animating platforms like Dipity, PowToon and GoAnimate, but there are a number of new tools and formats that offer additional formats worth experimenting with and imagining what might fit well into your plans for marketing books you write or illustrate.

One format is the cinemagraph, which you’ve probably seen even if you aren’t familiar with the term. These are seemingly still photos, but have one video element that moves and will repeat in a loop. To create a cinemagraph, with a program like Cinemagr.am or Flixel, you start with a short video, you then highlight, extract and save a small portion of the clip and that will then become the static element that the rest will play against – either in forward motion, reverse, or alternating forward-reverse. Once your cinemagraph is created, you can then add filters and hashtags and post on social media. Biteable is a very easy-to-use new online tool that can be used for free or an upgraded $100/yr. to create a mini presentation, slide show, intro piece or “explainer” video in just a few minutes. Claiming to be “The World’s Simplest Video Maker,”

Biteable provides templates that include scenes – either as animation, footage or still images, and then gives options for selecting a color palette and music – or you can upload custom colors or your own sound file. You can then add images, text and hashtags – and then Biteable will email you a finished file – mine took less than 15 minutes.

Fast forward to the next wave: A little over a year ago, Facebook announced the launch of 360-degree video, a format that bears watching as an outgrowth of Facebook’s purchase of Oculus Rift and their aggressive push in virtual reality technology. With 360 video, the film that’s produced allows the person filming to capture what they’re seeing in a full 360 degrees and the viewer can look at that video and by dragging their cursor, see in what the videographer saw in all directions – in front, all around and behind. This allows the viewer to share the full experience of that moment. The 360 cameras, like Samsung’s Gear 360 cost several hundred dollars, but that’s likely to come down as more enter the field.

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Nonprofits Championing Tech for Girls in Kenya

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Like many young women in Kenya, Miriam Wambui graduated high school without a job and without money to attend university. She hadn’t been greatly exposed to technology and had no idea she needed to learn about it. But while doing community-based volunteer work, she heard about Nairobits—a nonprofit that offers Kenyan youth ages 15 to 24 training in information computer technology, and she went from, as she describes it, “not knowing how to press a mouse,” to becoming an expert in information communications technology (ICT) and gaining skills like Web design and development. Ms. Wambui is now project coordinator for three Nairobits centers for girls in some of Nairobi’s poorest neighborhoods. Wambui, along with others in Kenya, including at the African Centre for Women, Information and Communications Technology (ACWICT), see ICT as “a potent force in transforming social, economic and political lives of women globally.”

At Nairobits, young women who were given the chance to get educated in technology often initially had trouble learning in co-ed classes, since technology has been traditionally viewed as a field for males and they felt uncomfortable competing. Families in Kenya, Wambui says, can be against girls getting an education, since “after primary school, boys’ education is given priority and the expectation is that girls will ‘take on roles that are much more maternal.’” Nairobits’ solution was to open girls’ centers to give women a chance to learn, share, and interact in a supportive environment. For Wambui, that included mentorship of students, teaching life skills, and working with parents who often don’t understand the value of computers as a part of everyday life.

According to ACWICT, the problem of girls in Kenya not having upper level education is coupled with those of “high unemployment, lack of skills relevant to the workplace by the young people, lack of information on available job opportunities, lack of networks and connections among youth,” and “lack of available jobs suited to entry-level skills,” among other things. These are global concerns. Kennedy Odede, founder & CEO of Kenya’s Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO), a nonprofit combating poverty and gender inequity, spotlighted how we’ve fallen short on education in the Huffington Post last week. The UN’s Millennium Development Goals set in 2000, “instituted that quality primary school education was a basic right for every child and it would happen by 2015,”

“It’s 2015,” and, as Odede says, “59 million children still cannot go to primary school and 62 million girls don’t get to go to secondary school.” Now, “the UN General Assembly [has] formally adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” which includes the goals of “ensuring access to quality education and promoting gender equality.”

The other critical components following education are job opportunities and the fostering of entrepreneurship. The ACWICT cites statistics that in Kenya, “while an estimated 750,000 young people enter the workforce annually, only 15 percent get absorbed into formal employment, leaving the rest…to take up informal work and/or face the brunt of poverty.” Kenyan girls are at a particular disadvantage, according to data from the United Nations, because “only 41 percent of young women continue their education after high school.”

But entrepreneurship is providing new avenues to supplement the educational initiatives. When President Obama spoke this July at the 2015 Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Nairobi, he said, “This continent needs to be a future hub of global growth and Kenya is setting an important example—Kenya is leading the way.” Pledging $1 billion to support entrepreneurship projects worldwide, with half earmarked for women and youth, President Obama called women “powerhouse entrepreneurs” and said, “research shows that when women entrepreneurs succeed, they drive economic growth and invest more back into their families and communities.”

So, the pieces are in place. With continued support, young women in Kenya and elsewhere may be able to follow in the footsteps of Wambui and Odede in the continuing fight for women’s education and equality.

[This article first appeared in Non-Profit Quarterly]

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Can a Robot Win the Newbery?

15 Robot Newbery

I know we’re just getting adjusted to social media, big data and predictive modeling, but it’s robots I think that (who?) we need to watch out for. Like it or not, the movie “Her,” which was not a personal favorite, did pose the question of just how wily those robots can be in making us think we could have a meaningful relationship. But as science fiction has often warned, they don’t care and might well leave us in the end. In fact, it looks downright scary, and many are predicting vast changes in our work and lives going forward.

Robots started out alright, just offering to vacuum our houses, clean the pool, scoop the litter, and turn on lights to deter burglars. But now they’ve gotten so personal – telling us when to exercise, if we’ve had too much chocolate, and insisting there’s one right way to cook broccoli.

Friends have said, “Let them do the rote tasks, help keep us healthy, crunch data to ensure we only hear about the products we want.” A recent email thread even suggested we might eventually do away with jobs in sales, marketing, and those held by overpaid CEOs – and advance to a time where we can focus on technology, science, art and creative fields that “need the human touch.”

What? Marketing not creative??!! Well, we’ll save that for another time…. But, in fact the question we increasingly face in light of developments in AI, is, what is uniquely human and what is meaningful in our business and personal interactions – and what can robots really be taught to do?

Right now, we’re witnessing the rise of robot journalism and even the beginnings of robots doing art. In March, Associated Press announced robots will be covering college sports, the Los Angeles Times is using robots to cover some news, and others are finding robots perfectly suited for disaster coverage. The company Narrative Science has developed a program to facilitate all this and which takes statistics and data from sports, finance and other areas and turns it into articles. In fact, the founders have been predicting it won’t be long before a robot wins the Pulitzer. Bryan Clark, gave an excellent overview of robots covering news on the tech site, MakeUseOf, entitled, Meet the Robot Who’s Trying to Take My Job.

Robotic art’s not quite so far along, but experiments are well underway – and some that are doing art might surprise you. iCub, one of the most advanced humanoids can dance and make music, and learns by interacting with the world the way a toddler would. Paul-IX, according to the Huffington Post, is “an automated sketch-bot who can outline a still life better than your high school art teacher,” and The Painting Fool is a robot that/whose work has been exhibited in galleries.

So how far are we, and will AI go in making robots to replicate and even improve on the things we do? Things are changing fast, and we don’t know what will be possible, but perhaps the lesson for all of us in art and in marketing is to think about our human connections and, possibly, not be so quick to want to automate and abbreviate everything we do.

But we should realize we’ve always had predictive systems in place to project successful outcomes. Bryan Clark sums it up saying, “the robot is more than capable of telling us who won as well as identifying key facts, but “they aren’t able to recognize the subtle nuances that really tell the story. The bad jump on a fly ball that led to a double, the bunt single that a replay showed to be a foul ball – these are all details that a human beat reporter relies on to deliver a compelling story. These nuances are why sports fans watch games, but they’re largely qualitative and beyond the scope of modern machine learning.”

Ken Goldberg, Professor of Industrial Engineering and Operations at the University of California, Berkeley, where he directs a lab on automation sciences, concurs in a recent article for Nautilus, “Robots Can’t Dance.” Goldberg says working with robots has taught him “to have a huge appreciation for the nuances of human behavior and the inconsistencies of humans.” It’s the “ability to have an emotional response, to be compelling, to be able to pick up subtle emotional signals, these are all the things that we haven’t made any progress on with robots.”

Will he and others do so going forward? We don’t know, but for now, it’s the ability to use all those skills in to create nuanced, multifaceted stories, whether in writing, art, or in marketing, that will as it always has been able to — touch others in a meaningful way.

And, if that doesn’t work – I’m for waiting for a good rainy day and pushing those smug robots right outside to rust!

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