STORYTELLING is a CRAFT...you have to have a PASSION for capturing, telling, and sharing stories. This blog is dedicated to that craft. What is your story? We are listening.

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Here I lay in bed thinking, nine years ago Saturday…I was boarding a plane for Houston. Katrina was slamming into New Orleans and I was on a plane with a bunch of my colleagues…headed right into the aftermath.

This one event changed my life…I came back from those 10 days in New Orleans a different person. I did not tell and amazing story, capture an unbelievable image, write some amazing copy…I did my job. My job was to support WWL-TV, a Belo owned television station whom had the only transmitter sending out a live signal before, during, and after the storm. Why…because a few years previous, Belo just invested millions of dollars to raise the transmitter 20 feet.

It was this night that WWL-TV broadcasted live and CBS News broadcasted their local coverage nationally. This is one of the first major news events to stream live across the Internet, and it took so many hits…it fried Belo Interactive’s servers.

I was a part of team that just helped keep WWL-TV on air along with supporting all local and regional news gathering initiatives. We were not just going to outlying areas for the 6 o’clock news…we were broadcasting raw video elements 24/7. This was not only for public consumption, but also so local, regional, and national authorities could see the devastation from our lens…to make critical decisions.

Remember…this is 2005. Twitter and Facebook were not born. Smart phones were not around yet. Citizen journalism and high speed connectivity was barely available. The way we communicated was text messages, our Nextel touch to talk, and satellite phones with expensive service. So…it was vital for journalists like myself to drive far enough into out-lying areas, carry enough fuel to get us back, to capture footage and an interview with a local authorities so decisions could be made.

I slept in my car for about four days outside the LSU Journalism School. We took showers in the LSU dorms and inside the LSU football stadium facilities. Parents from all parts of Louisiana were bunking with their kids in dorms because their houses were destroyed.

I remember driving into New Orleans two days after Katrina and it looked like a war zone. Military helicopters flying survivors to main land and rescue boats departing to look for survivors sitting on their roofs waiting for help. Visuals captured in my brain for eternity.

My first helicopter aerial shoot was three days after Katrina hit and I am still moved and perplexed by this experience. My eyes have never witnessed such devastation along the mouth of the might Mississippi. As we flew over New Orleans, we realized why they just changed the minimum altitude over the city to 10K feet…stranded people shooting at aircraft. Yes…we heard the pings of a bullets and immediately climbed.

To this day…I still hold these memories as a reminder of how 90 miles separated peace and destruction. As we were based in Baton Rouge…life was carrying on as normal. But as you moved down south…the war zone emerged.

This event changed my life…I returned speechless. It took me a few months to start actually processing this event and begin articulating verbal thoughts and reactions. This was my last major news event as a front line journalist. I was done!

Many journalists probably view this decision as a sign of weakness or even lack of commitment to the trade and craft. I was just done. I had done my share, seen enough hurricanes, gone to enough shootings, documented enough riots, traveled with more than enough political campaigns including two Presidential campaigns, crossed the Mexico/US boarder enough to know the secret paths…I was done. I was ready to find good out of all the mess.

This single event taught me that I can use my skills and talents to tell stories…stories of change…not just document stories of the past.

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Meet my friend Sarah…I met her this past Friday at the SC Mission 2014 event in Columbia, SC. She is 62 to years old, walks with the assistance of a cain, and needed glasses. Yes…her vision is not good, but she knew that if she could find her way across Columbia…she could have the opportunity to get a new pair of glasses.

SC Mission is two day event that provides free medical and eye care to those in need. This year’s event experienced 535 patients in search of multiple services over a two-day period. There were 744 patient encounters including 331 eye exams, 275 free eye glasses, 413 medical exams, 101 mammograms, and 381 prescriptions. Over 100 total volunteers made this event possible, including the 500 clinical volunteers.

Sarah was definitely not alone and you can see the happiness in her eyes. So let’s step back from the numbers a bit and learn a little more about Sarah and her journey to SC Mission.

SC Mission 2014 was located at the State Fairgrounds right next to Williams Brice Stadium. Sarah explained to the volunteers at SC Mission that she walked from a location near Providence Hospital downtown Columbia. If you look at the Google Map below, you will see the potential routes she could have walked from Providence Hospital to the SC State Fairgrounds.

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You will see that Google estimates it will take her roughly an hour and nine minutes. But, let’s consider Google estimates it takes someone to walk 15-30 minutes per mile, then factors in terrain, walking in downtown city setting, hills, traffic lights, etc.

Now, let’s look at another shot of Sarah…a wider shot of her.

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You will notice she is sitting in a golf cart holding a cain. Now, this visual represents so many things.

First, she is probably not going to walk at the same speed as someone who does not need the assistance of a cain. I am guessing that the above  Google Map (based on walking speed and distance) is probably not a fair representation of Sarah’s travels.

sara-faces-blog4Second, since she was in need for glasses…she knew she had to be one of the first in line. This is because there is a limited supply of glasses provided for free. She wanted to be there early. Many people were lining-up outside the State Fairgrounds as early as 12:30am, the morning of the event.

Third, Sarah probably walked overnight and it probably took her two or three hours to get to the State Fairgrounds. Her goal…eye glasses. This means she probably did not see that well at night when walking to the event.

Her smile is represents so much. I think she is just happy…happy that her travels got her there in time to receive a pair of glasses.

Faces tell us so much. There are so many, little stories behind the faces we see each day. I love documenting faces, capturing the emotion, the texture of a person’s expression.

Sarah’s smile touched my heart Friday morning at SC Mission 2014.

Here is a slideshow of the many faces that have captured my attention of the past few years.

caravaggio_Inspiration-of-st-matthewAs an undergraduate student at Clemson University, I majored in Mathematics and worked on a minor in Art and Architectural History. It appealed to my desire to blend my creative pursuits with my interests in mathematical proportions. One of the artists we studied was Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. He was a religious painter, one that many times spoke to my soul, especially inside a public institution like Clemson.

In the mail today was a package that made me think back to my undergraduate days…and even challenged me to connect with my work today as a communicator.

Every quarter I receive a small book called Christian Reflection, A Series In Faith and Ethics from Baylor University’s Institute for Faith and Learning. It is packed full of good reading material that really helps me stretch and broaden my perspective.

This quarter, Caravaggio’s Inspiration of St. Matthew, the altar piece inside the Contarelli Chapel in Rome, Italy, was on the front cover. I flipped through the book and found a short article by Heidi Hornik titled, The Urgency of Inspiration. As I read this article…I began to think.

As you look at the painting…read this final excerpt from the short article:

“Caravaggio conveys urgency in Matthew, who is not seated as a scribe deep in thought, but is rushing back to the table to write down the inspiration from God via the angel. Matthew becomes an example of the faithful reader of Scripture: captured by the immediacy of the experience and intent on remembering that moment of inspiration.”

Let’s unpack that a bit…let’s dive into a few of those phrases in the paragraph above and reflect.

“rushing back to the table to write down the inspiration”

“captured by the immediacy of the experience and intent on remembering that moment of inspiration”

Have you found those moments of inspiration? Do you find yourself running back to write down something that is on the tip of your mind. During those moments of inspiration, epiphanies…do you run to write them down, record those thoughts, craft that inspiration and bring it to a reality?

Finding Inspiration Inside the Organization
One of the biggest areas large organizations struggle…time and bandwidth, especially when it comes to their communication initiatives. Time to find the stories, time to document those sharable moments, time to manage the people to share those stories. Time is and can be a bummer for many communications practitioners who are trying to share rich stories from inside their organization.

Sitting in a meeting with a hospital, time feels overwhelming…time to find, tell, share, and engage rich stories for a rich, broader social experience. Time can get in the way of inspiration…maybe?

Solving The Inspirational Bottleneck
We have been working with lots of hospitals to help with this inspirational bottleneck. We have been working with groups to implement our Content Advocate Program, we call it CAP. We help groups find content advocates inside the organization, those with rich with inspirational experiences, all with a desire to create and share. They all have rich talents ranging from writing, drawing, photography, video, animation…content creation that tells the story from inside the organization.

Our goal is to help find these content advocates, identify these voices, and channel their talents using rich social tools. But before we can begin, we have to engage the organization to shift in thinking. We have to help them think about content buckets, not marketing initiatives. We have to connect inspiration with content that connects with the organizations’ audiences.

Content creation can be fun and time consuming. So…you have to find those Matthew’s inside the organization that are rushing to tell a story. Sometimes you have to provide the space and the technology to unleash their skills.

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Look at the image above. I love this image! Meet Miles Thomas Haren…son to Tom and Jennifer Haren. This is their third child and the first boy our family has seen in a few generations.

Miles is my little nephew and I spent the afternoon helping Tom and Jennifer take his newborn pictures. Tom used to be a baseball player, catcher for Erskine College. You can see in the picture above his bat and glove from his college days.

Tom literally prayed for a boy, especially since he is a pastor and father to two sassy, little girls. I think he needed some testosterone in the household. So…we knew we had to incorporate his baseball bat and catchers glove into this shot(s).

But the image above was meant for Tom. Why? I wanted to call attention to his glove and bat. Now, let’s look at the image that was meant for Jennifer, below. Notice what is in focus?

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The same shot, different images, different focal points, different audiences, different messages, same camera, same lens, and even the same camera position.

By merely choosing a fast aperture speed (f2.8), I was able to create the desired look with a distinct depth of field. This allowed me to chose what to have in focus and what to “blur”.

Stories require focus…focusing the audience’s attention…drawing the eye to the details most important.  This is a reminder that every viewpoint might have numerous story-lines, but it is up to us as communication practitioners to choose he most appropriate message for the right audience at the right time.

Think about Gestalt Principles. Gestalt is a psychology term which means “unified whole”. It refers to theories of visual perception developed by German psychologists in the 1920s. Have you seen this diagram before?
gestalt-theory

“This principle maintains that the human mind considers objects in their entirety before, or in parallel with, perception of their individual parts; suggesting the whole is other than the sum of its parts. Gestalt psychology tries to understand the laws of our ability to acquire and maintain meaningful perceptions in an apparently chaotic world.”

Some of us see two faces, some of us see a vase. Some of us see both in the midst of this chaos. But regardless, something in these images draws our attention to a specific part of these images based on our viewpoints and associate pre-dispositions.

So as you scroll through Facebook, what video, what image catches your attention. Which parts of this social media communication puzzle catches your eyes as your scroll through your news feed? What videos make you stop scrolling, even though there is no audio. Which ones do you notice in this new world of auto-play and video ads released by Facebook?

Here is one from Clemson that caught my eyes and ears.

First, I scrolled through Facebook and the graphics caught my attention. Yes, I am a Clemson fan…so the bright orange and purple colors using motion graphics stopped me from scrolling…just to watch. Since it auto-played, I could not hear the music. Heck…I watch the whole thing silent without the music and I understood the storyline.

I even shared it with friends without even hearing the music. It was not until I went back, looking for the video did I listen to the sound.

My point here is that the motion graphics caught my attention while scrolling through a visually complex Facebook newsfeed. It caught my attention. It caught my focus. I was the target audience and I stopped scrolling to allow this silent video to play. It did not give me an action at the end to “Share”…I just shared it because I connected with the storyline.

Think about it for a second. If we focus on the story, focus on the audience, and focus on the message…we might achieve the desired result.

Reference Links:
http://courseweb.stthomas.edu/mjodonnell/cojo232/gestalt/gs07.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gestalt_psychology
http://graphicdesign.spokanefalls.edu/tutorials/process/gestaltprinciples/gestaltprinc.htm

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There is something awesome about these pictures…something so normal. This is my brother-in-law, sister-in-law and their children. They just had their third child. These pictures showcase their most recent appointment with the physician that delivered their third child, baby Miles.

Here we have one doctor’s visit with lots of smiles.

What makes these pictures so awesome, everyone in these images seem so comfortable, happy, and willing to have their pictures taken together. From the physician, the staff, the kids, everyone seems like family.

The role of the primary care physician, especially the physician that delivers a family’s child, is crucial to building a formative role in the health of a family. This is the entry gate for most hospitals. There is one thing that is hard to capture…images like these. Feeling completely unguarded, not worried about the technology, and willingness to share a moment in time…especially knowing these moments will be uploaded for all to see.

Before the days of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, and all the other social media outlets emerged…sharing moments like these could only be described in-person. Why am I sharing these moments…because we preach to our healthcare clients…if you create a positive culture of sharing…moments like these will naturally emerge.

Let’s unpack this moment!
How can we create a positive culture of sharing? How can we engage healthcare groups, hospitals, physician offices to engage in a positive culture of sharing? What does this mean?

I just finished training another department within one of our healthcare clients, and the one thing I stressed…create a positive culture of sharing. But before you can create this culture, you have to understand the rules, how the technology works, how images like these impact HIPAA, how to manage commenting, etc. This requires complete communication and transparency across the healthcare organization.

Not only do you have to engage, train, and have consistent conversations with all involved…but you have to listen to those who want to be a part of this social sharing opportunity. From physicians, residents, nurses, food workers, technicians, leadership, marketing, information technology, and so on; you have to talk about policy, procedure, technology, brand…but you also have to discuss the community and what a positive culture of sharing looks like.

Healthcare organizations have the greatest opportunity to engage happy faces like these.

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I just love these pictures!

I was sitting and meeting with a dear friend…and a great client. We were chatting about an upcoming group of projects, talking about the creative approach, budgets, logistics, etc. The more we talked, the more we began critically thinking about the visual message, the scripting, and the overall impact.

She looked at me and said, “I am just so thankful to work with you. You just get it…you are more than a video production crew, you truly are a storyteller. We know when we work with you…we know we get someone who truly helps us shape the story through out the whole production process.”

I was speechless and re-affirmed. She articulated what I have been preaching for so long.

Just the other day…I was meeting with another client and she was sharing the news they were hiring a senior level person for their business.

Their business is technical in nature, yet they value the idea behind creating a wonderful online experience. They hired someone who will focus on content…specifically a strong writer, a strong storyteller. There is a shift in culture that is happening. Groups we (here at Gray and SHI) are working along side are investing in stories, content curation initiatives, and taking ownership of their brand message. We are all storytellers…but we have to find the space, the platforms, and the willingness to unlock that capability.

We are all storytellers…but are we willing to allow those stories to come to the surface?

I have you noticed video auto-playing in Facebook when using your laptop, desktop computer, or even your mobile device like a tablet or smartphone. I have noticed the these auto-play videos on my iPad, iPhone, and my desktop using my MacBookPro.

The videos that are auto-playing are those uploaded directly to Facebook. This auto-play initiative is also a part of Facebook’s Premium Video Ads offering set to release to brands this fall, possibly October.

Video auto-plays were released in September 2013 with the goal to mirror, or closely resemble, the Instagram video and Vine experience. So this leads me to what type of video content might actually work using this new Facebook offering.

When you scroll through the news feed and a video auto-plays, the audio does not play…just the video. The only way to hear the audio of a video is to stop scrolling and click the video. The audio then starts playing.

So this is an indicator of visual cues…how can you stop someone from scrolling and intrigue them enough to click to play a video without sound?

Take a look at this video created by Mashable.com. This video auto-played when I was scrolling through my newsfeed, catching my attention. Why…the motion graphics and animation caught my attention.

I am a big fan of motion graphics and videos that utilize motion graphics to engage the audience. One of the reasons, you can tell a story visually if the person cannot hear the audio. I like to encourage video producers to not only create visually compelling messages but also videos that can stand alone if you could not hear the audio.

I have been recommending our clients create short videos for Facebook that include motion graphics. Why? When someone scrolls though their newsfeed, the motion graphics will catch their attention. This will stop them to want to click and explore. Then, include a link in the status update so the audience can watch the whole video or read more.

Short pieces of video content on Facebook I think can be a big win, if executed properly. Specifically, creating attention grabbing visual content that catches peoples’ attention then driving them to an action. If you read the release from Facebook surrounding their Premium Video Ads…you will see they are limiting the length to 15 seconds. I think this is smart. I think they have to include some visual cue, using motion to stop people and force them to explore.

Why are we using them? Are they fun? Are the cute? Are they just what we do…hashtag everything?

They were meant originally to help organize conversations, allowing like minded people to connect inside conversations. Now…there is a hashtag for everything…just because.

I see people posting Facebook using 15-20 different hashtags in one post…I wonder…how are they using this after they post this one piece of content. What are people doing with these hashtag initiatives?

It is time to ask ourselves a few questions:
1) Why are you using a hashtag?
2) Are your organizing a chat?
3) Are you trying to organize a community conversation?
4) If you are using a hashtag for a campaign, are you measuring the impact of the hashtag?

Twitter helped create this idea of hashtags and they are even consider dumping support for hashtags. Why…because users are using Twitter to search for content, conversations, and people based on search terms….not hashtags.

Via Mashable earlier this year, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo made this comment during a company earnings call in February 2014:

“By bringing the content of Twitter forward and pushing the scaffolding of the language of Twitter to the background, we can increase high-quality interactions and make it more likely that new or casual users will find this service as indispensable as our existing core users do. And we took initial steps in that direction with the introduction of media forward timelines and in-line social actions in October, and we’re already starting to see early signs that those initiatives are working well.”

Are we using hashtags like they were meant to be used or are we just creating more noise…more Chart-junk? If it is the later…then Tuft would not be happy!


I am not sure what Payne Stewart has to do with #blogchat, but it was a part of a verbal spat during the Twitter chat on Sunday, June 15, 2015. I was sitting watching television while following the chat when this little verbal disagreement broke out. Nothing more than a few heated words, but still this raised a concern for me. Why, I have help clients build communities using hashtag chats. I would hate for something like this to unfold during one of my client’s Twitter chats…but it could happen.

This weekly chat has been ongoing for a few years via Twitter, and it was started by Mack Collier. Mack, as the moderator of the chat, was a bit upset! Many of the chat attendees were calling the person who wrote the post above a troll and claiming that many of her comments as abusive. After reviewing the transcript…I did not see anything too abusive other the phrase “Shut-Up.” None-the-less…there was a disagreement, requests to contact Twitter for an abuse complaint, and maybe some hurt egos.

Bottom line…one person was not well liked and it was pretty apparent. This person kept on interjecting their opinion and it was perceived as abuse. So what is this a big deal?

Well, let’s ask a simple question…what is the policy of this chat? Specifically the commenting policy? And can anyone impose a commenting/chat policy when using a hashtag chat on Twitter?

This leads to an ownership question…who owns the rights to impose any chat/commenting policy inside a Twitter hashtag chat? Think about it…no one really owns the rights to this chat? Yes, no, thoughts?

There is no where to register a hashtag, claim ownership, or even purchase the use of a hashtag.

From TheVerge.com on Feb 7, 2013
“The hashtag isn’t a technology or even a platform service like the Facebook Poke. It’s more of an organizing principle, a way of opting into a larger public discussion. To get metaphorical: It’s more about the signal than the wire. It’s a good idea and it works. Everyone should be able to use it. And to Twitter’s credit, it’s not trying to lock down the hashtag. It hasn’t filed any patents or groused about other services ripping them off.

In part, that’s because it can’t. Twitter Inc. didn’t invent the hashtag, and it wasn’t even the first to use them in a tweet. By all accounts, that honor falls to Chris Messina, who picked up the hashtag shorthand from IRC protocols, and started using it as a way to organize discussions on Twitter in August of 2007. It didn’t even need any new tech: a simple character-string search would surface all the tweets with a certain tag. But the act of writing “#SXSW” instead of “SXSW” was enough to turn a jumble of search results into a meaningful, intentional conversation. At the time, there were plenty of skeptics, but the last five years have shown it to be a remarkably powerful trick.”

Forbes is reporting that brands might have a legitimate claim to a hashtag:
“Anyone with a legitimate claim to require targeted rights to a particular hashtag can secure that term for commercial exclusivity. If it’s used as a brand name – or a slogan related to a branded product or service – the hashtag then becomes protected from exploitation by other service providers in the same industry (as part of a phrase, like #ImLovinIt, but never alone). Even trademark protection won’t stop general users, and worse, spammers, from jumping on any trendy tag that gains momentum, but at least that carefully constructed brand identity is a little safer from unscrupulous competitors.”

What to do?
This is why if you are a brand or organization leading a Twitter based hashtag chat…there needs to be a section of your social commenting policy that addresses how to manage these chats.

We have always encouraged organizations leading hashtag chats to have a landing page with information about the chat, mainly for promotion purposes. But, now we should also include the commenting policy and rules for this chat on this same page.

Bottom line, you will not be able to force anyone from posting during a hashtag chat on Twitter. Managing a situation with un-wanted conversation can help, especially if there conflicting conversations taking place simultaneously. A good policy will help during these situations. Now it is time to go update all our social media policies and play-books.

Look above…that is the number of school shootings since Sandy Hook Elementary School incident. That is 74 school shootings since December 14, 2012.

The biggest debate right now:

  1. 2nd Amendment
  2. Access to guns

I have one for you…how about the access to media, social media, and the velocity of the social share. We are content consumers…actually we are hungrier than a pack of wolves in the middle of winter. We crave content, we crave to share, we crave to be the one to post it to our news feeds…first.

We have evolved into narcissists and we have been adding fuel to this fire as the complexity and access to digital tools has pervaded our every minute of our every day.

We wake up and and check our phones and check our news feeds. We crave it and we are not afraid to glamorize those individuals who spray bullets through the halls of our schools. Our news agencies are even more a vital part of this equation. A what point does it make sense to stop reporting, stop posting, stop sharing the news of another shooting? This is a pubic information question.

As a young news journalist for a television station in Phoenix, our news management made a conscious decision not to follow police chases live with a helicopter, we did not want to glamorize and publicize such a hyper-volital situation.

It is my humble opinion…we need to stop clicking, stop sharing, and stop reporting these shootings unless it is absolutely necessary for public safety.

There is no reason I need to read about another school shooting in real time halfway across the United States. When it is posted, reported, and shared over and over and over again…it provides the realization that we are willing to place this situation upon digital alter for those to consume regardless of the recourse.

This is the very reason I do not like to click, share, or even slow down while scrolling when I see these stories. Why…I do not want to add to the digital fire that is erupting.

I am a gun owner, I have a concealed weapons license, I am a parent, and I am a concerned citizen. Information is king but the social share can be a dangerous weapon…just as dangerous as the loaded gun and the person pulling the trigger.

Next time…take a few minutes and look at your Facebook news feed and review what you have clicked, Liked, Shared, and even where you have commented. Take a look at your Twitter feed and see what you have shared, RT’d, clicked, etc.

Are you becoming a citizen journalist trying to compete with the local, regional, and national news outlets?

Our news feeds, our Twitter feeds, our social feeds are powerful influences. How can we use these tools to move away from reporting the horrific stories and create content that will out pace these breaking news stories and updates with content that will create positive change.

We live in one of the greatest eras where creating content and sharing organically can create influence that provides a language of change. It is time to quit clicking those news stories that reinforce the events of June 10, 2014…another school shooting in Oregon.

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