Video storytelling is growing, thanks to the ubiquity of the smartphone and its ability to shoot good quality video and to free, easy-to-use video-sharing sites such as YouTube and Vimeo.
With a little effort, county officials can take advantage of this engaging medium to help tell their counties’ stories. Some are already embracing video for public education, including County and District Attorney for Ellis County Patrick Wilson, who has his own YouTube Channel.
“The smartphone camera quality has gotten so good now they shouldn’t hesitate to use one,” Wilson said. “You don’t need fancy equipment. I’ve heard anecdotally that some find somewhat amateurish video to be more compelling.”
Whether it’s shooting a video to explain the duties of a county office, or to answer a question frequently asked by constituents, all it takes is a little planning, a smartphone and a free (or cheap) video editing app or program, said Wilson.
He shot his first video in 2015 using a digital single-lens reflex camera mounted on a tripod, but soon realized that was overkill. Now he records with his iPhone propped up on his desk. In each of his videos the camera tightly frames his head and shoulders. Family photos, cards from his children and the Texas flag can be seen in the background while he speaks directly into the camera. The effect is as if he’s delivering a personal presentation to one viewer.
After he’s made his recording, Wilson downloads the video to his Macintosh computer and uses iMovie to edit and add text and other visuals.
“I’m a Mac user at home, so I use iMovie for editing the videos. Once you get the hang of it it’s very quick and easy,” Wilson said. He added that Microsoft’s Movie Maker would probably be a good alternative for PC users.
Alternatively, editing apps allow editing directly on a smartphone. Creating a YouTube channel and uploading finished videos is also easily done via phone.
Sharing the Ellis County Story
Producing videos is just one of the ways Wilson communicates with his constituents. He somewhat reluctantly leapt into the social media pool of Facebook and Twitter within a couple of years of being appointed to his first term in 2011 and established personal accounts on each platform. Find him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/EllisCountyDA/ and on Twitter at @EllisCountyDA.
“My fundamental philosophy for social media is that I want to tell my story before someone else tells it for me,” Wilson said. “I really believe it’s important for a county official to do that. First, we do a lot of good for our communities. But nobody pays attention because that’s what we’re supposed to do. They only pay attention when something bad happens. If bad is the only thing that’s ever reported, the community has a terribly skewed view of the work that we do.”
He said he believes his social media communications have helped create a positive view of his office and better public understanding about what it does. After attending a presentation on the growing importance of video communications, he took it a step further. “Common sense told me that as we increasingly move to more visual forms of communication it would be a good idea for me to move into that as well,” he said.
Wilson created a personal YouTube page,and so far has posted four informational videos. (Also find his video channel by visiting www.youtube.com and searching on “Patrick Wilson + Ellis County and District Attorney.”)
“I try to think of topics that are of general interest to the public, and which can be easily covered in about five minutes or less,” he said.
Wilson’s four-minute video, “Why County and District Attorney?” breaks down the different responsibilities of each position and why not all counties have both. It was based on a talk he regularly presented. Today, when he gets a query about the subject, he directs the reporter to his video. “I was recently involved in a high profile case involving the potential removal of a neighboring district attorney,” Wilson said. “That video was especially helpful in explaining to the media why my office was, by law, designated for that case.”
His videos, “Crimes Against Children,” “Burglary vs. Robbery” and “Hot Checks,” provide simple explanations, dispel myths and help educate the public about routine topics handled by his office.
“Public education is the theme on my Facebook Page and in those videos as well,” he said, adding it’s important to counter public misunderstandings about the criminal justice system.
Wilson said officials should take advantage of video communications and YouTube to help explain how county government works.
“It’s important because we are elected by the public to do a job. We represent the citizens of our community. They need to have an understanding to be an informed electors to know what our jobs do.”
Getting Started with YouTube
YouTube, which launched in 2005, now has more than a billion users — almost one-third of all Internet users — and those who visit are watching 4.95 million videos every day.
Find guidance on how to create and manage an account on the video-sharing site, edit and upload your videos, and much more at: youtube.com/help
7 Tips for Creating a Great Video
Wilson shares seven tips on using video for public outreach and education (paraphrased for brevity).
- Select a topic you know well. Think of the three most-asked questions you hear as a county ofﬁcial. Think, what are the common misunderstanding about what I do or about what county government does? What can I easily explain to people about that process?
- Speak from the heart, not from a script. Look directly at the camera. It sounds clichéd but just be yourself; be genuine.
- Don’t worry about making it perfect. You’re only human. That’s the point. We’re just regular people doing a job. You don’t need slick production values.
- Use good lighting. Make sure to shoot using sufﬁcient light that casts no shadows on your face. Make sure you’re not backlit, that is, that you don’t have a window or another source of bright light behind you.
- Keep it short. About four or ﬁve minutes is enough to explain a subject. You don’t want to put a 20-minute video online on social media. People have a short attention span. Try to keep the video as short as possible without sacriﬁcing content.
- If you make a mistake, keep rolling. The beauty of digital video is you can make mistakes and edit them out. If you said something the wrong way just pause and say it again. The pause makes it easy to edit out your mistake. Don’t move around as you speak. It makes it harder to edit the pieces together.
- Share your video to build an audience. Once you’ve posted your video to a video-sharing site don’t forget to post a link to it on Facebook and Twitter, put it on your website and include it in emails, newsletters or other communications.
The Texas Counties Deliver public information campaign aims to improve the public’s understanding of county government and the essential services it provides Texans. This is one in a series of articles highlighting how Texas counties are sharing the county story with the public. Need ideas for how you can share the good news about your county?
See www.county.org/texascountiesdeliver for ideas and resources. Let TAC know how what you’re doing. Email us at email@example.com. Texas Counties Deliver. It’s time to spread the word!