Recently I had the pleasure of talking with Amy Heisler, Global Internal Communications Manager for First Solar, about some of the fascinating things she is doing to reach and engage employees with video in her company. First Solar is a global leader in utility-scale photovoltaic (PV) solar energy solutions. The company has about 6,600 employees and operates in 13 countries around the world. Here is some of what she told me.
Q: Video is becoming a popular channel to communicate with your global audience. Why is this medium so effective for you? A: We have employees around the globe, in offices, manufacturing facilities and at solar plants. Video helps build connections with fellow associates and visually demonstrates our company’s geographic, functional, and human diversity. It also gives our leaders an opportunity to share First Solar’s business strategy and “big picture” concepts in an accessible format for our associates to refer back to as needed – without sending staff on frequent around-the-world tours.
Q: What challenges do you have communicating with employees around the world and how does video help meet those challenges? A: We have associates in almost every time zone around the world, working in different parts of our business. Video can be accessed 24/7 through our intranet, which means it’s available when it’s convenient to the viewer. For every video series, making sure it is inclusive of our different regions and departments is a high priority.
Q: Authenticity is the “coin of the realm” these days. How does video bring authenticity to your internal communications? A: Except for very scripted videos like our quarterly bonus metrics updates, our videos are produced in a Q&A format. The answers aren’t scripted and the video comes across with a real view of how things really are and not rehearsed “corporate-speak.” People like to see and hear from their leaders and co-workers, especially those doing different work in different locations.
Q: What are some of the most successful video communications you’ve produced and what made them so effective? A: Last year I produced a year-in-review with 13 of our leaders – our executive team, regional business leaders and our manufacturing site heads. I have contacts in all of our locations who act as my field reporters and we were able to get in all the footage within a two-week period. All the leaders were instructed to give a two-minute(ish) update on their team’s 2015 achievements and to give a holiday greeting in every language they speak. Some of the footage was pretty raw, which gave it that authentic quality (even though it made it harder on the editing side), and it scored high viewership numbers and we received a lot of positive feedback.
Our latest video series is “A Few Minutes With…” The format has the subjects touching on what they are working on, what other teams they collaborate with for success, and what excites them about working at First Solar. The first video was very well received, featuring an IT manager who is heading up the migration of our intranet to the cloud. The second video, to be released in the next few days, gives a star turn to one of our construction managers in India.
Q: You’ve become quite a video editor. What type or equipment do you have and how difficult was it to learn. A: One day, the job of creating the internal videos was completely handed over to me. For the first time in my career, I had a camera, a studio and editing software in my care and control. I’ve scripted videos and been the on-camera talent back in my old Honeywell days, but this was new territory.
I use Final Cut Pro on a 27-inch iMac. For learning video editing, the Final Cut Pro tutorials from Izzy Video were a lifesaver. I can’t say enough about how Izzy Video took me from no skills whatsoever to competent in a few short hours. It has been so much fun to continually improve the production values of our videos as I gain more skills.
I have a media studio, complete with a green screen (a giant swath of green draping) which can be traded out for a mottled gray background, three lights (two on each side plus a back light), and a Canon HD video camera. In the studio I use a lavaliere mic attached to the camera and I have a variety of other microphones to use when I film on location. We are also testing out smart phone videos when used with a lav mic for phones and mini-tripods. (For help in producing excellent smart phone videos, check out Candidio.)
We use an iPad for a teleprompter and use the Teleprompt+3 app. A production assistant can run a script from an iPhone and edit and change speeds as needed. It’s pretty slick.
Q: You work for a fascinating company that seems uniquely poised for the future. Where do you think internal communications is headed for First Solar? A: From a technology standpoint, intranets often lag behind how people are interacting outside of work. We want to be where our employees are, which means giving them easy access to company information without needing to log onto their PC. We are moving in that direction with our migration to SharePoint in the cloud via Office 365. The videos are already being housed on O365 Video and they can be accessed via mobile devices when logged in with their SSO (single sign on) account information.
Q: What advice would you give to an internal communicator that wants to start increasing their use of video?
A: First, of course, is getting your leadership comfortable with the idea of using video. Once you’ve crossed that hurdle, then approach video as another tool in your toolkit to support your business goals. Preparation is everything, but don’t be afraid to jump right in and try new things. Find people who make for good interviewees and make sure they know what the desired end product will be. The more they know what is expected of them, the better it will go for your video.