Engaging an Audience: A Media Theory Perspective

Video Script with some additions and sans some ad libbed parts:

Ever since I started making videos there’s one thing that has always bothered me. I’ve talked about this before, and that’s this graph of user retention. It shows that people tend to watch my videos till about 2-3 minutes in and there’s a steep decline in the number of people who watch my videos till the end.

I’ve been listening to the feedback that people have for me and I’ve been making changes in every video that I make, but there’s still that statistic, that low engagement with the video that sticks with me as something I need to improve on.

With that in mind, I began looking at the usual tips and tutorials online on how to be a more effective communicator, but that felt like I was just scratching the surface. So, I decided to read up about media theory. The first thing that came up was the well-known work of Marshall McLuhan who famously said “The medium is the message”.

What he meant was that the medium of communication shapes how the message is perceived, which in turn also shapes behaviors and has an effect on society as a whole. He divided history into four epochs: Oral, where information was communicated solely through the spoken word, then there was the literary epoch, with the invention of writing and the creation of manuscripts. The third was the print epoch which came to be after the invention of the printing press and movable type, and the fourth is the electronic epoch, which is today’s society.

As mankind moved through these epochs, the invention of new communication mediums changed how we thought and remembered things, and also changed how societies were structured.

I want to talk about an aspect of McLuhan’s theory, the concept of Hot versus Cool media. Contrary to what you’d expect, he described hot media as the one you passively accept, and cool media as the one you actively participate in. To explain further, hot media engages one sense in a high definition way and has a low level of audience participation. Radio or printed books are examples of this. Radio engages the auditory sense while books engage the visual. Cool media, on the other hand, involves the use of multiple senses at once and involves “filling in the gaps” with your own thinking and cognition. An example of cool media would be watching TV, where you have to absorb the visual as well as the auditory information at the same time, while also forming thoughts and opinions on what’s being talked about.

I looked at the two things I usually create- blog posts and videos- and tried looking at them through this lens of hot or cool media. I realized soon that this binary classification wasn’t quite enough to fully understand how people engage with these things. You could oversimplify and say that blogs are mainly text-based and more “hot” media and videos are more “cool” because of the audiovisual information. Here’s the thing though- blogs are not plain text like printed books, they are purely digital and you can add pictures and other forms of media into them. You can also allow people to comment and share them. Also, I make videos, but the platform I use for them is youtube, which has its own design features and caveats. When you think of a youtube video or a YouTuber, you think of a particular archetype of person, a particular style of delivery, and a particular set of calls to action (like share and subscribe!). Not to mention all sorts of other “tropes” that have emerged- making things appear organic and less “high production”, building a sense of community, and the often mentioned parasocial relationships… the list goes on. Link in the description for a playlist of the videos I watched, as well as some articles I read.

I remember when I started making youtube videos a lot of people told me I was softspoken- they sounded surprised about it like it was different from what they expected. It was as if there’s some unwritten rule about how you present yourself that says you have to be loud and boisterous and “always turned up to 11”. As if there are unwritten rules of how to engage with the audience on this platform. Again- youtube isn’t just a video viewing platform, it’s a video delivery platform: there’s an algorithm to suggest videos to you, a comments section, a whole bunch of communities and followings- it’s an ecosystem unto itself.

Another way the Hot/Cool dichotomy breaks down is to think about it from the perspective of a viewer. I watched a video where there’s a discussion of how what’s hot for one person may be cool for another person- just because of how they interact with or consume the media. For example, I may listen to a podcast attentively, or I may just have it on as some background ambient sound while I do something else. Also, people may “heat up” or “cool down” based on the media type, the platform they are on, and a whole bunch of other factors.

So when it comes to the original question of engagement, it looks like I’m back to square one. Not quite- I did learn a lot about media theory and this exploration got me thinking a lot about how people engage with media. The most important lesson was the true meaning behind the words “the medium is the message”.

This does raise a few questions though- should I start using these tropes? Should I start having a high energy boisterous presentation with the goal of forming a parasocial relationship with my currently unnamed “fanbase”? Or should I continue doing what I’m doing and hope that youtube’s algorithm decides to bless me one day? For now, it’s the latter. But I am open to suggestions and feedback, and who knows, maybe I’ll stumble upon something that both engages the audience and gives me creative fulfillment.

This is the end of the video, so I’d like to thank you all for watching, I’m very close to 100 subscribers which is a milestone (for me at least) and I’m very grateful for all the support. Be sure to like this video, subscribe and hit the bell icon if you want more of this content, let me know what you think about this video in the comments, and remember:

“Anyone who claims to know all the answers has lied to you once already.”

[VIDEO] Giving and Receiving Feedback

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Paraphrased Video Transcript:

Today I want to talk about giving and receiving feedback. When I first set out to make this video I wanted to talk about a couple of life experiences and what they taught me about giving and receiving feedback, but I soon realized that the subject of feedback has a lot of nuances that I couldn’t do justice from my own experiences alone. So I decided to get some, well, FEEDBACK from a few people, and I got a lot of different perspectives from them.

First off I realized I have to define the scope of what I’m about to say. I want to talk about giving and receiving feedback on someone’s creative expression. I’m not talking about getting feedback in a work environment. I’ll tell a story about it- I wrote a blog post about something I learned in grad school called self-determination theory and sent the first draft of it to the professor who taught it to me. I was expecting some criticism of what I’d written, but in the email, he sent me he started off with the sentence “Your writing needs work”. He then proceeded to completely eviscerate my writing. I mean I hadn’t seen that many red lines since I was in elementary school. He did, however, say that he really appreciated the amount of thought I’d put into the piece.

I’d like to pause the story here to talk about some lessons that I took from that experience. The first lesson, keep in mind the relationship between the feedback giver and the receiver. In this case, It was between my college professor (giver) and his former student (receiver). Second, context is key – he was giving me feedback from an academic perspective, thinking from the mindset of writing a paper or academic piece, while I was writing from a personal perspective. With that in mind, we discussed it over a few emails and hashed it out.

But I remember being very shaken by that experience. For the next several months I felt terrible about it. I’d created a sense of self-worth around being a writer and that was my self-identification, and it was all shattered by four words – your writing needs work. I introspected and realized that maybe I really wasn’t looking for feedback; maybe, I was looking for validation. That’s what really happens these days- you post something online, you wait for the validation from social media- you have the words “feedback welcome” in your post but you really just want people to encourage you, and when someone does the opposite, you entrench yourself further into your own mindset and try to find things that support it (Confirmation Bias). The important thing is to understand this impulse and curtail it.

How I got out of that negativity was by trying to improve myself- I began working on my public speaking skills through Toastmasters, and I found a club that gave me feedback but also gave me a whole lot of encouragement. It also opened my mind up to different avenues of expressing myself. Maybe if it weren’t for that email my professor sent, I wouldn’t have been here making videos!

Speaking of videos, I also realized that it’s important to have a thick skin when you put yourself out there on the internet and to anticipate and prepare for situations where people are being especially mean or hateful.

I’d like to talk about another story that happened recently, where I had a completely different experience with getting feedback. I made a new banner for my social media and posted it online mentioning that it was my first attempt at creating one. Check out my website, my twitter page, and subscribe to my youtube channel while I’m on this topic. I got some feedback from my peers in the User Experience biz, telling me about things like the contrast ratio, font size, and other things about the visual design that I could tweak to make it a more effective banner.

I felt the impulse of retorting, of defending my design, but I realized I’d been in this place before. I decided to look at their feedback objectively. I thought about the goal of a social media banner; it’s about spreading the word, making sure people get the information on it as quickly as possible. I realized that if peers in the User Experience business are giving me feedback about a design I’ve made, they’re taking time out of their day to look at what I’ve created and suggested ways in which I can achieve the goals of the design in a better way, then that’s a good thing.

So I took their advice, made some tweaks, and thanked them for their feedback. To my surprise, someone told me that it was a pleasant surprise for them, and that people tend to stick to their guns and be very defensive about things, and that it was a breath of fresh air to see someone being receptive.

This whole thing was a complete 180 from the time I felt a shattered sense of self from four words by a professor.

All in all, these were two life experiences and two completely different approaches to receiving feedback. I feel like I grew as a person in the interim of the first experience which was a few years ago, and the second experience which was just a few days back.

[VIDEO] One Year of ShriViews Videos!

I uploaded my first video on February 9th, 2019. In the year that followed, I’ve learned a lot about the process of video creation, and it has influenced my creative process in more ways than one. In this video, I talk about the main takeaways from a year’s worth of videos.

One takeaway was that only 30% of the people who watch my videos are subscribed to my channel. If you’re reading this and aren’t subscribed, please go ahead and hit that subscribe button!

The top 2 countries where my viewers reside are India and the United States. It is tough to think of topics that both audiences can relate to, but I try to mostly talk about my experiences living in the United States as someone who moved here for higher education and to begin their career. I am open to more suggestions though!

Related to this point is the fact that different audiences want different forms of content. Some prefer longer form (20 minutes and above) content, while a lot of others prefer shorter content (3 – 5 minutes). This is corroborated by my retention statistics. On average, people tend to view about 3.5 – 4.5 minutes of the video before they tune out. The solution to that, of course, is to make the videos engrossing enough that people stick around and to ensure that the videos don’t go on for too long. 

An effect that making videos has had on me is that it has rejuvenated my creative process. Writing for videos requires a directness that the written medium doesn’t always need. 

Those are the 3 major talking points in the video. I hope you watch it, and I also hope you suggest some topics for me to talk about in the future. Here’s to more years of making videos and writing blog posts!