A Quickstart Cheatsheet to Using Video With Social Media In Emergencies!

By Kerry Shearer, Public Health Communicator and Social Media Trainer
April 4, 2014  (Join my list here to periodically receive more info like this!)



As a public health communicator, web video producer and emergency communications/ social media trainer, I know how critical it is to get information out to the public and media during an emergency.

Disaster news breaks on Twitter, the media is on top of it immediately, and often we as communicators can feel like we are swimming to catch up.

And of course we need to keep our “eye on the ball”…the public, and what they need to know about the emergency.

One of the best ways to do that is to have a robust and flexible arsenal of social media tools available to you BEFORE the emergency strikes, so you’re familiar with how everything works and are able to immediately issue messages, holding statements, and get your organization’s voice heard through the clutter.

Those who are using video to reach out are way ahead of the game. It is incredibly easy to shoot a quick video, trim the clip on your iPhone, add a title or name identification to it, then upload it directly to social media for immediate distribution.

Getting Started

The first thing you need is an iPhone with enough storage space on it to hold some video content. (Yes, that means you might have to offload some of those photos and videos of your kids that are taking up a lot of storage space!).

(The iPhone is recommended because it has incredible capability and the best video software. However, Android phones, for example, do have the ability to shoot and edit simple video clips.)

There are also several accessories that you need to create a great quality video.

Joby GripTight

Joby GripTight

The first is a tripod mount. One of my favorites is the Joby GripTight. It is small, folds flat, and grips your smartphone securely between its spring-loaded tabs. The GripTight screws right onto any standard tripod mount.

Of course, you need a tripod. For this kind of video, you pretty much want to leave the camera locked down, so you don’t need an expensive tripod that allows smooth pans and tilts. In fact, some of my favorite portable tripods are $10 garage sale tripods! It doesn’t matter how poor the pan and tilt head is on the tripod, because you mostly just want to lock it in position and shoot your video. You can also find a lot of inexpensive tripods on Amazon.

Rode SmartLav

Rode SmartLav

The next accessory you need to create emergency videos is a clip-on lavaliere microphone. There is one specifically made for use with smartphones and tablets. It is the Rode Smartlav (view all these smartphone video accessories here in my Communicators TechStore).

Here’s the thing: people can live with marginal video quality, but they won’t tolerate poor audio that is hard to understand. You simply can’t shoot an interview with an iPhone from 6 feet away and have the audio sound anything but echo-ey and hollow with tons of ambient room noise. You’ve got to use a plug in, wired lavaliere microphone.

As I said, the SmartLav is made for smartphones and tablets. It has the right kind of connecter on it, which although it’s the same size as a mini headphone jack, it has an extra contact ring on it. (Technically, it’s called a TRRS connector). Which is exactly what your smartphone has. So when you plug it in, your smartphone immediately recognizes it as a microphone. Because the SmartLav has a relatively short cord, you need to add a 6 foot TRRS extension cord to it – and you’re set! (I ALWAYS carry a SmartLav and extension cord with me. They come in a very small pouch that you can tuck in your purse or messenger bag).

LED video light with filters

LED video light with filters

Another key piece of gear is a small LED video light with a dimmer switch on it. These are available for as low as $28, and will properly light up your interviewee in almost any situation. It runs on AA batteries and includes a trio of filters. I usually use the orange filter to warm up the look of the very white LEDs.

"L" bracket handle

"L" bracket handle

Finally, there’s a great little handle that you can use when you need to go handheld with your shooting. The handle will help you get smoother, steadier shots when not using a tripod. It even has a cold-shoe dock on top to mount the video light. You can mount the Joby GripTight to the handle, and the handle itself will even attach to a tripod.

The App: iMovie

The real key to making fast-turnaround videos in emergencies is the software. iMovie for iPhone and iPad is perfect for that. The app is cheap ($4.99) and allows you to quickly edit your videos.

Here are the steps to creating a video using iMovie:

iMovie editing interface on iPhone

iMovie editing interface on iPhone

1)   Shoot your video using either iMovie or the devices’ native video shooting app.

2)   Open iMovie.

3)   Choose a “theme” (I like “News”).

4)   Import your video clip.

5)   Trim the beginning and end of the clip so it has a clean start and clean ending.

6)   Add a “lower third” title to the person who appears in the video. Usually, you’ll want to include the person’s name and agency, and maybe also have an additional title showing the date and time the video was made. (You don’t want to confuse anyone who might later stumble upon a video with outdated information).

7)   When the video is done, use the one-button upload feature to send it to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, or the other posting options that appear.

8)   Export a final copy of the video to your Camera Roll.

There are many types of videos you can create. One of the quickest and easiest in an emergency is what I call “Direct-to Camera”.

The Process
Let’s say you are a spokesperson stationed at the Emergency Operations Center during a disaster. Here’s how to record a direct-to-camera video:

1)   Mount the smartphone to a tripod and set up the tripod in a well-lit location. You may have a backdrop behind you with the agency logo, or perhaps a good view into the emergency operations center that shows the action behind you.

2)   Add the LED video light to make sure your face is well lit.

3)   Connect the Rode SmartLav to its extension cord and plug it into your smartphone.

4)   Open the smartphone’s video app and start recording.

5)   Step into position in front of the camera. Have a colleague check the shot to make sure you are properly framed.

6)   Begin your Emergency Update. Pause a couple of beats as you look directly at the smartphone camera lens and then begin. “Hi, this is Jane Doe at the Emergency Operations Center with an update on the flood at 8:30 p.m.” And then give the main points of your update. Maintain direct eye contact with the camera lens as much as possible. You are looking right at the unseen viewer. For this kind of update, it is understandable that you might have a few notes on a sheet of paper in your hand that you occasionally glance at. But try to maintain eye contact.

7)   When you’re done, stop recording and go through the editing process described in the previous section.

That’s just one style of video. You can also grab interviews with key Subject Matter Experts and issue those via Facebook, Twitter and YouTube (the Interview style of video).

More and more people get their news via social media – especially during disasters. When your organization’s voice is there – and there quickly – it immediately positions you as a leading source of information during a crisis. Your videos will essentially “go viral” as they are posted and reposted by others. And as a result, you will have gotten critical information to the public on a timely basis.

I hope you have found this “cheatsheet” helpful. I know that the emergency response organizations I am training to use what I call “Social MultiMedia” - video and audio – during a disaster come away so much better prepared to excel in a crisis.

When you know what to do, and are familiar with the tools, you can immediately jump into action. Even the simple act of issuing a video “holding statement” (“We’ve heard the reports, this is the kind of thing we constantly train for, and our response crews are on the way”) will put your agency on the map as a key go-to source during disaster.

I'd love to connect so I can periodically send you more tips, tools and techniques on communicating effectively in an emergency. Click here to stay in touch!

If you’d like information on how to train your crew in Social MultiMedia, please contact me.

I also do a two-day JIC/JIS course through Media Survival Group that is Homeland Security certified. Find out more on that at MediaSurvivalGroup.com

-Kerry Shearer
Public Health/Social Media Communicator

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