Monday, July 27, 2015

Producing Community User Spotlight Videos with Minimum Equipment

Video production technologies have have improved drastically since I produced my first community vlog 6 years ago. Armed with a DSLR and a laptop, young YouTubers are now creating amazing content rivaling large studios. With this low barrier to entry, there’s never been a better time for community managers to utilize online video as a way to increase engagement.

Recently, one of our Hong Kong based community super-users came to the Bay Area for our company’s sales kickoff. This was a great opportunity for me to get him on camera for a user spotlight video. Brian has been a cornerstone of our community for many years, and I knew all of the community members he has helped would love to meet him “virtually” via a personable video interview. There are, however, a number of challenges I had to work with:
  1. Outside of the sales kick off sessions and business meetings, Brian’s free time was severely limited. I was only able to book an one hour slot on his calendar.
  2. Although we’ve exchange a few emails on interview questions, I did not have a chance to rehearse the interview with Brian. This was going to be a live discussion captured on camera. Once my hour is up, that’s it. Whatever I am able to capture on camera will be what I have to work with.
  3. I do not have the budget to hire a video producer for this type project. I had to handle the entire production process myself: from pre-production all the way to post.
  4. I can not dedicate a lot of post production time to this project. On top of my community management responsibilities, I am managing several large web project as well. I need to be very efficient with this project, and it can not turn into a time sink.
After all’s said and done, the final video was posted 3 hours after I’ve setup the camera. Although it is definitely not the most professional video work I’ve done, I feel that it is something that’s “good enough” for its intended purpose.

Here's how I did it.

Equipment List:

Olympus OM-D EM-5 Body
Olympus M. Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO Lens
Oben AC-1321 Aluminum Tripod with BA-106A Ball Head
Olympus EMA-1 External Mic Adapter
Realistic Condenser Lavalier Microphone
Tascam DR-05 Audio Recorder
Mini Tabletop tripod

Video Production Kit 1

I’ve recently bought the EM-5 in order to have a lighter interchangeable lens camera. Although I still love my Canon 7D (and its many lenses), it’s not the easiest camera to travel with. The EM-5’s 5-axis image stabilization system makes it easy to shoot handheld, and its small size makes this one-camera interview kit extremely portable.

Video Production Kit 2

The 12-40mm f/2.8 lens is the “L” lens of the Micro Four Thirds world. It’s an extremely high quality lens for both video and still photography. The large f/2.8 aperture is a must to get that shallow depth of field film look. It is weather sealed just like the EM-5, and it makes for an excellent walk-around lens when traveling.

Nothing makes a video feel “amateurish” more so than terrible audio captured with the on-camera microphone. For interviews, my 10 year old Realistic condenser lavalier mic still provides better audio quality than any on-camera microphones ever could. I consider audio for video a critical part of any videos worth capturing, and the Tascam DR-05 was set up on the desk in front of Brian as a backup (just in case something goes wrong with in-camera audio capture).


Most offices have fluorescent lamps that look horrible on camera, and this office was no exception. With limited choices in locations, I was lucky enough to find a large office with a glass wall that allowed diffused natural sunlight to come in. This was not the best lighting solution, but with my limited time and resources, it was simply not feasible to bring in and set up a three point lighting kit. Having said this, lighting is the first area I would seriously consider improving in future shoots.

A photo posted by Anton Chiang (@antonchiang) on

Production Process:

To make Brian feel more at ease, I simply rolled the camera and started talking to him. I had to pay very close attention to what Brian was saying, and repeat the question if his response was unusable even with editing. This was a delicate process since 1. my time was limited and 2. the more you make your subject repeat, the more nervous they tend to get. For folks who do not have formal media training, talking into a camera can be a nerve wrecking experience. Filler words such as “ehs” and “ems” begin to increase in frequency when one’s self conscious in front of the camera. It can help to ask the subject to be conscious of not using filler words. In addition, developing a good rapport with the subject can also make the entire process less difficult. 

Post Production:

Brian did fairly well for a completely unrehearsed and rushed interview. However, this still meant that the raw footage I got required some serious editing. I wanted to get the video posted as soon as possible, and I had to show Brian the rough cut before he left town. To expedite the process, I simply used the company PowerPoint template to create all titles and graphics. The entire raw footage file was dumped into the Final Cut Pro X timeline, and I simply cut the clip as I watched it for usable sentences and sound bites. I tried to keep the edits at a slightly fast pace (similar to the quick jump-cut style edit made popular by YouTube vloggers). At the end of the day, I think I was able to introduce Brian to our community in a way that’s infinitely more personable than a text interview.

Obviously, this is a fast paced “good enough” type of production process. If budget allows, community managers should always utilize video professionals to deliver the best results possible. Having said this, I highly encourage you to give the DIY method a try. It can be a rewarding experience for both you and your community. And with success, it may lead to something much bigger than a one-man show.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Confession of a Procrastinating Blogger and a Busy Dad / Husband

With additional responsibilities at home and at work, unfortunately this blog has gone attended for a while now. I hope to eventually write more about community building, social media, photography or other topics that interest me. Until then, please look for my updates via these photography communities and social media channels:



Facebook Page:


Picasa Web:




A photo posted by Anton Chiang (@antonchiang) on

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Photoblog Update

My project 365 photoblog turned out to be an overwhelming challenge after a couple of months. What started out as an exciting idea quickly turned into a serious burden. With a full time job, a family and numerous personal obligations, it was extremely hard to keep up with the project and take quality into consideration. I found myself taking a lot of "filler" photos just to have backup photos for the day. I stopped updating the photoblog when I realized this project was transforming photography from an enjoyable hobby into a chore. It was time to slow down before I turn an activity I loved into something negative.

I am still taking a lot of photos during my spare time, and I will continue to update my photoblog on a regular basis (as time permits). I've learned a lot from this project 365 attempt, and I will give this another try when the right time comes.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Logitech Wireless Touchpad - Unboxing and Initial Impressions

I’ve recently produced a how-to video on the Logitech Wireless Touchpad for Logitech’s support community, and I was able to use this device exclusively for a few days while getting to know its functionalities. Prior to my experience with this standalone touchpad, I would have thought that a mouse or trackball would always be better choices compared to the touchpad. Most of my experiences with touchpads are from using laptops, and I can’t really say that I am a fan of these built-in touch surfaces. They usually interfere with my typing, and I was never really comfortable with their sensitivity and size.

While I still prefer mice when it comes to desktop pointing devices, the Logitech Wireless Touchpad did grow on me quite a bit. I’ve enjoyed using it much more than any laptop touchpad’s I’ve ever used. The surface and buttons have a solid feel to them, and the multi-touch gestures are very usable. For me, this device is the perfect mouse alternative for my HTPC and Digital Audio Workstation. It is much easier to control the HTPC from the couch with a touchpad compared to a mouse. With my DAW setup, I have a very cramped workspace (since the desktop is shared between a 61 key synthesizer and a PC keyboard). There’s simply not enough room to comfortably navigate a mouse. Depending on the task at hand, a standalone wireless touchpad can be moved to various parts of the desk. It is much easier to control the DAW software while recording a keyboard track by positioning the touchpad on top of my Yamaha MOX 6.

So while my main PC at home will continue to be controlled by a mouse, the Logitech Wireless Touchpad is an excellent mouse alternative in both my living room and home recording studio. Below are a few unboxing photos and the multi-touch gestures video from Logitech Support's Youtube Channel.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I am an employee of Logitech. I received this product free from Logitech. I was not required to write a positive review. Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products that I have personally used and believe will be good for my readers.  The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Project 365

While searching for camera reviews on Taiwan’s Mobile01 community, I came across a couple of inspiring Project 365 photo blogs. This seems to be a great way to capture one’s life through a lens while sharpening the “photographic eyes” through constant practice. After a short mental debate with myself, I’ve decided to set up an account on Tumblr and go for it. To keep things organized, I will use the Tumblr account exclusively for the daily photo blog and keep all writing projects here.

So without further ado, here’s the URL for my Project 365: I am hoping this project will help me get back into the swing of things after a long “social media hiatus”. Your feedback is definitely welcomed. I’d also love to hear about your experience with this type of daily photo project. Did your photography improve? What are some of the tips and tricks you’ve picked up during the year?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Enabling a Mobile Friendly Community

With the help of an extremely talented team of designer, web architect, community visionary and marketing gurus, I've introduced J-Net community members to a new mobile UI from Lithium. It's certainly very encouraging to see a large number of positive comments and praises from our community members. To me, the enthusiasm we saw really validated the media convergence movement to the "three screen and a cloud" vision. As a community manager, it is extremely satisfying to roll out a well received feature that truly helps our community members engage and collaborate more, with a "cool factor" to boot.

The advantages to having a mobile enabled community are fairly obvious, but the consequences of making the wrong mobile decision can have long term negative effects. After all, we have *one* opportunity to do it right when it comes to gaining time share on the second screen folks look at the most. A problematic deployment would have discouraged users from accessing our community via mobile device, and it will be difficult to gain trust and momentum with a second attempt. The new Lithium mobile platforms offers quite a few bells and whistles, but following are two primary reasons why I think Lithium's "got it" when it comes to community mobile UI:

1. Clearly, device agnostic solutions are the wave of the future. While we could have taken the app store route and developed a community app for the most popular mobile device, we would have ended up with a large number of disappointed users complaining about cross platform support. Developing an app for multiple mobile platforms and maintaining multiple versions of the app would've certainly been an unwise investment and a capital drain. Granted, mobile apps have their places in this world. However, there is already a powerful application that takes online discussion data from a community databases and render them according to device screen/capabilities: it's the mobile web browser. Lithium's device detection feature renders outputs according to device/browser sizes and capabilities, and it is a much more scalable solution compared to custom apps.

2. Simplicity and functionality. Lithium's UI designers have created a page layout that is light yet functional. There are no excessive images and codes to load, yet most key functions are available. With the mobile UI, we are allowing our community members to gain productivity with pockets of time previously wasted (waiting in line for coffee, train and bus rides...etc). It's not aimed at replacing or competing with PC screens (not with the current generation of smart phones anyway). Lithium's implementation has the right balance between functionality and simplicity. This elegant solution allows our community members to participate in forums and blogs, while saving some of the less frequently accessed features for the desktop UI.

We are now on the 4th day after the mobile UI launch, so far everything seems to be working fairly smoothly. Is this mobile UI perfect? Of course not. As with all new technology implementations, there are always a few minor glitches. The key is that these minor issues do not degrade user experience, and I am confident they will be patched in future releases. We've ran a few contests soliciting user comments as well as screenshots/photos, and the response has been very enthusiastic. Although I sincerely appreciate all of the positive praises, my favorite user comment cuts to the chase, and it really gave me a good chuckle:

Ain't that the truth in today's hyper connected world ;-)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

From Online Anarchy to Online Censorship - On Engadget's Comment Firestorm

You've heard the mantra beaten to death by almost all social media experts, scholars and practitioners: transparency, transparency, and even more transparency. After all, the holy grail of social media in the business world is to let your customers and partners voice their real concerns and opinions, right? We've been told by all the social media revolutionaries that censorship is old school stupidity, and opening the floodgate for the digital comment assault is what an "enlightened" business professional would do.

A few days ago, a coworker IMed me this url and snickered "so much for transparency!". Looks like Engadget finally couldn't take any more of this wonderful transparency preached by every social media visionary. Is Engadget finally caving into the dark side? Are they now just steps away from communism and complete social media fail? After all, if you take all of the "transparency" advise very literally, you may think it's a netizen's God given right to speak their mind freely, no matter how abusive the language. A quick look at some of the media outlet comment threads and Fortune 500 companies' social media properties reveals that this "hands off" approach to online conversation is widely practiced. Comments that would get one fired from a corporate job are regularly posted in YouTube and Facebook comment threads.

So just exactly what is the right way to look at online conversation moderation? Is the complete hands off approach the way to go? In the real world, although we are free to say almost anything we want, social consequences prevent us from having a completely unfiltered stream of consciousness coming out of our mouth. Once we move to the online world, however, the "online disinhibition effect" can drastically change how many of us behave. While this could empower one to express true opinions without the fear of social retribution, it could also lead to a deterioration in communication, resulting in emotionally charged rants filled with noise. Online communities managers have known this for decades, and the approach to handling this problem has varied widely since the days of dial-up BBS. Despite the differences in approach, I think one thing all seasoned community managers can agree on is the danger of the "broken window" theory. If you leave a virtual community unattended, there's a good chance that it will soon be overrun by trolls, potentially even establishing a rogue social hierarchy, transferring control of the community to rogue members.

So did Engadget do the right thing by turning off comment? Personally I believe something had to be done, but the jury may still be out on the best approach to online conversation moderation. Gary Marshall from did a great write-up on the complete story of what had happened to Engadget. Is community based moderation (comment voting/rating practiced by & YouTube) the answer? Or do businesses need to control the directions of the conversations with very active moderating teams? What ever the answer may be, one thing is for sure: as we rely more and more on social networks and online forums to communicate, the Engadget user comment issue (in effect, a community management issue) is only tip of the iceberg for the number of online community challenges businesses will face in the near future.