Michael Hoffman is the CEO of tech startup Gather Voices, which is a software that makes it easy to create or collect videos from anyone anywhere in the world on any device and to easily manipulate that media, edit it, add branding, add a call to action, and be able to publish it. There’s two reasons why that’s interesting. One is that video is the kind of content that’s dominating online, and video gets 1,200% more shares than text or images. Traditionally, video has been expensive and slow, and so especially for organizations without large budgets and the ability to have large in-house production agencies, video is important but it hasn’t been solved, so that’s where Gather Voices comes in.
According to Michael, another factor that has fueled their growth that is very relevant to PR professionals is that today, things need to be real and authentic. It can’t be made up. When Michael started a marketing agency 15 years ago, at that time, production quality was the most important thing and so was cleverness. Today, that’s not it. It’s about real, authentic stories. Companies are now figuring out that when they ask their community of customers, members, or fans to tell their own stories, those people come up with things they could have never imagined, never invented, and that’s the best material. That’s the material that people want. At Gather Voices, they’re unlocking that opportunity to collect those stories with video to create a powerful new stream that supports what PR professionals really want to do.
How Gather Voices works
The way Gather Voices works is that the contract can be with the company or with the agency that supports the company. Every instance of the software is fully branded, so if it’s your company, everything’s going to look and feel like it comes from your company, not from Gather Voices. They’re simply powering this activity. They’re not creating some kind of consumer brand. The company creates a request for video on their platform, and that request is basically a prompt that gets somebody to make a video; that somebody can be an employee, it can be a customer, it can be a thought leader, it can be anyone. The request has branding in it, of course, but it also has a time limit and talking points, because you don’t want somebody rambling on for 20 minutes, which you will then have to edit, and that creates a tremendous amount of more work and slows things down.
With time limits and very clear instructions, the content you get back is much more focused. It’s that piece that you want. You can even assemble different pieces together into a bigger piece, but giving that user some real narrow clarity helps a lot. That request for video can also include a video introduction. Imagine that Mike’s asking you for a video, and when you click on something, you see him saying, "Hi, thanks for coming to make a video. Here’s what we want you to talk about." What they found is that that video request actually creates more engagement, because the psychological thing that’s going on is, "Oh, that’s a video. That doesn’t seem so hard. I can do that," and that makes sense. So, the software bottles that request up into a link that can be shared via email, social media, text message, or it can be embedded directly into a website, form, or existing workflow. For example, if somebody’s purchasing something, that Thank You page can have one of those requests for video built-in, so that you’re collecting content in a passive way all the time and finding those gems of stories. This allows you to get real-time customer testimonials with video, which is golden.
You can also ask questions that aren’t necessarily just self-serving questions. Something PR professionals might know better than marketers is that you need a hook that is relevant and interesting. It can’t simply tell them to buy your products. It has to be a story. It’s about being able to ask people about the first time that they experienced something or things that ladder into your company and your product, but aren’t necessarily that direct self-serving testimonial which, of course, there’s a place for. This software can do that, but Gather Voices is thinking in a much broader way about creating a story environment that supports a brand.
Gather Voices is new to the market, having only started in 2017. Since then, they have managed to acquire both an eclectic group of customers and a lot of traction. They work with leading hospitals, large law firms, big consumer packaging companies, and other professional service organisations. A lot of their traction has come from member organisations and those doing virtual events, because for member organisations, their whole reason for being is their members, and so the members’ stories have value that maybe is higher than customer stories for a company, because they’re subscribers themselves to the organisation. They fund the organisation, and they want to be part of a community of members. Thus, building that community becomes really important.
Why Gather Voices is unique
With everyone focused on Zoom and audio-video conferencing these days, what sets Gather Voices apart is that it’s not just one aspect of communications. Zoom is a synchronous medium, which means the participants all have to be on it at the same time, which is great if everyone’s timezones match up, but it’s also not something people want to spend all day on. It’s also not possible to communice on Zoom with a group of thousands of customers or members. There’s a large world of asynchronous content that is recorded in advance and used later on on websites and social media, which Gather Voices helps produce. Most video content is asynchronous, so companies need this ability to collect video that they’re going to use possibly in a virtual event, because no one wants to run an event where they have to worry about everybody’s internet, not just their own. Collecting content in advance also enables people to be more engaged in the event. One of the things that they’ve discovered at Gather Voices is that when you ask people to tell their stories and you include their stories in your content, people pay attention differently. They feel much more like co-creators than they do if they’re being talked at. That, in turn, creates a deeper sense of connection and community, which is a very powerful thing for brands.
Many of Gather Voices’ clients are those who run events, virtual events now, of course, and also membership organisations. An example of that is the Emergency Nurses Association, which represents emergency nurses around the world, and this is obviously a very important time for them. Emergency nurses are on the frontlines of the COVID crisis, and they need to communicate a lot of important information to their membership. How do they do that? Well, instead of sending an email with content similar to what people get all day long, an email that people don’t want to read or open, their leadership, experts, and thought leaders make videos using Gather Voices, and then share those videos out on their website in an email and on social media in a way that’s much easier.
In the old days, those experts would have to either hire a camera crew or go to a studio to create content. With Gather Voices, they can record it on their own device, but what’s different about just recording on your own device by yourself is the content’s automatically routed to your communications team. You don’t have to learn how to do Dropbox or other complicated things. All of the content’s in one place, and there are a set of tools that allow the team to put the company branding and a call to action on it, edit it, and do all of that easily. This is extremely helpful as one of the major problems with any project with more than one contributor is compilation and the editorial work that takes place in post-production for video.
Let Gather Voices guide you on the path to making great videos
One of the insights from Gather Voices is that if you give people very directed instructions, you get back shorter pieces of content that require less of that post-production effort. And so, part of the way their system is built is to guide people to talk about the part that you really want, give them time limits that enforce that, and make them give you that sound bite or that short piece of content that you don’t have to pull out of some larger video. Anyone can see the value this kind of service brings to any content creator, especially an entrepreneur strapped for time.
On a commercial side, most of Gather Voices‘ clients are organisations that have in excess of $5 million revenue or budget, and so they’re not yet able to serve the lower end of the market yet. Most of their clients purchase annual or multi-year subscriptions to their product which averages around $18,000 per year, which clients themselves found to be less than what they would spend on professional production. When Michael ran a marketing agency, that annual subscription amount was the average cost of a single video.
Gather Voices also has a different model with agencies as well. The way that they are servicing either one-off event video or smaller organisations is through their agencies. They have models that allow agencies to purchase a license which they can sublicense out to their clients. Any software is great for what it does, but it doesn’t contain the intelligence that agencies and practitioners have on how to use it, how to make it effective, what to do with the content, and the like, and so that’s what practitioners bring to the table. What Gather Voices is trying to do is create an ecosystem of folks who believe in video and its significance, and create whole opportunities and services around what the software enables. All of a sudden, you’re able to get a lot more video content from a lot more people. Well, what do you do with that? How do you weave that opportunity into all of the initiatives that you’re taking?
Under digital storification, which is part of the five-stage SPEAK|pr methodology, the value and the power of Gather Voices is truly evident. If you would like to learn more about Gather Voices, you can visit their website, or you can even send an email to Michael himself at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cover Photo from Gather Voices