In March, Zurich Financial Services (ZURN) CEO James Schiro embarked on a worldwide trip to reassure employees that the company was healthy, despite all the bad news surrounding the financial-services and insurance industries. Road shows aren't new to Schiro, but his means of communication is. This year, Schiro carried along an inexpensive Flip camcorder to record and upload video of his presentations to YouTube (GOOG).
"A leader has to be the catalyst of change, has to champion it passionately, and epitomize it personally," Schiro told me in a recent interview. Aware of major shifts in the way people communicate with each other, such as using sites like YouTube and Facebook, he decided to connect with his employees and customers in the same way. Though he manages a 60,000-employee company, his approach could help you communicate more effectively with your own staff and clients.
Here's how Schiro's video process works: After visiting a Zurich office, he uploads one- or two-minute updates to YouTube. These are aimed at employees and customers, but open to anyone. "Why don't you just send out an e-mail or post an update to your internal blog?" I asked Schiro. "The people who spend a few minutes to watch my message will get a different sense of the leadership and the role Zurich plays in the lives of customers than they would get in an e-mail. Many people are more interested in watching a video than reading another e-mail," Schiro told me.
You might expect a company as large as Zurich to produce expensive, highly stylized video. Schiro believes that the result created with inexpensive tools (like a Flip camera and YouTube) is just as powerful, if not more so, because it telegraphs informality and immediacy. It "humanizes" people and can provide a deeper level of emotional engagement than posting a piece of text.
Video also builds trust, according to a 2006 internal Cisco (CSCO) research report. The Cisco research found that "trust, a critical factor in influencing group effectiveness, is readily generated in richer media experiences.…Relational cues are normally conveyed nonverbally, the absence of nonverbal cues in e-mail and instant messaging can therefore be a barrier to the expression of interpersonal dynamics."
Cisco CEO John Chambers makes frequent use of video in his internal video blog. In May, Cisco purchased Pure Digital, the maker of the Flip camcorder. Now, Chambers uses a Flip wherever he goes. On a trip to South Korea where he met with country leaders, customers, and employees, he turned the camera on himself, recorded a short update, plugged it into his PC, and had uploaded a video briefing to his employees before he boarded the plane to return home.
"When employees see that video blog, they know it's a casual conversation with John," says Mike Mitchell, Cisco's senior director of collaboration business services. Mitchell recently showed me C-Vision, Cisco's internal employee video-sharing platform. It's like Cisco's own version of YouTube. Any employee who wants to upload a video is welcome to do so, and somewhere between 300 to 400 videos are being uploaded a month. The most popular type of update—about 38%—are team and organizational updates, lasting under 10 minutes. The second most popular—some 24%—are for product and sales updates.
Although Cisco has a multimillion-dollar studio for high-profile communications and sells the high-end TelePresence video conferencing system, there are plenty of instances where Chambers thinks its preferable for leaders to use the cheaper, faster, and more informal video tools. For example, if a competitor makes a move, a product manager can immediately send information to his team to discuss a response.
It's a view shared by Zurich's Schiro. He recently instructed his top leaders around the world to shoot short video messages in their native language and post them on the Internet. Schiro's one recommendation: Keep the video clips informal because online viewers want authentic communications. Schiro records just one take, even if it's not "perfect." Says Schiro: "If I spoke to a group of people [in person], I wouldn't get a second chance. Do the same with video. If your video comes across as canned and rehearsed, the message will lose its sincerity."
As a business leader, take a cue from Schiro and Chambers. Experiment with video and get a sense of its potential. Then add the tool to your communications quiver to enhance relationships with customers, employees, investors, and partners.