BC tip - Jigsaw: Audio case studies

A Google-owned think tank makes innovative use of radio-quality audio clips for its case studies.


The Site

Jigsaw (formerly Google Ideas) is a think tank and technology incubator within Google’s holding company Alphabet. Its mission is to invent technology that will address global problems such as violent extremism, online censorship and digital attacks.

The think tank’s website uses radio-quality audio clips coupled with rolling transcripts to illustrate its services. For example, in ‘Uncovering corruption in Cairo’, investigative reporter Hisham Allam tells a 2m story about how he uses the Jigsaw database and records-access service, Investigative Dashboard. Visitors can either listen, or turn the sound off and read the story.

The website home page plays excerpts of its case studies in a loop, inviting visitors to click for more on the story, or the Jigsaw service it is helping to highlight.

The Takeaway

Jigsaw’s audio case studies take a simple, but innovative approach to content creation. It is an unusual choice not to use video for this kind of material, but the quality of the recordings and power of the language lend immediacy to the testimony. 

The clips are relatively short, and signposted via a vertical bar. The audio also acts as a hook – viewers can decide to turn it off and read the transcript.


57,000 corporate channels (and nothin' on)

Some online channels seem tailor made for corporate communications. SlideShare is ideal for sharing investor relations presentations. Twitter can be great for spreading company news. LinkedIn is, of course, a powerful recruitment tool. But other channels don't always prove to be such a natural fit.

For example, we at Bowen Craggs spend a lot of time looking at corporate YouTube channels – and most are either awfully uninspiring, or awfully awful.

We know that we’re not alone in this assessment: you can tell this by looking at the low number of views on most companies’ YouTube pages. Almost no one is watching.

Why is this? And what should companies do about it?

To answer the first question: most companies are simply not geared up to producing the kind of material most likely to gain traction on YouTube – videos that are not only informative, but also entertaining.

Historically, companies’ efforts in this area have been focused on producing television commercials. Indeed, when they put these onto YouTube – if they are good enough - they often get large numbers of views: look at this P&G ad, as well as this one from Google, for examples.

The Google video is particularly interesting, because it was part of a campaign designed to work on both television and YouTube (a channel that Google owns).

Most companies’ YouTube channels are unfocused mishmashes of videos drawn from elsewhere – employee profiles from the Careers section of the website; executive interviews from the investor relations section; case studies from the sustainability section. Pulled out of its original context on the corporate site and assembled on a YouTube channel, such material is doomed to failure: users must work hard to find footage on the channel relevant to their interests – and when they find it, it is often too dull to hold their attention.

So what should companies do about this?

One option is to focus efforts on promoting embedded – and therefore appropriately contextualized – video content on the corporate site (YouTube is undeniably a good format for this) – rather than promoting the corporate YouTube channel itself. If your company’s YouTube channel is not yet an attractive destination in its own right, don’t bother encouraging visitors to visit it. 

Another option is to focus more effort on producing video output that is genuinely attractive – in terms of viewability and shareability. For some companies, this will be time and money well spent – especially if it spent as part of a campaign designed to work over television and other channels, as Google’s was. But for other companies, producing videos that go viral on YouTube is likely to be a lower priority than using video in more modest – but no less effective – ways on the corporate website.

- Scott Payton

Twitter is the new newswire

Almost exactly nine years ago, I spent an evening discussing the future of corporate reporting with the European head of one of the world’s major business news wires – the organisations that quoted companies were, back then, obliged to use for disseminating results and other market-sensitive information.

The big mistake that her firm’s rivals were making, she said, was to obsess about competing with each other. “In the long term, we all have one common enemy – and that's Google,” she declared.

Her point, back at that dinner in 2006, was that investor relations teams soon wouldn't need to pay companies like hers buckets of money to ensure that their results information is distributed in ways that meet global regulatory requirements. Thanks to developments like eXtensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL), Google would provide the mechanism for that – just like it does for other forms of information.

Nine years on, the wire chief’s fears are finally proving well founded – but it turns out that she picked the wrong enemy.

Earlier this month, Goldman Sachs cut out the news wire middleman and distributed its quarterly earnings statement by publishing it on its corporate website and promoting it via its Twitter feed.

Yet why has it taken so long for a really big name company to do this? After all, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) gave its blessing for corporate websites to be used for material corporate disclosure way back in 2008.

Well, back then the SEC emphasised that if companies wanted to publish market-moving material on their websites, they needed to make investors aware that that’s where to look for it. So in terms of distribution, the news wires still had an advantage – they could take care of “pushing” information across the markets – something that a website could not do on its own.

But as Goldman Sachs proved this month, a Twitter feed can provide a corporate website with the spreading agent it needs to make the business wire redundant at last (see the SEC’s guidance on social media disclosure here).

If this trend catches on, it's good news for corporate web managers and their colleagues in the IR team. They will have more control over how their results and other announcements are reported – and fewer middlemen to pay.

Not such good news for the news wires, though. Or Google. 

- Scott Payton