Interviews

You can tell how happy employees are by looking at these subtle details of office design

man on laptop

One morning last week, I opened the office refrigerator and saw that a gallon of milk had spilled inside. It was 8:30am, and I was facing my first moral test of the day: Would I clean it up, or shut the door and slowly back away?

At my old job, I’m sad to say, I might have ignored the spill. The job paid good money, but it often left me feeling stressed and defeated. Cleaning up a mess I hadn’t made would have struck me as profoundly distasteful; a metaphor for my general feelings about the job.

By contrast, I feel a sense of ownership and pride over my new office. And so I was happy to clean up the milk at Quartz—a place where I feel productive, supported, and motivated to contribute to a collaborative workplace. Sappy, I know. But true.

That moment made me realize that the average office space holds a lot of subtle clues about employee happiness—but they are not always easy to evaluate during the interviewing process. And so I decided to ask occupational psychologists and behavioral design experts: What are the secret signs of employee satisfaction in the average office? Here are the small details to look out for during your next interview.

The reception area

First impressions are everything—and the reception area represents the physical “face” of the company.

“When you’re sitting and waiting for the hiring manager or interviewer, take note of whether people walking past talk to or acknowledge the receptionist,” says Liane Davey, an organizational psychologist and author of You First: Inspire Your Team to Grow Up, Get Along, and Get Stuff Done. If employees greet or casually chat with the receptionist, that’s evidence of a warm environment where all workers are treated as deserving of equal respect. (Make sure that you say a friendly hello to the receptionist too—the better to signal your own collegiality.)

If your hiring manager greets you with an offer of a beverage, Davey says, always say yes. If the manager gets you a drink instead of sending a receptionist or assistant to do it for them, that’s evidence that the office is less hierarchical.

While you’re waiting, take a look around the reception area for signs of the company’s investment in the community. Reception desks often have collection jars for charity or research funding on display; if you see one, ask how the campaign is going, and where the funds will be sent.

Keep an eye out for bulletin boards in lobby areas, too. Are there posts about upcoming social or charity events, or are the posts totally outdated? Are there photos of employees playing softball or doing community service work? Such signs indicate whether employees socialize outside of the office, and will further clue you in to any social causes the company supports.

The kitchen

If you have the opportunity to check out the communal kitchen, take it. Dirty dishes and clogged sinks are obvious evidence of employee laziness and disregard for common areas. The fridge culture, meanwhile, is more nuanced.

First take a gander at fridge signage: Does it orient, or instruct? It’s a good sign if there are helpful fridge labels like “Communal” or “Personal,” and sticky notes to orient employees about what food is up for grabs. But signs like “Don’t take other people’s food” or “Leah’s, don’t touch!” tell a different story. Such instructional notes suggest that, at some point in the past, employees repeatedly disrespected one another’s property. Moreover, they suggest that office rules have to be set rather than arising informally through communal employee motivation, says Dan Connolly, a senior associate at the behavioral design firm ideas42.

If you see a clean kitchen free from passive-aggressive signs, ask about who’s responsible for kitchen upkeep. An organic system in which employees share cleaning responsibilities is further evidence of employee engagement and sense of ownership, according to Connolly.

Clearly marked composting and recycling bins (separate for plastic, cans, paper) are another good sign. Connolly says that his own office offers communal tote bags that people can grab on their way to the market and boasts a composting worm bin. Such offbeat details will let you know that the company is not only serious about being eco-friendly, but also has a less traditional corporate culture. On the other hand, if the firm preaches green goals but lacks basic recycling bins, you’ll know they’re not really invested.

Workspaces and communal places

Once you’re in the main workspace, look out for signs that employees feel comfortable personalizing their areas. Be sure to scan desks and cubicles: Are there photos of family and friends? Flowers or plants? Special mugs or kids’ drawings?

“Desk or workplace personalization evidences a real sense of engagement, and also shows that people are encouraged to bring their whole selves to work, including their personality and feelings,” says Davey. Moreover, personalized desks suggest that employees enjoy being at work enough to want to decorate.

Personalization is also key in communal areas like cafes or breakout spaces. While “imposed fun” items like foosball and ping-pong tables are trendy, they’re not a reliable sign of employee satisfaction, according to Davey. Instead, see if communal spaces look sterile (i.e., anodyne wall art) or if they feature company-specific things like photos from Halloween parties and company anniversaries, awards, and books.

In breakout spaces and conference rooms, be sure to check the white boards. If they’re full of fresh ink and new ideas, you’ve got proof of an environment that values collaboration. The opposite may be true if it’s clear the boards haven’t been erased in months, says Connolly.

And while much has been said about the pros and cons of open-office layouts, less discussed is the importance of privacy rooms. As many offices shift toward fewer walls, more glass, and increased transparency, privacy can be hard to find. But everyone sometimes needs a place where they can think and work free from distraction, have conversations, and privately express emotions.

A company that provides specific rooms or areas to meet these needs likely embraces its employees as full, multi-dimensional people, says Davey. “It’s not healthy to pull humans apart, or seek ‘work people’ instead of ‘whole people,’” she adds.

Bathrooms

As you head out after your (hopefully killer) interview, you’ll probably hit up the bathroom. Take a look around: The loo is full of—shall we say—potent details.

Take note of signage here, too: Does the sign on the back of the stall remind you to flush the toilet or to avoid flushing paper towels? “A patronizing message about flushing the toilet says that, at some point, they needed to put up that sign—that it was not an isolated incident,” says Davey.

Also look for additional goodies in the washroom, such as nice hand soap or moisturizer. These touches make visitors feel welcome, and communicate a mutual respect for the shared workplace. If applicable, check for company-provided tampons—when companies provide this unfairly taxed necessity, they demonstrate their respect for women’s health.

Ultimately, the most important thing is to know what you are looking for in a company’s culture, values, and personnel. If you’re big into personal expression and community cohesiveness, then jeans, desktop bobble-heads, and photos from company parties may be a huge plus. If you’re inspired by traditional professionalism, then a polished décor may be more your style.

Whatever you prefer, be sure to treat your interview as an opportunity to glean as much information about your potential employer as possible—beyond what they tell you themselves. The devil is in the details.

Follow Leah on Twitter @LeahFessler. Learn how to write for Quartz Ideas. We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com.

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Jeremy WebbYou can tell how happy employees are by looking at these subtle details of office design
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You can tell how happy employees are by looking at these subtle details of office design

man on laptop

One morning last week, I opened the office refrigerator and saw that a gallon of milk had spilled inside. It was 8:30am, and I was facing my first moral test of the day: Would I clean it up, or shut the door and slowly back away?

At my old job, I’m sad to say, I might have ignored the spill. The job paid good money, but it often left me feeling stressed and defeated. Cleaning up a mess I hadn’t made would have struck me as profoundly distasteful; a metaphor for my general feelings about the job.

By contrast, I feel a sense of ownership and pride over my new office. And so I was happy to clean up the milk at Quartz—a place where I feel productive, supported, and motivated to contribute to a collaborative workplace. Sappy, I know. But true.

That moment made me realize that the average office space holds a lot of subtle clues about employee happiness—but they are not always easy to evaluate during the interviewing process. And so I decided to ask occupational psychologists and behavioral design experts: What are the secret signs of employee satisfaction in the average office? Here are the small details to look out for during your next interview.

The reception area

First impressions are everything—and the reception area represents the physical “face” of the company.

“When you’re sitting and waiting for the hiring manager or interviewer, take note of whether people walking past talk to or acknowledge the receptionist,” says Liane Davey, an organizational psychologist and author of You First: Inspire Your Team to Grow Up, Get Along, and Get Stuff Done. If employees greet or casually chat with the receptionist, that’s evidence of a warm environment where all workers are treated as deserving of equal respect. (Make sure that you say a friendly hello to the receptionist too—the better to signal your own collegiality.)

If your hiring manager greets you with an offer of a beverage, Davey says, always say yes. If the manager gets you a drink instead of sending a receptionist or assistant to do it for them, that’s evidence that the office is less hierarchical.

While you’re waiting, take a look around the reception area for signs of the company’s investment in the community. Reception desks often have collection jars for charity or research funding on display; if you see one, ask how the campaign is going, and where the funds will be sent.

Keep an eye out for bulletin boards in lobby areas, too. Are there posts about upcoming social or charity events, or are the posts totally outdated? Are there photos of employees playing softball or doing community service work? Such signs indicate whether employees socialize outside of the office, and will further clue you in to any social causes the company supports.

The kitchen

If you have the opportunity to check out the communal kitchen, take it. Dirty dishes and clogged sinks are obvious evidence of employee laziness and disregard for common areas. The fridge culture, meanwhile, is more nuanced.

First take a gander at fridge signage: Does it orient, or instruct? It’s a good sign if there are helpful fridge labels like “Communal” or “Personal,” and sticky notes to orient employees about what food is up for grabs. But signs like “Don’t take other people’s food” or “Leah’s, don’t touch!” tell a different story. Such instructional notes suggest that, at some point in the past, employees repeatedly disrespected one another’s property. Moreover, they suggest that office rules have to be set rather than arising informally through communal employee motivation, says Dan Connolly, a senior associate at the behavioral design firm ideas42.

If you see a clean kitchen free from passive-aggressive signs, ask about who’s responsible for kitchen upkeep. An organic system in which employees share cleaning responsibilities is further evidence of employee engagement and sense of ownership, according to Connolly.

Clearly marked composting and recycling bins (separate for plastic, cans, paper) are another good sign. Connolly says that his own office offers communal tote bags that people can grab on their way to the market and boasts a composting worm bin. Such offbeat details will let you know that the company is not only serious about being eco-friendly, but also has a less traditional corporate culture. On the other hand, if the firm preaches green goals but lacks basic recycling bins, you’ll know they’re not really invested.

Workspaces and communal places

Once you’re in the main workspace, look out for signs that employees feel comfortable personalizing their areas. Be sure to scan desks and cubicles: Are there photos of family and friends? Flowers or plants? Special mugs or kids’ drawings?

“Desk or workplace personalization evidences a real sense of engagement, and also shows that people are encouraged to bring their whole selves to work, including their personality and feelings,” says Davey. Moreover, personalized desks suggest that employees enjoy being at work enough to want to decorate.

Personalization is also key in communal areas like cafes or breakout spaces. While “imposed fun” items like foosball and ping-pong tables are trendy, they’re not a reliable sign of employee satisfaction, according to Davey. Instead, see if communal spaces look sterile (i.e., anodyne wall art) or if they feature company-specific things like photos from Halloween parties and company anniversaries, awards, and books.

In breakout spaces and conference rooms, be sure to check the white boards. If they’re full of fresh ink and new ideas, you’ve got proof of an environment that values collaboration. The opposite may be true if it’s clear the boards haven’t been erased in months, says Connolly.

And while much has been said about the pros and cons of open-office layouts, less discussed is the importance of privacy rooms. As many offices shift toward fewer walls, more glass, and increased transparency, privacy can be hard to find. But everyone sometimes needs a place where they can think and work free from distraction, have conversations, and privately express emotions.

A company that provides specific rooms or areas to meet these needs likely embraces its employees as full, multi-dimensional people, says Davey. “It’s not healthy to pull humans apart, or seek ‘work people’ instead of ‘whole people,’” she adds.

Bathrooms

As you head out after your (hopefully killer) interview, you’ll probably hit up the bathroom. Take a look around: The loo is full of—shall we say—potent details.

Take note of signage here, too: Does the sign on the back of the stall remind you to flush the toilet or to avoid flushing paper towels? “A patronizing message about flushing the toilet says that, at some point, they needed to put up that sign—that it was not an isolated incident,” says Davey.

Also look for additional goodies in the washroom, such as nice hand soap or moisturizer. These touches make visitors feel welcome, and communicate a mutual respect for the shared workplace. If applicable, check for company-provided tampons—when companies provide this unfairly taxed necessity, they demonstrate their respect for women’s health.

Ultimately, the most important thing is to know what you are looking for in a company’s culture, values, and personnel. If you’re big into personal expression and community cohesiveness, then jeans, desktop bobble-heads, and photos from company parties may be a huge plus. If you’re inspired by traditional professionalism, then a polished décor may be more your style.

Whatever you prefer, be sure to treat your interview as an opportunity to glean as much information about your potential employer as possible—beyond what they tell you themselves. The devil is in the details.

Follow Leah on Twitter @LeahFessler. Learn how to write for Quartz Ideas. We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com.

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Jeremy WebbYou can tell how happy employees are by looking at these subtle details of office design
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How to recruit great people: A comprehensive slide deck from one of the early investors in BuzzFeed

Take time to get it right.

Hiring is hard, and getting it wrong is expensive. For startups and other small employers, the risks are even greater. Hiring the wrong person can consume management’s time, undermine morale and drive off other employees.

“We see a lot of first-time founders who are really great in the domain they know, but haven’t hired a team before, and they can have some really horrible, painful experiences,” said Maria Palma, an executive at RRE Ventures, who helps guide the companies backed by the venture capital firm.

After witnessing multiple startups having the same struggles, Palma and RRE published a detailed slide deck that walks hiring managers through every stage of the recruitment process. The 165-slide presentation includes tips on defining your company’s culture to attract the right employees, how to organize interviews, and where to find compensation data to set salaries.

Here is the deck:

Here’s a summary of the key recommendations:

  • Show your company’s perks and benefits on your website, along with photos of your team. Make sure prospective employees know the advantages of working for your company.
  • Take time to understand who you need and what their responsibilities and objectives should be, and use those insights to write an appealing job description.
  • Be proactive: Maintain a list of the most talented people in your field and hit them up for ideas about whom to hire. Add to the list of contacts and keep in touch with them.
  • Offer incentives to your employees for referrals but guard against a homogeneous pool of candidates, or you’ll end with a group that looks like what you already have. Don’t underestimate the power of diversity.
  • Tell candidates what to expect from the process, and have standardized response times, so they’re not left hanging if they don’t get the job. Not telling them they didn’t get the job reflects poorly on your company.
  • Interview with purpose. Don’t ask all candidates the same questions, and make sure all your interviewers don’t ask a candidate the same question.
  • Be diligent about background checks, and instead of relying on references supplied by the candidate, find your own to contact. Drill down for more information and read between the lines for what they’re not saying.
  • Once you’ve made your hire, invest in developing them. Make sure employees are challenged and engaged, and don’t wait for annual reviews to give feedback. You don’t want to be surprised if they leave because they weren’t happy.

The companies backed by RRE Ventures include BuzzFeed, Vine, and Venmo. While RRE generally gives advice to its companies in private, Palma said it made sense to share the hiring guidelines publicly because the problems are so universal.

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Jeremy WebbHow to recruit great people: A comprehensive slide deck from one of the early investors in BuzzFeed
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Resumes are worthless: An unfiltered look at how one CEO hires employees

How much can you really learn about a person in 30 minutes?

I was at a team Christmas party this past year at a brewery in northern Virginia when I noticed a fan on the ceiling that looked like it belonged atop a helicopter. I pointed it out to a colleague who said, “That’s a big-ass fan.”

I didn’t realize how accurate that statement was; it turned out that the enormous contraption was a sophisticated industrial cooling system manufactured by none other than Big Ass Fans, the brainchild of founder and CEO Carey Smith. If his name sounds familiar, you might have come across his regular column On the Contrary that he writes for Inc., or any of the numerous interviews he has given to outlets such as Forbes and the Wall Street Journal. As the company’s name suggests, Carey has a sense of humor, but he’s also dead serious about pushing boundaries at the nearly $300 million-a-year business he built from scratch.

Carey’s head of corporate communications invited me to interview him after reading one of my articles, and I jumped at the chance to pick his brain on hiring good people, what it takes to earn his trust, and preparing people for leadership. What followed was an unfiltered look into how this CEO (or “Chief Big Ass” as he goes by) sees the world.

You’ve said that when you interview people, you like to push them out of their comfort zone and “make them uncomfortable.” What is it that you’re trying to learn about someone by doing that?

Putting people in a stressful situation is a good thing, because it’s not what they expect at an interview. Some people get frustrated, which tells you something about how the individual will be as an employee under pressure. So we try to be a little bit aggressive and see what people are made of.

I had somebody come in the other day with a product idea he thought we might be interested in that he had proved out a bit. To see how he’d react, after he finished his presentation I said, “Thanks, I think we’ve got what we need here. We’re going to begin work right away, and thanks for coming in today.” I just wanted to see how he’d respond. Obviously, I’d never do that to someone, but he reacted quite calmly, which I liked.

The reality is that it’s still a crap shoot even when you run a great interview process and think you’ve found a good one. I mean honestly, what the hell can you expect to glean from a 30-minute conversation with somebody who’s been alive for 30 years? You really have to work at it over time to see through the person.

Does the emphasis you place on personality and culture fit mean you place less value on a person’s resumé?

In the main, I think resumés are crap–especially for young people. They tell me very little about a person’s potential. We give paid student internships, and it amazes me some of the resumés these kids send to us. Eighteen pages (I’m not kidding) of French club and chess club and playing soccer and god knows what else. Really, who gives a s— about that? I don’t.

I learn by asking a person what the one thing they want me to remember about them is. If all the person can come up with is something they did in school or under someone else’s direction that’s a red flag to me. For a business like ours that is growing rapidly, we need people who show creativity and can take the initiative. I hired somebody one time who bought a distressed ice cream shop in high school and turned it around over several summers, eventually selling it and paying for college with the money he made. That he was able to do that–and he didn’t come from money by the way–told me he had a good chance of solving the big problems here.

The programs we have in place put a lot on new hires’ plates quickly, so if it’s not going to work out we tend to know fast. I’m a peripatetic manager. I have an office but I’m very seldom there, and I talk to people constantly about what they’re doing or why they did something a certain way. The interview doesn’t really stop once you’re hired; it just changes shape.

With an employee base composed significantly of people in their 20s and early 30s, do you find that they have different expectations of their jobs than the more experienced cohorts?

Not really. In fact, a lot of the best people we have are the youngest employees. A lot of the “millennials” stuff you read and hear about just shows you how lazy people can be in forming their opinions. People fresh out of school have so much to offer. I started my business when I was in my late 20s, and the advantage of being at that age is that you’re so damn naïve you’ll do anything–at least I was. You can do a hell of a lot when you don’t know what you can’t do. If I told one of the younger folks that work for me to call the president of the United States, they’d probably go get on the phone and try to reach him. That lack of fear and willingness to work without boundaries is valuable whether you’re starting a business or starting a career.

The other big thing about the younger folks is that they’re very collaborative as a group. As I see it, when you’re surrounded by people from so many different disciplines with so many backgrounds, it’s foolish to make a decision without drawing on that collective talent for input. For the younger folks, most of them see things this way too and that aligns really well with our culture overall.

Let’s ditch the term “millennials” and the baggage it comes with then. Is there anything about younger employees that you just wish they understood but don’t seem to?

Only that work isn’t at all like school and that learning comes through failure. Sometimes the people who did really well in school turn out to be your worst employees because they’re way too worried about failure. I tell kids at every career fair that they are going to fail, and they need to learn how to learn from that if they want to succeed in whatever they do.

The other thing I see lacking sometimes is self-direction. When you get out in the world it’s like being dropped in the middle of the ocean. Your college exams, however hard they were, had answers. In real life, nobody’s asking any questions, and nobody’s got any answers for you. You’ve got to figure that out on your own.

I want our employees to have a great experience working here, and allowing people to move quickly through the ranks or into a role that best suits them is maybe the most important aspect of that. Being in growth mode like we have been gives us a lot of flexibility to find the best fit for someone even if it’s totally different from what they were hired for initially. Our first employee was an absolute killer salesman, but one day he came into my office and said, “Carey, I hate this. I’ve gotta do something else.” Today he runs a division of the company on the production side. People see that, and they like it, and it lets them envision a happy future for themselves here. I don’t know any other way to keep people engaged and happy.

An earlier version of this post appeared on Smart Like How. We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com.

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Jeremy WebbResumes are worthless: An unfiltered look at how one CEO hires employees
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The pursuit of ‘appiness.

aj

Andrew Johnson has been teaching relaxation and coping skills for the last 16 years through techniques including Hypnosis, Emotional Freedom Techniques, Reiki, Stress Management, Meditation and Mindfulness. He is author of a  series of bestselling apps, which recently hit the 4 million download milestone. I met up with him over lunch at the Blythswood Hotel, Glasgow to explore his digital success.

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Jeremy WebbThe pursuit of ‘appiness.
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BodyRock.tv – internet fitness phenomenon

Bodyrock.tv

If you want to know what a real internet success story looks like, check out Bodyrock.TV. Providing home workout routines, diet advice and motivation, it has clocked up over half a billion YouTube views, has more than half a million Facebook fans, and is one of the most popular fitness destinations online.

What was behind this incredible web success? I contacted Frederick Light, BodyRock.tv’s producer to find out.

Jeremy – Freddy, you are currently in your home town of Kingston, Ontario. Is that where you are running Bodyrock from now?

Freddy – We shot BodyRock in a lot of different locations around the world, primarily in Europe. We shot it in the US, across Canada and we shot it in Malta. We have been in quite a few places, and that’s been part of the appeal on some level. There is a lot of layers to our content, one of the things people really enjoy is just the fact that they can share our experiences.

Jeremy – Yes, I’d really like to dig a little into the success of the content because I’m really interested in that. It would be easy to assume that it’s down to the attractive presenters but there is much more going on, which we’ll talk about later. There is on going pressure on-line to generate great content – it’s the major driver for rankings, interest, shares and success. Let’s start with the basics -BodyRock is now a phenomenon – you’ve got well over half a billion views on You Tube.
youtube numbers
Freddy – Yeah we’re just shy of 600 million now.

Jeremy – Is that a crazy number to you? Can you even believe that’s happening?

Freddy – Well, I will tell you when we started, I remember when we got to the 1 million mark. We managed to do that fairly quickly – a few months into making videos. That was my big goal – to get a million hits and then I remember looking at some of the big You Tubers at the time and one of them had just celebrated 300 million views and I was thinking to myself ok, what would it take to do this touch 300? I was sort of in awe of that 300 million number and then you sort of put it away and keep going.

You know numbers are great but you can’t ultimately rely completely on finding your inspiration from cracking this number or that. There has to be something more that drives you.

I remember when hitting half a billion views became my obsession. Then we did that and then you’re left with – what’s next? If that’s really the only thing that’s driving you you spend that fuel up really quickly. There’s not a lot to keep you incredibly inspired if your just sort of gauging the numbers, but that’s not to say you don’t celebrate those milestones, because they’re great and definitely something to be proud of. You have to find something deeper that the numbers for ongoing motivation however.

Jeremy – Absolutely. It’s clear from your videos the results your community are achieving are a huge motivator to the Bodyrock team. Some of the stories shared by your participants are really amazing. Bodyrock touches people’s lives in a positive way.

body rock amazing

 

bodyrocker peter

What was the spark that led you to create Bodyrock?

Freddy – I went to film school actually and then I did my post-graduate work in television and radio production around 2000. Believe it or not, at film school I didn’t learn digital, there wasn’t a digital editing system at that time – it was still splicing and cutting tape! It wasn’t really that long ago either – before the You Tubes of the world or any sort of easy way to get video up on the web. Hosting videos at that time was a sort of unknown. It was prohibitively expensive there was not an easy way to play it all back with limited bandwidth.

My big thing in life was I wanted to create television shows. I wanted to have my own channel and I didn’t have any idea how I would capitalise it or what it would necessarily be about but I wanted to be sort of the creative producer.

At school I was always coming up with ideas for different types of television shows and submitting those proposals to television channels all around the world saying that this would be a great idea for a show and that would be a great idea for a show, so that was my background.

You can see that in BodyRock a little bit because it has become its own channel.  Once You Tube partnership programme started, it changed everything. People often ask who has been your biggest supporter or partner, and I’m always quick to say if it wasn’t for You Tube a lot of the stuff that you see right now wouldn’t be happening. They provided revenue and reach. They really have opened the door for content creators like us, whether or not you agree with all their policies or direction, I think everyone owes them a nod of respect or gratitude.

So I guess the BodyRock phenomenon had emerged from my desire to write and shoot a high quality vlog. It gave me the opportunity to come up with a show or concept that I could get out there in front of people.

YouTube removes completely the gatekeeper in terms of the television industry where you have to take an idea to someone and ask for permission to broadcast. You Tube it really opened the doors for people who were prepared to put in the graft and really work hard.

The content rises for a reason and I think it’s open right now for anyone who has an idea and a voice and who’s prepared to work on it. Essentially anyone could open up their own channel and niche.There’s so much opportunity out there right now it’s  a really exciting time.

Jeremy – You have a niche channel, but even more than that you seem to have a really niche audience. I don’t know the stats exactly but looking at your Facebook page, it seems it’s a predominantly young female audience, which is maybe not what you would first assume.

Freddy – We discovered through Face book that 90% of the people interacting with us are women. That surprises people because the videos are considered “sexy” and people would assume that there was more of a male audience behind it but really it’s quite predominantly female. The feedback that we get from this audience is that they find the content really inspirational. If there was one key word a they use is that they’re inspired by the videos.
sexy bodybikini yoga
Jeremy – Yes, The content its really much more than the sum of the parts that you’re putting together – lifestyle, food, exercise advice. There is a real warmth and personality from your presenters that is connecting with your audience. I think I’ve mentioned to you previously about the Johari window and how appropriate disclosure within the videos (personal stories and ancedotes) increases a bond or relationship, and this seems to be a component of this connection.

So the You Tube partner programme was the cornerstone of turning Bodyrock.tv into a sustainable venture. What else do you do to generate revenue?

Freddy – Well when we started, even though we were interested in vlogging we really had no idea about like marketing or any of the monetisation possibilities. We really focused on the video content and that’s where we put all of our time.

You Tube provided the nucleus of our audience.  The content gradually built up and people started coming over to the bodyrock.tv site and unlike a lot of people who are focused on becoming You Tubers,  we started to build our platform at the same time. Our goal was never to just build a You Tube channel with a billion subscribers.  I saw the site a fertile ground for people who are interested in interacting with the brand and the personalities on a deeper level. I wanted to create somewhere people who were interested could put down roots.
bodyrock site
And you know at one point somebody I’m not sure who it was somebody described themselves as being a “bodyrocker.”

That’s something that came from the community and that’s when we started to see the culture of this movement establish itself and it really all happened organically. The people who were following us started to describe themselves as BodyRockers. That was the huge moment for me was when I realised that we had created a deep emotional connection and that we had to be really special and interesting.

When I was talking earlier about the numbers, I would say let’s hit 500 million or lets hit 600 million views that’s great but its when the people follow and love what you are doing, and we inspire them in some way –  you’ve helped somebody in some capacity, the energy comes back and that’s what actually gives you the inspiration  and drive to do something better each time.

That’s where are right now – asking how can we make this better. We listen to what the community  want and what they need and what they have to say to us – the good and the bad, and you try to build on that and make it better. That’s where you get your creative spark and I think that’s where the energy comes from – not so much the numerical statistics and graphs.

Its almost like when you’re on a diet. You can check the scales to see that you’ve lost weight, or you can try your clothes on in the mirror and see how you feel and there is a much deeper sense of where you are holistically in your own skin. You check yourself in the mirror and decide I look better and I feel better. It’s the same way when you are interacting with your audience because those numbers they really don’t mean too much when it comes right down to it.

Jeremy – Absolutely it’s the thing between the rational and the emotional mind isn’t it? The emotional mind is the bigger driver if you can harness that then you can achieve almost anything really.

I think what you’re saying about the BodyRock.tv site is important. The only piece of real estate you actually control is that blog but you can leverage things like Facebook to help build a huge community. If you look at a typical discovery profile for your videos, your web site and mobile devices are significant drivers. The curves are also representative of “social learning”, i.e your content is heavily shared and goes “viral.”

more stats

Freddy – Face book is something that we came to very late in the game. We created our first page in November 2010, almost 2011 and really at the beginning of Facebook we weren’t really clear what to do with it. We knew that everybody had it. We were using it personally of course but as in terms of leveraging your brand we didn’t know too much about what to do. We used it like a newsletter mainly posting and tagging our videos and answering questions.

facebook bodyrock

We have a really small team so by the time you have created the content, done the post production, updated the site and posted everything, the process is usually 16 hours and we try to do that a couple of times a week.

It takes time so we didn’t have a lot of time to invest in a Facebook strategy per se so what we did with it was sort of allow the community to guide where that went.

Very quickly we got idea of things that people wanted to see from us on Face book – the sort of questions they were asking and the things they were looking for. Out of that a strategy grew up, to guide what to post. We didn’t take control of the conversation, we allowed the audience to dictate the ebb and flow of the interaction there.  It was really organic and  there wasn’t a master plan at the beginning to take over the world!

We knew right from the beginning we had very little about any sort of online business but we did know but we did feel very comfortable about what we wanted to express in the content and we allowed the conversation to develop over time – the community really shaped bodyrocking to what it is right now.

Jeremy – And its interesting now to see what’s happening on Facebook. It’s a phenomenally supportive community. Whenever you get such huge exposure there is always going to be people with negative views (“haters gonna hate!”) but your community is a great asset in defending BodyRock.

Freddy – We do have a policy – we don’t mind if somebody disagrees. People can disagree or be critical of what we are doing as long as they do it in a respectful and intelligent way. We don’t allow people to be rude or personally attack anybody. If they cross that line then we may remove the conversation, but other than that it’s a fairly open forum and people do tend to be really supportive.

One thing we have started recently with Face book is a suite of applications called Wildfire Suite http://www.wildfireapp.com/products  that is something we have just been working with. It allows us to have a much deeper connection and interaction with the community so that we can look at our Facebook as a hub for creating ideas that we can transfer directly to the site and into the videos.

Jeremy – I have not looked at the Wildfire suite, but  their competition platform http://www.wildfireapp.com/products/promotion-builder is super slick and really easy to use for businesses to run viral competitions. Its certainly something I’m recommending. Their social media suite looks really promising.

So how do you manage the diverse digital streams – YouTube, Social and your site?

Freddy – Well that’s where the challenge is! The more you expand your point of contact the more time it really requires.

We signed up for a bunch of different social networks and what we found is the time invested in some wasn’t worth the return. You really have to decide how you invest your finite time, and for now have decided to put our resources into Facebook, and through Facebook, out to Twitter.

With Wildfire we can connect our YouTube account  to Facebook too, so Facebook has become the front line in terms of social platforms for us.

Jeremy – Facebook does have some nice tools for managing their pages, as well and some good metrics about what messages have the best effect on the audience.

Freddy – Exactly.

Jeremy – And what’s your view on the stability of Facebook as an organisation with Mark Zuckerberg at the helm? I mean everyone is a bit twitchy, are you confident it’s here for the long run or at least 12 -24 months, which is a long time in social media!

Freddy – My point of view on it is that I don’t see anyone overtaking it in the near future. In my mind it has settled into being the predominant social network and I just don’t see anyone eclipsing it. Of course you don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket and  you have to keep up in what’s happening out there on the landscape.

For instance Pinterest became a really important source of traffic for us, just out of nowhere some of our images were pinned a quarter of a million times. I saw that we need to pay attention to that!

Tumblr is also a place where a lot of our content gets re-posted so you are aware that there are opportunities but you have to decide where you’re going to put your chips down and for us it’s been Facebook.

Jeremy – That’s very true. Pinterest  and tumblr are really taking off. I gave a presentation to my local Chamber of Commerce recently and I used the surfing analogy with regarding choosing social media networks. (see Video Slide 25 from Slidedeck http://j.mp/webbactive2012)  Have you ever been surfing?

Freddy– I haven’t but I enjoy watching it.

Jeremy– So you sit out there past the break. Then you see the next swell coming. You’ve got a number of waves forming but only one of a set of seven will be the awesome wave.  It’s all about spotting the right wave in the set, and riding it for as long as it is powerful and then getting off before it crushes you or disappears! So Facebook is the massive wave at the moment but you cant really ignore pinterest  and tumblr and other up and coming web services.

Freddy – I guess you have got to have a team to catch the next wave as the previous one fades. Interestingly about Pinterest it actually made me look at our content differently. We had a picture that went viral on Pinterest but they had clipped off our logo, so we didn’t get any brand recognition or credit. Because of this, we actually changed the placement of our logo to make sure it was always close to the centre.

 

logo placement

It made me realise with these new platforms emerging such as tumblr and Pinterest the power of a single photo can really impact your traffic so just taking another look at our images has really helped. We’ve seen really big increases via Pinterest – it became our third largest traffic source on the power of a handful of our images that made it on there.

You can think that you’re all about one thing, then the dynamics of whatever platform shift and make you realise that there’s opportunities that you maybe hadn’t highlighted, so it’s interesting when you sift through everything, how you can identify changes that can be made to your content.

Jeremy– Absolutely. It’s interesting like Google+ is really encouraging photographers because it seems that we all love a good image – there’s something about a great image that makes it very “share-y.” There was some suggestion that the reason that instagram was snapped up by Facebook was because it was generating so much sharing behaviour, and sharing builds networks. We seem to be more influenced by a great image than we all realised.

So what’s the future hold for BodyRock?

Freddy – I think what I always wanted to do in the beginning of this was create the best free online fitness channel. That’s sort of changed for me I want to create the best online fitness channel  period. When people look at what we’re doing with BodyRock and I look at what I want to accomplish with it, I want people to assume that this is something that you would pay for – but it’s free!

I want to bring that level of excellence, quality and interaction that people would pay for and present that to them for free, make it accessible to everyone and put all the tools there for them.

That’s really what I’m focusing on building right now. In terms of the broadcast world my view is that if we keep doing the good digital creation,  broadcast and the other media opportunities will come to us.

A lot of people started with online video and wanted to use that as a vehicle to get on to television. If it happens for us – great. I believe there’s a million+ people out there every single day that would benefit from BodyRocking with us.

I think that’s a realistic goal and that’s what we’re really aiming to accomplish. All the other things may happen as a by-product – that’s my belief at least. So we’re focusing on the content and striving to make that the best.

In the next eighteen months we are investing in production, we’re going to be shooting our new work outs starting next week on a Red camera (http://www.red.com/) which is far better, it’s essentially like a Hollywood movie quality camera.

Jeremy – I read that on your Facebook page and I was totally amazed – the blockbusters are filmed on Red!

Freddy – We’re doing everything we can to make the content better, to make the workouts better and listen to what the people want. That’s what brought the movement forward in the first place.

The mobile app was approved and its sitting in the app Store right now and we haven’t promoted that yet because the android version and the blackberry version kick in on Friday so when everything is ready we’ll announce our mobile app.

(The mobile app has now gone live, and straight to the top of the app rankings. It’s well worth a look as an example of the future of apps – it puts the community at it’s heart and is packed with interesting features to encourage sharing and interaction.  Gamification is also used to good effect.)

bodyrock app

We’re going to have a massive redesign of our platform that should be ready for the beginning of August. We are starting from scratch, rebuilding and really paying attention to how people use the site and what people need from the site, creating a really nice format so that people understand what BodyRock is and how to use it. We got a lot of things going on, a lot of projects we’re looking at, so I’m trying to keep my compass pointing due north and continue to create great content.

Jeremy – I totally agree the quality of the content that you’re generating and the variety of the workouts is great.  I’m a massive fan of high intensity interval training as that has got me through last year’s ultra marathon events with not much time for training!

Are you sticking with WordPress?

Freddy – At the minute we’re looking at moving into something a little bit more robust. We kinda maxed out what’s possible on WordPress so I think we’re almost 90% sure we’re gonna be shifting to something else.

The other interesting thing that I’ve just been running around in my head lately is the concept of where people are experiencing our brand. It used to be that you would do everything you could to get people back to your site URL, and now there’s so many different ways for people to interact. Its more about getting your content to where they are in a seamless way. And so that’s something that I’m really looking into right now.

Jeremy – At the end of the day the most important thing you have is your brand and once its in some one’s head I think they’re naturally going to find on the platform of their choice. You’ve got a really strong brand to enable you to do this.

Freddy – One of the things I wanted to do was a careful re-branding. The previous logos for example were created for us by the community which was great but now we finally took the time to put some serious thought into our logo and identity. We want to create a solid foundation in terms of the redesign of the platform, and create an easy “on-ramp” for new Bodyrockers.

Jeremy – I saw Lisa Marie (BodyRock presenter) meeting up with some body rockers recently.  I guess that’s really important – speaking to the community and finding out what the barriers are and how you can make it easy for people to start working out at home.

Freddy – We let people know we have this redesign in mind and have got a lot of great ideas so far. Our community has a strong sense of ownership over the brand so obviously we’re going to include them, their input, suggestions and creativity. It can only make the experience better.

Jeremy – I can’t wait to see what you’ve got up your sleeve, its just a fantastic achievement  a fantastic brand. It’s been really nice to talk to you, and I wish you continued success.

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Jeremy WebbBodyRock.tv – internet fitness phenomenon
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The road to 1 million views – An Interview with Craig Turner

Craig TurnerThis is the first in an occasional series of interviews with people who have been successful creating innovative, interesting and sharable content. We all know that content is king. These interviews are about getting inside the heads of the new content Kings.

First up – Craig Turner, creator of possibly YouTube’s best cat video.

Craig, you first appeared on our radar when Jon Henshaw of Raven Tools shared this clever, funny video with us:


I really enjoyed it and so did the web, with over 1 million views and counting. I was also intrigued as it appeared to be totally non commercial, yet was really well produced. This led me to tracking you down, and this interview.
Clearly you are a man with a cat problem, but what was your goal behind making the video?

In short it definitely wasn’t anything commercial, really it was simply for fun.

Back in 2007 my wife / business partner and I produced a video entry for a Top Gear “review your car” contest here in Australia. It was hosted through the broadcasters website and up for public vote. This was my first time performing anything on camera and to our surprise we actually won the contest and a $20,000 trip to London.

Since starting our production business in 2000, the Top Gear competition presented an opportunity and an excuse really, to produce a video simply for the creative fun of it, something we hadn’t really done since finishing film school. We put this video on youtube where it continued to generate a fair amount of interest.

So since then my plan was to continue building my youtube channel with similar content following a car & mechanical type theme just for the passion of it. I was actually working on another video for my Youtube channel when the cat spray video idea came about.

One weekend I had genuinely devised the spray set-up in an afternoon with parts from around the house in an attempt to tackle the cat problem and then wanted to somehow photograph the result to see if it was actually working at all. After reviewing the first couple of photos the next morning my wife and I were killing ourselves with laughter. I instantly knew I had to capture it on video and share it with the world and it tied in perfectly with my youtube channel’s theme too.

From there it actually took a fair few months to complete the video as I then reconstructed the setup for the camera, ran the trap for a couple of weeks and then created the commentary.
Tell us about your day job running In Shot Productions?

We operate in Perth Western Australia and currently produce quite a variety of productions with our clients ranging from individuals, small business, large corporations and Goverrnment departments. With productions including promotional & corporate videos, training & educational films and events.

One of the things that originally appealed to me about the video industry was the variety of work and that certainly has proven true. We can be in an office tower in the city shooting a webcast for a law firm one week and then be in red dust 100 miles from the nearest sealed road in a 4WD shooting landscapes the next week.

However the majority of our time is spent in the edit suite.
How did you end up being a video producer? Tell us a little about your background.

Since I was a kid I always had an interest in video and photography but it wasn’t until I was 16 that I (well my family) purchased a video camera. I then started shooting sports I was into and editing short clips. Then within the same year I recorded my first paid event.

After finishing highschool it seemed obvious that I should take it further and went on the study a 3 year course in film and television where I met my now wife Kristen. We actually started In Shot Productions in our first year together.

When did you realise that the cat video was picking up some serious momentum?

The first 48 hours were insane. When refreshing the view count it was overwhelming seeing the numbers jump by increasingly bigger and bigger leaps right up until it got to 308 views which is the known youtube view counter “lock up” number. This is where their system has trouble processing and keeping up with the view count. I knew about this after seeing it happen on Ray William Johnson’s videos when they are first released.

From then on we would see it updated thousands at a time. In the end the video received around 200,000 views in 48 hours.

Unfortunately early on a foreign website hosted the clip without permission which stole around a ¼ of a million views, but I don’t know… maybe that is audience that may not have seen it otherwise.

Views - Turnah81

[Insights data – this shows a classic “social learning” growth curve.]

What did you do to “promote” the video or did it just start to snowball of it’s own accord?

I simply posted the video on my personal facebook account, where I have around 150 friends, my wife did the same and it wasn’t long before I was seeing re-shares in the news feed and I guess it just snowballed from there.

That’s really interesting. That backs up some research we are doing into the mapping of social behaviour. You dropped your great content into a small, but strongly connected network and…boom!

Are you in the YouTube Partner programme? Have you ordered your new Pagani Zonda yet?

 

zonda

 

Haha no Pagani Zonda just yet but yes I am happy to say I am have now been accepted into the partner program.

The partner program is fantastic for access to features to help grow an online audience but from a financial point of view its definitely no more than a hobby at this stage.

With the production quality I want to maintain with future videos, unless I have a significantly bigger audience I am pretty sure that the $ per hour of work required I would be far better off taking on a local paper round. But still it is great to receive some money for a video I basically produced for fun. It has helped cover material costs for my next video.

The video is funny, clever and of course cat centric which would suggest YouTube greatness, but what do you think are key factors to it’s success?

I guess one can never be completely sure but a major aspect that many have suggested is originality. Which makes sense as the video idea came about completely organically. I didn’t set out to copy someone’s style or idea or to even create a viral video.

Another thing that is interesting is that I assumed at first that it was simply the scared wet cats drawing people in, but as my wife pointed out, I showed a number of people the raw footage of the cats being sprayed and people thought it was pretty amusing but it wasn’t until it was cut together with the backstory and the commentary that people really thought it was hilarious.

So I believe a major ingredient is that it has a good story structure. People are instinctively receptive to stories with a start, middle and end. It has characters and you could even say that it has good guys and bad guys. Story structure is a point to remember when producing any video including corporate videos.

It’s quite a long video for a viral hit. What proportion of viewers watch to the end? What do you think helped make the video so sticky?

Its great that you noticed this, this is actually something I am really proud of but not many people would notice, it is a long video! The average viral video would be 1 minute 30 seconds or less and anything in the 3 to 5 minute range with over 1 million views is usually a music video.

The “relative audience retention” is above average for almost the entire video which is great to see, there is a slight drop off at the end with the credits. So it looks like the majority of people watch the entire clip.

Relative Audience Retention

As mentioned above I believe story structure is a factor in keeping people watching. Also I think it helped approaching the editing the same as one would approach a short film edit. I gave a lot of attention to pace and even tested the edit on a number of friends. I actually cut a couple of sections that dragged along a bit.

As a tip, if people start talking or asking questions during your video you have likely got some pace problems.

What advice would you have for SMEs thinking of producing a video or videos specifically for marketing purposes?

Firstly I think businesses shouldn’t initially think “viral video” when they think of online video marketing. Unless you have global distribution of your product or service and have a great video idea that will directly feature your product, it’s unlikely you will have many relevant leads from you video. ie. You are better having a video viewed by 100 people in your target market than 100,000 random people internationally.

For SME’s the simplest way to get started with online video marketing is to produce a conversion video. That simply can be a promotional video on your home page or even some client testimonials. It builds trust and informs people further about you whom are actively looking at products and services in your industry. This increases your conversion of leads into sales.

As a business owner you really want to look at how you can set yourself up as an “expert” in your industry and video is a great way to do this.

If you are looking at producing more regular video content this can be achieved with “how to” videos or industry news and “tips” style videos. This can generate new leads and keep you in the top of the mind of your clients.

If this is the approach you are going for as a main tip for content ideas, really think about what people actually “get” out of your product or service. For example for a camper trailer manufacturer, your target market generally isn’t that interested in say the manufacturing techniques you use or even your product range, but they are interested in travel and adventure, so you could perhaps do a series of videos detailing some popular camping destinations while only subtly featuring your products in the background of the story.

Can you give us a few hints about what you might be working on next for YouTube?

I currently have 2 videos in the making at the moment, all I can say at this stage is one is automotive related and the other is a “solution” which I have already spent about 80 hours working on. I tend to over do these things I guess.

But I can also say I have lots of concepts for future videos that I am really looking forward to making and sharing 😉

Thanks so much for your time and insight!

You can find out more about Craig at the following places:

http://www.inshotproductions.com/
http://craigturner.com.au/

https://www.facebook.com/Turnah81

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Jeremy WebbThe road to 1 million views – An Interview with Craig Turner
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