I’m pretty much expecting to wake up today and read a number of stories about how the YouTube interview of the Prime Minister didn’t work, about how we should leave interviews to journalists, and that all this internet, audience driven stuff is a big waste of time.
I’m not sure I agree.
Was the interview good? It wasn’t amazing. But was it terrible? Definitely not. And not nearly as bad as some interviews with the Prime Minister that I’ve seen… So what worked and what didn’t work and what lessons can we draw from all this whether you live in Canada, the United States or wherever else in the world. What makes for a good crowdsourced interview?
Be careful of refocusing questions: Many of the Prime Minister’s responses were great. However, during some of the questions the Prime Minister reverted to some very well trodden talking points – or didn’t even answer the specific question asked. For example the question on mandatory minimum sentences he spoke of the Canadians say they want, not what, as the question stipulated, the research shows and the question of Marijuana become about drugs writ large – not about cannabis specifically. This is, of course, standard practice among politicians when answering reporters questions. The challenge is, that if these types of forums become popular and are watched by a number of people, it is unclear how favourable people will view a politician who avoids – however delicately or lightly – a question posed by a citizen. Maybe this medium changes nothing – but I again agree with Ivor Tossell and many others have to say:
Succeeding with social media comes down to being honest, having a frank, unfiltered voice and letting personality go along with policy.
Re-directing questions does not qualify. The public recognizes that journalists are not politicians friends and so give politicians more license when dealing with them – not so when dealing with a smart clear question from a fellow citizen.
Follow Up Questions: This of course raises the formats main weakness. There are no follow up questions allowed. So when someone evades or redirects a question there is no way to hold them to account. This doesn’t mean accountability and credibility disappear. Again, as I noted on Monday, its simply shifts onto the shoulders of the interviewee. You must now genuinely engage the question as the question asker intended. If not, I suspect you come out looking worse.
Pick your interviewer carefully. Here in Canada, Google elected to use their CFO Patrick Pichette (and ex-expatriate Canadian). I’ve only met him once at a small lunch in Montreal but I have a lot of time for him. He immediately struck meas insightful, quick and deeply intelligent. I’m also not sure he was the right choice for interviewer. Throughout the interview he is heard making sounds of agreement with the Prime Minister (such as saying “that’s terrific” after an answer) as though affirming the answer. This felt outside his role and prevented the questions from being as pointed as I believe the authors wished they would have been. All in all, the feel was less of an interview than of a friendly conversation.
Ask the most voted questions: Sadly, the couldn’t find a way to see the questions or how many votes they had received (#fail on google’s part there – accountability denied), but I did recognize many of the questions asked and am doubly impressed that a question on marijuana. In short, if you make a contract with the audience – eg you are going to ask the questions with the most votes… you’d better do it. I also thought many of the questions asked were quite good. Focus on the budget, Afghanistan, Foreign Aid (two foreign policy questions! two more than the last election debate in this country!), pensions, the carbon emissions policy… a good mix. Wish I knew if they were actually the questions with the most votes though…
Broadly people ask good question/but could do with some advice: Many of the questions were reasonable tough and well put. Some were a little long, and others had too many caveats that allow the interviewee to latch on to and avoid the main thrust of the inquiry. Might be good to model a good question to viewers in terms of focus and length as well as provide some written advice. I actually enjoyed seeing people ask questions and think the process could be stronger still.
Video Questions are better than read questions: Lesson for the audience. Submit your question via video. Better still, if you live in a bilingual country, try to subtitle it (Wouldn’t that be a cool thing to be able to do). The video questions really allowed the medium to show itself off, far more interesting to see a young women asking a question from her kitchen than to have an interview read it…
(Advice) Share each answer as a small video: If you really want citizens talking about issues, Google should share the entire interview, but also each individual question and answer. That way there can be questions specific comments on the YouTube site, people can blog about a specific question that concerned them and show only that question in the post, or people can simply zero in on the issue they care about most. The whole point of the internet is that information can be moved around easily – so if you are doing an interview… make it easy for your audience to share the part they cared about by making it digestable.
Be Real: The Prime Minister shone best when he was at his most conversational and relaxed. Indeed, this in part came through during the Marijuana question – his response was emotionally fantastic, he seemed genuinely concerned and possibly even off his speaking points a bit (or maybe just smooth enough to fool me, but I suspect not). Even though I found he answer infuriating – he seemed to completely forget all the lessons of prohibition (and, in effect, label every beer brewer in the country a scumbag) – he was at least human. And that’s when social media works best, when we get to see people being human. Otherwise, you just look wooden and, frankly, uninteresting.