How to integrate screencasts into help and make them engaging

Slowly, but surely, statistics are emerging that show screencasts are a cost-effective and engaging way to provide instructional content.

Now technical writers can focus on how to most effectively integrate screencasts into their documentation in an engaging manner. Video content seems to be very effective for grabbing and holding the attention of viewers, and you can leverage this to help guide them through the tedious details of your user documentation.

Here are some tips for using screencasts more effectively.

Integration

Work to build tighter integration between video content and other user assistance content. Much of this integration can be achieved by increased hyperlinking from screencast to screencast. You can also increase integration by building shorter, granular screencasts that can easily be found through the Search functionality in your help.

Don't fall into the trap of one-way links from help topics to screencasts. Instead, consider linking from screencasts to related procedural and overview topics. Also, you can daisy-chain screencasts so that the end of one screencast links to a related screencast. By linking from introductory screencasts to more complicated procedural screencasts, you can provide a complete and accessible video learning experience.

Smart implementation of screencasts can lead to a more engaging user assistance experience. For example, consider replacing the help's Welcome topic with a screencast. You can then provide a list of links to help topics discussed in the screencast. This is a great way to pull users into the detailed help topics. Such a tactic might be most effective for users who have a lower tolerance for reading text.

Increasing the amount of visual content you provide is likely a safe investment. Don't fear duplicate content. Publishing text and video addresses multiple learning styles, and video provides a lower barrier to entry for most people. If you treat screencasts as merely a compliment to text, you will lose the vastly growing audience of those who expect you to show them what to do visually.

It may also be useful to embed short, task-related videos directly into procedural help topics to allow for a visual visual equivalent of the text. The short duration and limited information displayed would make it practical to produce many of these, and make them easy to update. Space restrictions can be solved by using crop and pan techniques, and using hidden DIVs with Show Me links to hide or show the screencast (see image below).

embed screencast

Engagement

As you create screencasts, work closely with marketing and sales professionals. They can often provide you with information about how to motivate consumers, and how to use key benefits to draw them into a deeper discussion of the details of a product.

Using copywriting techniques in your screencast scripts and help content can keep readers moving through the more mind-numbing details. When engagement lags, you will start losing readers. You've worked hard to provide accurate instructional content, so don't waste it by failing to market your work. Explain the benefits of reading the help and watching the screencasts before you dive into the long-winded details.

Bulleted lists are a wonderful tool for explaining benefits to your audience. Consider introducing your screencast with a bulleted list of the goals viewers can reach by mastering the concepts in the video. As a result, you may see an increase in the number of viewers who stick around until the end of the screencast. Close the screencast by introducing related content, and using bulleted lists to highlight the benefits of viewing the related content.

Hopefully these tips will help you to better integrate screencasts into your existing documentation and engage your audience.