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With a new live LinkedIn show, HBR connects with readers on coping in the wake of Covid-19

April 30, 2020 | By Esther Kezia Thorpe – Independent Media Reporter @EstherKeziaT

As the world adjusts to the “new normal” of remote working life, forward-thinking publishers have been coming up with new ways to connect with their audiences and help them through the crisis. In a matter of weeks, Harvard Business Review has spun up its own live video offering: HBR Quarantined. 

HBR’s new weekly LinkedIn Live show focuses on how businesses are coping with the consequences of coronavirus. The show, co-hosted by Editor in Chief Adi Ignatius and Chief Product and Innovation Officer Joshua Macht, debuted on April 27 with Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Thomas Friedman as a special guest.

Ignatius, Macht and HBR’s Senior Multimedia Editor Scott LaPierre talked to DCN about what prompted the launch, how the first show went, and where they plan to take it in the future.

Evolving an idea

The initial concept for HBR Quarantined stemmed from Ignatius and Macht wanting to explore their dynamic in different formats. “Adi and I go way back together. We’ve grown accustomed to taking chances together and inventing things,” Macht said, explaining that a podcast was initially on the table. “Within weeks we went from, ‘Maybe we should launch a podcast,’ to ‘We’re going to do a live television show on a platform that’s pretty new.’ Then, all of a sudden, we had a show.” 

Ignatius said that the genesis of the idea came from a desire to connect with the millions of their audience who are now working from home. “They, like us, are wondering, ‘When do we get to go back to work, and what will work look like when we do?’” he explained. “We’re always talking about these issues. So we figured we could do a service delivering insight on COVID-19 and how it affects businesses and the economy.”

But unlike other HBR products, the show is designed to have a very different tone. “Harvard Business Review tends to be a brand that speaks to a very high altitude. That’s our secret sauce: high-level pieces that are based on research,” Ignatius emphasized.

“This show is something different. It’s meant to be warmer, really connecting in the moment. We’re all in the same boat and trying to figure this out together. So, it’s certainly an experimentation with a different kind of voice for us.”

Viability in quarantine

Under normal circumstances, a product like this would be resource-intensive. But LaPierre highlighted that quarantine has actually lowered the bar for everyone in terms of production values and expectations. 

“The way a lot of video producers are seeing the COVID-19 crisis, perversely, is as an opportunity to try new things,” he said. “HBR is not a TV station. We only have a small video team. So it would be hard for us to launch a true broadcast live video series. But now, everyone’s been equalized in terms of what they’re capable of doing. It’s a chance for us to make a viable series that doesn’t look that different from what others are doing.”

LinkedIn’s Live tool is just over a year old, and the platform was relatively late to the video space compared to its competitors. But for HBR, their vast social following on LinkedIn – 10.2 million followers – made it an obvious choice to debut this type of show. 

The team began by testing out a high-level broadcast tool. However, that was proving problematic as it wasn’t suited to their purposes. “We pivoted to something called StreamYard, which is a ‘prosumer’ grade software that allows you to stream live, but is a lot more lightweight,” explained LaPierre.

Live streaming can be risky in terms of technical hitches. But HBR’s first show went smoothly, attracting 35,000 live viewers and thousands of comments during the stream. Ignatius highlighted the long-tail benefits of the video as well, with total views doubling in just a few days.

The biggest surprise for the team was the lack of drop-offs. “Everyone was saying we would have these spikes in viewers. But actually, people showed up for the whole thing, and it just kept growing,” Macht explained. 

HBR Quarantined post-quarantine

When it comes to the future of HBR Quarantined, the team is remaining flexible. They have a total of six episodes planned so far. However, they will be constantly reviewing what the response is to them and what their audience needs going forward.

“I was pleasantly surprised that it went off as well as it did. But it will be interesting to see where it goes,” commented Ignatius. “I think there is something of a service that we can provide for our readers. There’s knowledge and insight about what’s going on, and we want to see what that means post-quarantine.”

HBR is also scouting out potential sponsors. They believe the show offers a timely opportunity for advertisers to reach their audience with messaging related to the moment. “There is not a lot of sponsorship money out there these day. And part of our experiment was to find a new medium that was of the moment,” explained Ignatius. 

But sponsorship aside, future episodes will be focused on trying to engage people with the brand, and with the wider goals of bringing people into HBR’s subscription funnel. “The show is good for getting people to engage with our brand, and we want to continue to grow the number of people visiting the site,” Macht concluded. 

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