Spreading a story

TL;DR – A brief scribble about reaching the audience, prompted by a talk from last week.

The other day I watched the talk that Starlight Runner’s Caitlin Burns held at Emerge 2013 in Arizona last week. Speaking from experience, Caitlin talks about several important issues; the power of stories, the evolvement of storytelling etc. One thing that stuck in my mind was the part about getting a story to spread.

I’ve been hanging out on Reddit more than I should be, but the webside (branding itself as ”the frontpage of the Internet”) gives some valuable insights into how stories spread, what kind of core they need to have in order for there to be something to ignite, and how they keep from fading out as quickly as they come.

Caitlin quite rightly states in her talk that ”you story must reach out to others”, and that’s what we’re all striving for (I hope!) – creating stories that resonate with the intended target audience and encourages interaction, engagement and immersion.

Her ”secret sauce” consist of four points – ”Be Interesting”, ”Describe it in a way that provokes the imagination”, ”Give people something to talk about” and ”Find ways to keep the conversation going”, and it’s hard not to agree with these, so I won’t try.

But let’s take a brief look at one example from Reddit, the case of the Mall Cop Hero.  It all started with a post on Reddit, pointing to a video where one guy, a mall cop in Atlanta, was running drug dealers off the premises of the mall he was guarding. Other videos emerged as it turned out the mall cop was filming his interactions himself, for future possible evidence in court etc.

The most shared one was of a woman getting tased by the Mall Cop after spitting on him and hitting him in front of her children, after having been warned to get off the premises for close to ten minutes. The video was widely commented on as one showing what’s wrong with (parts of ) the US today, with most people getting behind the Mall Cop’s decision to use a Taser.

This story had all the ingredients needed; one man against many, good vs evil, in surroundings most are familiar with, either from personal experience or TV series. Plus, there were some obvious interaction routes to take. Who was this cop? Someone went there, met Darien the Mall Cop and talked to him.

It didn’t end there though. Noticing the abject state of Darien’s equipment, Redditor RyuKenya quickly set up a donation site, which quickly raised 18.000$ to be handed over directly to the Darien Long, the Mall Cop Hero.

What do we learn from this, apart from the fact that truth often trumps fiction? Well – Create something relevant for your target group. Give them something to discover along the way. Make it possible and easy for them to rally around your story, sharing it and collaborating around it and comment on it. And finally, make it possible for them to influence the story in one way or another, through easily-made choices, in a way that makes them feel part of something bigger than themselves – a community, if only a  temporary and fleeting one – you’ll have something viral and brilliant on your hands.

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2 thoughts on “Spreading a story

  1. Pingback: Audience engagement – three approaches | Simon Staffans // Developing Media

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