I had a conversation with the quite brilliant Tishna from Power to the Pixel, while we both were attending the Future Media 2.0 conference in Riga, Latvia. It concerned the delicate question of how to actually nurture an audience, and what lines there were that could be crossed but probably should not be crossed.
In a world where narratives are created and developed and produced and distributed with the help of transmedia storytelling methods as an essential part of the process, there will be ample opportunities for the producers or IP owners to, in a very logical and natural fashion, integrate themselves with the target audience.
To give you an example: a story where the protagonist is a storm chaser on the great planes of midwest USA would require whomever working on the story or the whole concept to gain a thorough understanding of how storm chasing works, how storms are born and live and die out, etc and so on. Earlier, this was research only, in order to be able to write that story.
Now, with, amongst other things, transmedia storytelling methods, new possibilities exist. If you, as a producer or an IP owner, have the opportunity to engage with the target audience on their own level way before the launch of the story, shouldn’t you do so? You would have the possibility to gain a following for what you will release unto the world before anyone else has even seen it. Again, this can be called out as having been done many times before, under the heading ”Marketing”.
Yes, but marketing is also changing. What if you were to integrate with the storm chaser crowd well in advance of any launches? You would talk to the other storm chasers, you would make a name for yourself, and after nine months you would start to release sketchy but amazing material, sharing them with your tribe. One month on, you would excitedly tell everyone that ”They’re making a film out of my storm chase!”. The film would be released, to a crowd that is already informed and primed.
The obvious possible backlash would be the audience finding out about the hoax. This would ruin months of work in a heartbeat or two.
And precisely this was what we discussed. You should definitely prime your audience, if you have the chance, to make them more susceptible to the stories you are about to tell. But how much developing of your audience can you do, before we’re moving into dangerous hoaxing land?
My suggestion would be to approach the matter in this order:
- Analyze your project; does it need an engaged audience, or would a spectating one suffice? Would a hoax be seen as a natural part of your project, providing it was produced well (i.e. nothing that would anger people was it to be found out)? Basically make sure that you know all you need to know to, with certainty, proclaim a yes or a no for your show to apply any of the methods discussed.
- Analyze your audience; is it one open to alternative things? Is it one where trust is of the utmost essence? Is it a very critical one? Is it a very suspecting one? The better you know this audience the better you will be off in the end, as you’ll be able to pull the plug if necessary, or run with them if that’s needed.
- Analyze your plan; has anything similar been done? How did that turn out? What flaws are readily visible? Do look up different articles on hoaxing in transmedia and make sure you don’t make the mistakes the other projects did.