I’ve been approached to hold workshops a a couple of universities in the past week, and I’ve had to quite radically change my approach to suit the needs of students who are right now working on their very first cross media (or perhaps even transmedia) projects. One slide I felt I had to put in the initial presentation was a very much hands-on guide to seven things worth checking off the development list, no matter what kind of project you’re working on. And, as I believe fully in the power of sharing, I thought some of my readers might have use for these points as well – as a checklist if nothing more. Here are the seven points:
- Create your story world, your characters, your rules
This doesn’t necessarily have to be a fictional world although it, of course, can be. Even if you’re working on a documentary or an app, or just about anything else, the creation of the story world around that content will help you immensely when it comes to laying a steady foundation for whatever it is that you’re trying to create. Even if the characters are real people in a real life situation, describing them in your project, describing their traits and wants and needs and motivations will help you keep their voice and their output constant across all media and across all stories.
- Explore the stories that rise from this world
As you build the world, or if it’s the case of a project rooted in the real world it will happen as you describe the world, you will see strands of stories beginning to appear. If the main character turns out to have motivation stemming from an event in his or her earlier life, how can that event be unfolded into a story, and how can people engage with it? Explore and evaluate, try to find how these stories tap into the communities or issues or places your target audience are active in and around.
- Research your audience – goals, habits, needs
Knowing your audience has never been more important, especially if you’re just starting out with your project and not drawing on anything that has gone before you or basing your work on an existing, researched fan base. Right now we as content creators and storytellers are in the luxurious position of being able to do exactly this kind of research, even on a global scale, to tell us things we need to know about our audience. Where are they, physically and virtually? What are their habits, what do they like, what don’t they like? What kind of content do they consume, what kind of content do they share? All of this points back to Big Data, broken down into pieces of Little Data. If you have the option, do have someone on your team who is good at analyzing data, and is also able to translate the findings into actionable objects for you to evaluate (and I know these people are a rare breed and probably lifting six-figure salaries at Google or somewhere, but there are those that are great at this and not tied up yet).
- Evaluate the suitability of different media platforms
It’s more true now than ever before – you don’t have to use different media platforms and possibilities just because they exist. Your web series might not actually need an associated app. Your characters in your online graphic novel do not necessary have to have their own Twitter accounts. Your documentary perhaps doesn’t become all that much better just because you decide to tell four side characters’ stories as clips on YouTube. On the other hand, perhaps that’s exactly what your project is lacking? The only way to make the right decision here is to a) know what you want to achieve with your project and b) know enough about your target audience to know whether implementing these extra things will bring added value or not.
- Develop ”sand boxes” for the audience
You want your audience to be an engaged one, an audience that interacts with your content on a level and in a direction you’ve planned for them. You (probably) don’t want an audience that goes wild and does outlandish stuff with the content you’ve provided for them. Use the sand box model (or, according to Jeff Gomez, the Swiss cheese model) to – from the very start of the project – carve out spaces for your audience to interact, engage and create content (of different kinds) themselves. This way you can keep them in the same vein as the rest of the project and harness the engagement to a much higher degree, making it more sustainable in the long run.
- Develop social media strategies
Give the people a reason to share your content on social media and the (very easily accessible) tools to do so! You want your content to reach as many people as possible – so let your audience do some of the leg work for you. It can be something as simple as a Facebook competition or a congregation around a funny Twitter hashtag, that both tie into your content in a logical and natural way. Or it can be something much more complex than that – it all depends on your project and its needs.
- Have clear goals, but be prepared to move them
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with failing. Fail fast forward is the motto you should go by. Simply make sure that you don’t make the same mistakes again, and that you always make corrections that help you advance with your project. One saying I often agree with is that when you know you’re 90% finished with your project, that’s when you have 90% left to do. It doesn’t matter how excellent your original idea is – it’s the execution of that idea that will ultimately make or break your project. By having clear goals – development-wise, audience engagement-wise and distribution-wise – you can make sure you’re on the right track to realize your project the way you’ve envisioned it.