When I’ve done talks and workshops for different groups of students in different countries lately, there’s one thing in particular that has struck me. I’ve shown quite a few innovative and successful examples of projects that are in the transmedia vein and are focusing on audience engagement. However, these case studies are always followed by me saying: ”So this is what you could do with an already existing fan-base and a good-sized slice of the marketing budget for a major Hollywood release” (or ”… good-sized slice of the campaign budget for this well-known and loved brand” or something like that).
This is inevitably followed by a short discussion where we collectively accept that we probably will not have many opportunities to get our hands on funds and fan bases of that kind of magnitude for our future projects.
What then remains as the key questions are – how to differentiate from the myriad of other content and stories out there? How to grow a sustainable fan base more or less from scratch? How to engage the audience and have them, in turn, engage others?
This is where I believe we as creators need to accept one of the limitations when it comes to transmedia storytelling – the fact that these methods are less effective when it comes to short format and brief campaigns, instead being a lot more effective as soon as a project is more long-run and long tail.
So how do we stand out? How do we cut through the chatter? The usual ”throw money at it” is most often not available to us. What we instead need to do is make sure our stories and our content are tailormade for the audience we want to reach. The stories need to be inherently shareable (with good reasons embedded for anyone to share them). They have their sandboxes built in, for audience engagement that also can create a buzz and raise awareness (read my recent post on Seven Tips for transmedia over here). Most of all, the content is prepared to work the long tail to strengthen the message and the project itself, giving future instalments a better bet at succeeding.
This coherence is what will forge a path through the chatter. From the first installment to the next, and the next, and the next, the transmedia storytelling mehtods employed will ensure a logical progression between – and towards and back from – the different parts of the project. Wherever and whenever the viewer/user encounters one of the story nodes or story connections between nodes, these are all steeped in the same tone and feel. Following one of the strands would lead to the next node, which while telling a different story or a different part of the same story still should emit the feeling of being a logical and natural part of the whole story world.
A couple of years back we tried to create a social media following from scratch, in connection with a music show we were producing. Although we had the ears and the hands, the mouths and the followings of different top artists in Finland, the uptake was a lot more slow going than anticipated. We had carefully wrought strategies but a non-existent marketing budget. We also had beautiful content coming out at a steady pace plus conversations and competitions that encouraged word of mouth and engagement. Adding up all of this, we saw the uptake we had been expecting appearing, but a couple of months later than anticipated. If we would’ve panicked and switched to another solution we would never have experienced that! So, make sure whatever audience engagement actions you employ are of a kind that is not tied in to a certain time in the flow of the production/distribution, but can instead be engaged with at any point in the life cycle of the project.
Be the calm in the noise that is the content world out there. Be the oasis that leads the audience to sustenance and revives them. And be the guide for travellers who wander the paths of stories, and lead them safely to the next one.