Cross media, transmedia, multiplatform storytelling, deep media… the terms are legion and intertwining, as I’m sure most readers of this blog know already. At the heart of all of them lies an urge to tell compelling stories over more than one media, in ways that engages and immerses the audience and utilize the strengths of each media platform, making them support each other and offer the audience a more fulfilling experience.
While that’s the core of the practices, that’s also where most people coming into the field as creators and producers get lost. For creative, nimble minds, the promises of transmedia storytelling are enticing. In our mind’s eye, we can see just how the different parts will line up, how the different media will build on each other and how the audience will experience something earth-shattering and fulfilling, that encourages them to participate, to share onwards and to agree to loyally follow the story to its conclusion.
The problem is that this seldom plays out the way we’ve envisioned it.
If we make a short film, we can most often make it just the way we want to make it – budget and other circumstances allowing, of course. If we create a transmedia experience meant for audience interaction, however, the variables multiply exponentially. We can’t be sure that the audience travels the route you want them to travel, we can’t be sure they experience what we want them to experience in the way we want them to experience it and we certainly can’t be sure that they interact the way we intend for them to interact.
What to do? Well:
- Prepare for fluidity. Rigid is a thing of the past; that which doesn’t bend will be quite likely to break instead. For traditional producers of, for instance, television, fluidity is the nemesis that guarantees that your final product is like nothing you’ve planned for. For the YouTube stars of today, fluidity is key. If something craps up with my video, shoot a new, or use the fail to move forward in a new direction. Everything can be turned into momentum. When quality of content is no longer measured in composition or traditional skill but in engagement and immediacy, that’s when fluidity comes into play.
Of course – the ones that manage to combine the two, the craft and skill of a great photographer or artist with the urgency and – yes – fluidity of content production online… that’s a golden ticket, right there.
- Put down our waypoints, our goal posts, but have a crew ready to move them the second we see our project going down a new route. Again the goal should be stated and clear to everyone involved. But the audience is no longer passive – far from it – and unforseen circumstances can hijack our project into new directions. If we find ourselves on an unfamiliar path, evaluate our goals and mould them to fit the new direction.
- Allow our metrics to reflect the complexity of our project. Ratings are far from the only metric that counts. Neither are views on YouTube. How do our sentiments spread? How engaged are the viewers of our content? How lively is the hashtag? For how long does our message resonate? What kind of spin-offs are initiated? How will it carry over to the next thing?
It’s a complex world to analyze, but doable. Metrics should also incorporate some of the fluidity talked about above; if the project changes direction, so must the metrics. What counts is the impression we make – no matter what kind of impression it is.
Simon Staffans is a content and format developer and media strategist, employed by MediaCity Finland. He works with multiplatform storytelling, transmedia development procedures and great stories. Contact him at simon.staffans(at)gmail.com or follow him on @simon.staffans.