We won’t be creating a documentary, or a series, or a film when we’re working multiplatform – we’ll be creating an experience that will stretch further than most traditional narratives can hope for. This, in turn, means more complexity to the project and a lot more work. The upside is that we can arrive at a long-term engagement, a long-tail experience previously neigh-on impossible. But like anything that is intended to live on for a long stretch of time our story needs a sustainable base.
One part of this sustainability includes audience engagement. We need to plan for a continuous engagement that does not end… when the audience has watched the film, what will that make them want to do? What calls to action spur them on, where do they go from there? When they’ve done that, what then? And when they’ve done that, what happens then – and why?
Another part is the story itself – will it hold up over time? What installments can we create in the future – or create now, for the future? How can we keep the solid foundation of the story world intact? What impact will new content – content that is sure to arise in one form or another, given that the initial project is a success (hopefully) – have on the overall narrative?
In my world, sustainability also includes the financial side. I am very fond of projects that have logical, well thought-out and compelling plans for achieving a healthy return on investment – if it’s about working with sponsors, or well working product placement – in creative ways of course – or crowdfunding, or buy-in options, shares or the likes… whatever it’s about, in my mind, if you can show that you not only can craft at good immersive story, but you can also make a profit doing so – then you’ll have a much easier time with your next project, or with the continuation of the current one.
Fluidity is the art of moving with the flow of the story. I’m from a traditional media background and I know the comforting security of working against a deadline and having a set launch date or a broadcast spot, and then you’re finished with your program or your show and it’s broadcast and then you move on to the next thing. It’s very reassuring, very stable and very nice.
Now I believe we need to be more fluid regarding our content and our approach to our audience. We know what we want to create, but if we know our audience and who we want to reach and affect with our content and our stories, we need to keep alive the possibility to react to things that are happening around us. This is where transmedia storytelling methods come in handy.
See – if we’ve applied transmedia storytelling methods to our project from the beginning, we have done some things. We have
- described the world our story exists in, the world that makes up the foundation of the story we’re trying to tell in our documentary for instance. We know the rules of this world, the characters (also the ones not appearing in our main piece of content), their motivations, the environment – all the things that are not told in the documentary
- We have drawn up some plans about other stories, parallel to the main one in the documentary, that can be told from other parts of the world we’re describing; perhaps on other media platforms, perhaps in other ways
- we have also analyzed our main target group and know some things about what platforms they’re on – are they predominantly Netflixing content or do they watch broadcast TV as well? Can we reach them on social media, and how in that case? What are their interests and their motivations? What engages them?
All of this allows us to be more fluid and more able to respond to movement among our target groups. If someone takes part of what we’re talking about, cuts it out from context, puts it together with other sentiments and starts an eager discussion about that, we can use one of the other story lines we’ve been thinking about to tell another facet of the same issue, reclaiming the narrative and guide the discussion in a desired direction.
Validation is as important as any of the other principles. I know that I’ve wanted to produce my content, publish it – on TV, online or where-ever – and be done with it. Yeah, sure, I can talk about it with people and accept awards for it an so on, but on the whole, when I’ve come up with something, produced it and distributed it, I’m done with it.
Not anymore though. If we manage to create something that engages people, and we’ve managed to retain fluidity and authenticity, and we’ve even managed to come up with a great plan for interaction and engagement, we’ve embedded brilliant calls to action in the narrative, and we’ve gotten people to actually commit themselves… then we need to be prepared to validate their engagement.
We need to have strategies in place for how to celebrate everyone who engages themselves in our narrative. Is it enough with a Facebook ”like”? Do we need to acknowledge them and then challenge them further – if they want to engage themselves further? How do we showcase their engagement to other people? And how do we retain our authenticity and fluidity throughout this process?
Our content is moving to a future when it is becoming a long term engagement … for good and for bad.
A terrible pain in the ass when it comes to creating multiplatform narratives, engaging an audience, interacting, and letting it all play out over time is an overwhelming need to build structures.
One form of structures we need are timelines for everything – for each and every platform we work on, for each and every social media we are active on. We need to make them logically interact and connect. We need to think of people who just dip in and people who are active from the very beginning. We need to see to it that the narrative arch works, even if we come at the project from unexpected angles.
But first we need to know what platforms we’ll be engaging and producing on, what social media we will look to activate, what our possibilities are to actually interact with an active audience and what we will do if we don’t have these possibilities. For instance, can we make our narrative self-sustainable in any way, and how?
This all goes back to the very first structure we need to have down in as concrete form as possible – the structure of our story (or stories) and what platforms should be utilized to bring them to the audience (or bring the audience to them). If we can – and we should make sure we can – these structures should be based on a thorough research of our intended target audience, their wants, needs and habits.
I can guarantee you one thing – there will be a LOT of post-it notes and white boards with big black letters that say “DON’T ERASE THIS”.
We need clear goals in order to be able to quantify our success or lack of success. What do we hope to achieve? Do we want 5.000 likes on your Facebook group? Do we want 10.000 people to share your video? Do we want 20.000 people to come to the theater? Do we want a 200% ROI? What softer values can we measure? Why have we chosen these metrics – what is it that make them reflect on our project, unlike other metrics?
We need to analyze which metrics matter for our project, and what numbers are realistic or desirable for us. Also be prepared to move these goal posts further or nearer, depending on how the project evolves. These goals are important for us as a creator and producer to be able to have something to mirror the progress of the project against, in order to be able to adequately adjust during roll-out and long-tail, as well as take heed when looking at upcoming projects.
And finally, take a good look around at your collaborators… do we all have the same goal within the project? If not – time to sit down and have a good, long talk.