Transmedia Storytelling at SXSW Interactive

You’ve probably noticed that many of us at Convio have been thinking
and talking a lot about multichannel communication with constituents. Through
our multigenerational research and case studies with clients, and other
testing, we have pretty definitive proof that individuals expect us to speak to
them in a coordinated fashion in each of the channels they prefer. This process
can be new and difficult but the payoff is greater engagement, stickier
relationships, and increased value. As part of a broader CRM strategy, multichannel
campaigns are critical for nonprofit organizations to be thinking about.

This week at the 2012 SXSW Interactive Conference, I noticed
another theme that is a facet of multichannel communications: Transmedia
Storytelling. I had the luck of choosing two adjacent sessions that focused on
transmedia storytelling, which really got me thinking about what this means to
organizations and how it fits in with a broader communications strategy. While
an official definition may be arguable, I would define transmedia story telling
as a technique in telling a story where multiple platforms or channels are
necessary to tell the whole story. Conversely, Multichannel communications
focuses on coordinating a campaign or appeal across multiple channels. They are
similar but I believe the nuanced differences are important.

One session on transmedia that I attended was presented by
Adrian Hon of Six to Start about the making of the BBC Documentary called “TheCode.” This program was featured amazing content about how math is embedded in
our everyday lives. Hon explained how his team was able to expand the audience
beyond the typical 55 year old male who would have been the standard viewer to
a much more diverse set of individuals by developing additional content through
multiple channels. By developing games, puzzles, supplemental material,
documents, and mailings, they increased engagement and reach. The results were
impressive, there were 1.8 million viewers of the program (about what they
expected), but time shifted views boosted the audience 20-40%. Over one million
people engaged with games that helped tell the story and average engagement
time online was around 24 minutes!

The other transmedia session told a similar story of what Bravo did with the Top Chef series and contest. They were able to engage
viewers, seed content, dynamically change approaches, and increase impressions
by telling the story through multiple channels.

While all nonprofits may not have the budget of the BBC and
Bravo, these projects were completed on relatively low budgets for these
companies and I believe orgs can mimic these storytelling techniques for
similar results. To do this we must think about what media fits each part of
the story and how to connect the dots. Embedding content producers from each
channel in the entire process is key. Transmedia storytelling cannot happen with
each person working on their own part – the whole story needs to be integrated
from start to finish. It’s also important to think about how the story will be
shared once people are engaged. As one panelist said, “If it doesn’t spread, it’s

If you have a chance to attend SXSW Interactive, I definitely
encourage it. The innovative vibe is invigorating, the nonprofit community is well represented, and the cross pollination of ideas is healthy! I hope you
enjoyed this snippet of a take away that I learned this year – I’ll certainly
be thinking about transmedia storytelling more this year.