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 byAdrian 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 dead.”

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.