Boiling Down Digital Storytelling

Boiling Down Digital Storytelling

Basic Principles to Get You Started

If you’re tackling digital storytelling for your brand, then it probably feels like you’re being asked to boil the ocean.

No wonder the task seems daunting—we just passed 1 billion websites according to Internet Live Stat’s count. And by the end of 2014, the UN’s International Telecommunication Union expects that we’ll hit nearly 3 billion Internet users.

Every second on the Internet equals:

  • 7,840 tweets
  • 1,390 photos uploaded to Instagram
  • 45, 905 Google searches
  • 89,924 videos viewed on YouTube
  • 34M emails

The sheer scope and velocity of communication in the digital space is compounded by the platform itself; in fact, digital comprises multiple formats and channels—you could easily spend your time specializing in a single area from websites, email, video, social media and games to apps.

So where do you start?

I think a few basic principles can ground day-to-day content planning and creation, making the task manageable and your output more effective.

online or offline, storytelling is the same

 

1. Online or analog, storytelling is the same.

Digital is still often referred to as “new media”; in fact, news headlines since 2004 show virtually equal preference for the two terms. The connected web has fundamentally changed how we list, buy and sell products and services—disrupting industries from banking and travel to education.

But the types of stories we tell online follow age-old patterns we’ve inherited from oral narrative through to stage plays, radio, TV, movies and advertising.

In the end, you still need to tell a good story with compelling characters and conflict—but in this context your brand, product or service should help fulfill the central protagonist’s need. One of my favourite examples is the Webby award-winning Milwaukee Police Department’s website, which highlights how the community’s desire for safety is fulfilled by dedicated officers—not the usual lionizing of might and authority.

Customer is the hero

 

2. Your customer is the hero.

Storytelling may bridge both analog and digital—but our cast of characters has changed irrevocably with the democratization of online publishing and social networks. Your customer’s now squarely center stage as the most valuable player in the narrative.

Not a terrible stretch in an era of widespread #selfies, eh? (Cool fact: selfies make up almost one-third of all photos taken by people aged 18-24.)

For marketers, that means that the specs of any product or service are secondary to how that purchase makes life for the customer better.

GoPro’s tagline is literally “be a hero” and its dedicated channel includes snapshots and videos created by customers using its action cameras. User-generated content gives customers the creative control to tell their own story.

Alternatively, Lowe’s is creating a series of six-second Vine videos that highlight quick fixes around the home rather than fixating on the features of individual tools or parts. Do-it-yourselfers are making a home into a sanctuary and Lowe’s wants to be part of that experience—not just sell widgets.

 

Online complements offline

 

3. Online complements offline.

Customers expect a seamless experience when they move back and forth from clicks to bricks; a Forrester study reveals that 71% of customers expect to view your in-store inventory online. And 50% of customers further expect to buy online and pick up in-store.

Often, however, organizations can’t deliver an integrated customer experience because of how they’re structured. For example, a recent study by Forbes Insight and Wipro of 125 global executives in consumer goods highlights how internal fragmentation is holding back some companies:

  • 37% still treat digital marketing as a separate function
  • 39% operate e-commerce in a silo
  • 50% reported that their digital marketing failed to integrate with essential back-end processes in one or more instances

While it’s tempting to stick to digital platforms when you’ve been put in a corner to muck around on your own, the end results will be better if you can marry online and offline efforts. Plus, the demand for greater integration doesn’t apply just to selling and fulfilling orders—it’s the same for storytelling too.

Event organizers have been doing it for a while by live streaming attendees’ tweets, photos and videos. Likewise, digital signage at brick-and-mortar locations have been widely used to reinforce key messages from in-flyer promotions and direct mail campaigns. And political activists routinely employ online petitions and rallies in real-life to advocate for change.

And even though “Weight Watchers has an online app, it continues to host weekly, in-person meetings as well,” points out innovation broker Katherine Bierce.

 

All content should reflect your voice and tone

 

4. All content should reflect your voice and tone.

Even the lowly “Page not found” is a chance for you to connect with your audience. In fact, some brands and agencies have taken up the challenge and produced some really creative versions of the staple 404 page.

My personal favourite is the one for SpaghettiOs—a simple but clever reference to the famous “Uh-oh SpaghettiOs” jingle created when the brand launched in 1965 that still acknowledges the visitor’s disappointment after stumbling on a broken link.

404 SpaghettiOsThese are some of the basics rolling around in my head that make the daunting task of telling digital stories more achievable. What are yours?

Rebecca and Tracy Speak: Headstart 2011

Cupcakes!!!
Last year, I met Rebecca Johnston right before a panel hosted by Third Tuesday Vancouver got underway at Ceili’s Irish Pub & Restaurant .

This September, we’ll be co-presenting at Headstart 2011, a grassroots conference run by and for Royal LePage realtors across Canada.

During the intervening months, Rebecca and I have become good friends, sharing war stories from our professional lives as well as our personal aspirations, interests and foibles. When she asked if I’d be interested in working together with her on a presentation for Headstart 2011, I jumped.

We’re now putting the final touches on our presentation entitled “Making the Message Matter: Five Dos and Don’ts of Successful Communication for Realtors.”


Working with Rebecca, I’ve learned (or been reminded of) a few key lessons:

  • Tell a story. When planning your script, don’t forget that people love a good story. We’re wired for storytelling and listening, not dry statistics. I can geek out when it comes to social media and content so Rebecca has pulled me back from the ledge a few times.
  • You are your presentation—not your slides. God knows, I despise PowerPoint. But it’s easy to get sidetracked and let the software drive your story if you let it. Rebecca has prompted me to remember that the slides should play a supporting role like a prop in a play.
  • Set the ground rules for collaboration early. Rebecca and I are both writers  and both passionate about content. We worked together during the early brainstorming stage and then decided to draft two complete scripts on our own. We’re in the process of collating the two scripts together now. This has worked out very well for us—Rebecca is great at setting the stage and providing context whereas I like to dive in to the “body” of the presentation right away.

I’m sure there’ll be more to make note of as we get closer to September and start practicing how we want to deliver the presentation. Do you have any tips to share? Drop a comment to share your killer presentation ideas or tell me what you hate presenters do!

Live Blog: Transmedia Storytelling with Brent Friedman

How to Build a Universe Worthy of Devotion

Brent Friedman
Photo by GigaOM Events

Brent Friedman, Founding Partner of Electric Farm Entertainment, is in Vancouver to speak about the basics of transmedia storytelling, from definition to uses in both mainstream and digital experimentation, using his company’s recent MTV hit series Valemont as a case study.

Filter the Flood: How to Curate the Social Web with Storify

information hydrant
Photo by Will Lion

To consume all of the data published online over the next year, you would have to watch TV for 125 million years straight. Clearly, the ability to filter the din is critical if we want to craft compelling stories for our readers and followers. In response, co-founders Burt Herman and Xavier Damman launched Storify—a new social reporting tool in beta for professional and citizen journalists. Storify lets you create a digital narrative from the deluge of posts, photos, videos and links uploaded to the web every second.

“We’re flooded with Tweets, YouTube videos, Flickr photos and everything else. Everyone can be a “reporter”…But not everyone is a “journalist”—making sense of an issue and giving the context. So we built a system to help people do this, take the best of social media and make it into a story—to “storify” it,” explained Herman in an interview with Robert Hernandez.

I discovered Storify earlier this year at a retreat where a participant used the event hashtag to pull together the most relevant tweets, photos and slides. Soon, I had registered to gain access to the service and created my own story.

How Storify Works

Click the screenshots to see a product walkthrough.

Home Page

Storify Home Page

New Story
New Story
To start, click "New Story."
Create Story
Editing Screen
Drag and drop to create your story.
Edit Story
Editing
Refining your story.
Publish Story
Publish Story
Publish your story and start promoting to drive traffic.

Pros

  • Protect Your Sources: Storify maintains links to the original source so attribution is easy and transparent—precisely what you’d expect of Herman, a former foreign correspondent who worked for the Associated Press for 12 years.
  • Interactive: Videos remain playable and links stay “active” so that stories are layered and enriched by multimedia.
  • Drag ‘n’ Drop Navigation: Editing a story is as easy as dragging and dropping elements into place.
  • Embeddable: Once a story is published, you can tweet, email or embed the link in your blog/website. When one of the YouTube videos “broke” in my story, it was a snap to fix and have the correction picked up automatically everywhere it was embedded.

Cons

  • “Spammy” Notifications: While it’s important to notify folks when you’ve included their content in your story, Storify sets up a separate tweet for every notification. Depending on your number of sources, this could mean a high volume of tweets—which will read like spam in your timeline. I’ve turned this feature off but then I’m left manually trying to notify folks.

I love Storify—this tool makes it easy for anyone to quickly get started curating content of value to their audience.

What are the stories you need to be telling your audience? Request an invite to join the private beta and start testing Storify now.