Digital Engagement Through Transmedia Storytelling

January 17, 2012 - 0 Comments

I have been hearing folks talk about transmedia storytelling for several years now but haven’t spent time on this blog discussing this concept. Seems high time I did so and figured I should start off by attempting to define what it actually means. According to Wikipedia transmedia storytelling, also known as multi-platform storytelling, cross-platform storytelling, or transmedia narrative, is the technique of telling stories across multiple platforms and formats using current digital technologies. Henry Jenkins officially defined transmedia in 2006 in his book “Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide,” as a story that “unfolds across multiple media platforms, with each new text making a distinctive and valuable contribution to the whole.” So given this transmedia storytelling is just the tip of the transmedia iceberg with transmedia branding/activism/performance/etc. waiting in the wings so to speak 🙂

Diving into the purpose of transmedia storytelling, the common definition is that it is meant to extend the brand reach of the product by using multiple stories that are set in a single universe but told across a variety of outlets. These overlapping publishing points complement each other to form an overarching narrative. So transmedia storytelling isn’t just re-publishing the story in multiple platforms it is about using a medium to augment the base storyline for example–comics might provide back-story, games might allow you to explore the world in the story, social media might enable curated commentary on the story developing into a story line in and of itself and the television/web series offers unfolding episodes. Keep in mind that if your story doesn’t resonate with your audience transmedia approaches won’t fix that. That’s right, as always, content is king and transmedia is a great option for extending powerful content to a variety of platforms/formats. So how are digital technologies empowering transmedia? According to Tribeca Film:

Transmedia is the new space where visual storytelling exists because:

1. Every screen we can imagine (TV, smart phone, tablet, laptop and yes, the lowly desktop computer) is reached by Internet video, audio, text and images.

2. Every connected consumer can reach back — through each screen.

In the below video iPad storyteller Joe Sabia demonstrates how new technology has been instrumental in enabling people to tell stories, from pop-up books and to his own onstage iPad storytelling techniques.

So essentially digital technologies/platforms are providing extensive options for augmenting a storyline and enabling audiences to consume but more importantly engage in the stories content. So of course ARGs are a great example of transmedia storytelling but it certainly doesn’t end there. One of my favorite examples is Inanimate Alice.

According to the web site:

“Inanimate Alice is Transmedia-designed from the outset as a story that unfolds over time and on multiple platforms, the episodes are available on all devices…. ‘Alice’ connects technologies, languages, cultures, generations, and curricula with a sweeping narrative accessible by all. As Alice’s journey progresses, new storylines appear elsewhere providing more details and insights, enriching the tale through surprising developments. Students are encouraged to co-create episodes of their own, either filling the gaps, or developing new strands.”

There are lots of other examples out there and so many ways to apply transmedia telling I am excited to see what folks come up with in the future. Of course I am a fan of using digital technologies in smart and creative ways to engage audiences and further extend reach. For me transmedia telling is compelling because it seems to me it can incorporate a lot of things I love such as augmented reality, gamification, serious games, and virtual events.

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