Transmedia — stories that traverse different mediums of storytelling — took off a few years ago. I think the initial spark has definitely faded but it’s something I am glad I tried and I really enjoy talking about so I wanted to go over when to create a transmedia series, how, why, and when & why you might steer away from it. These are pretty big topics so I’ll be splitting this post into two!
First, the why. Not every story requires a transmedia element and it’s important to use any tool with a specific purpose in mind. For example, Classic Alice was a great use of transmedia; her audience lived and breathed online and to emulate a real vlogger, we knew she would have Twitter accounts etc. When I wrote Not a Plan, however, I knew that there was no real reason to have that additional hook. It wasn’t necessary to draw people in, which was the biggest boost that the transmedia element gave Classic Alice. It allowed the audience to discover in a myriad of places then follow everywhere, which (again) made sense for the story.
I think the golden rule is: wherever, whenever you use transmedia, it needs to add something to the narrative IN ADDITION to adding something to the “business end”. In Classic Alice, we attracted views and fans but the story also continued to breathe online in different formats. It can’t be solely to capture views because people will see right through that; you have to add value and that value is deepening the narrative experience.
Going forward, I would absolutely consider using a transmedia element for the “wow cool!” factor — especially with things that lend to interactivity, like mystery stories where the user/viewer can untangle pieces of the puzzle as we go.
Once you’ve decided your story is right for transmedia, you’ll want to figure out how to incorporate that aspect of storytelling. The most important thing you should remember is: your primary mode of story must be consumable without the extra media.
Which is to say: you can watch all the videos of Classic Alice (our primary mode) without ever setting foot in our transmedia world and you’ll still know exactly what’s going on at all times. You cannot have the transmedia detract from your primary vehicle. Users don’t want to HAVE to hunt down extra bits and bobs to understand your story — but they want to WANT to do it. When it’s something exciting and new and different, people love it.
As an example: when our bad guy, Ewan, released Alice’s book publicly, he did so via our transmedia arm. The video left things on a cliffhanger: what was Ewan going to do? People who followed the transmedia were rewarded with early understanding of the gravity of the plot (and the actual book!) but when we resumed the videos the next week, it was clear to people who were NOT following the transmedia what happened because Alice shared the incident.
You also want to think about what exactly IS your transmedia element. My transmedia producer Dana Shaw would run through the five senses — do we have an element for sight (videos, photos, Tumblrs, Ocelot Call)? sound (podcasts, Alice & Andrew’s phone numbers)? touch (the diary entries/letters)? taste (Cara’s cookbook)? smell (…no. sorry.) I love that approach because it forced us to think really creatively about how we interact with media, especially online media. We also thought about WHO would have each of these things — Alice had a Tumblr for her writing but our camera guy used Instagram, that kind of thing.
While considering these, you also want to ask yourself: will it help achieve my business goal as well? ours was getting views and Twitter definitely did that. If we had been on a lesser used medium, however, it probably would not have done what we needed.
(come back next week for instructions on HOW to create a transmedia project + the answer to “where the heck did they all go?”)