3 ways to involve users in digital storytelling

As a kid, I loved reading "Choose Your Own Adventure" books. Regardless of the topic -- adventures on the high seas, space exploration, historical mysteries, etc. -- the best part was getting to the page where you were given choices such as, "If you decide to head south to the islands that the professor said held the key to Atlantis, turn to page 54," or "If you decide to head west to join the rest of the naval fleet, turn to page 88." It was the highlight because I controlled the story's fate.

Little did I realize that today we'd be able to apply the same general principle in the world of marketing.

3 ways to involve users in digital storytelling

The idea that a reader is no longer a passive observer and can instead have a direct impact on a story's unfolding and, ultimately, its conclusion, is both powerful and engaging. That same concept parallels what technology can do for storytellers today: bring audiences into the storytelling process, and as a result, heighten engagement and build stronger, more lasting relationships with them. It works because stories can elicit heartfelt emotions and create substantive meaning for audiences.

The challenge for marketers, then, is how to best use technology to engage the audience in our stories and enhance the experience.

Some recent technologies allow us to tell highly involving and dynamic stories. Increased processing capability and mobile device bandwidth now allow for streaming of data-rich content. Marketers can release dynamic video, and users can easily upload audio, video, and photos, effectively interacting and contributing to the program in real time. High-quality screens and audio enhancing software allow for bright, dynamically pleasing user experiences regardless of screen size.

Most significantly, seamless and evermore user-friendly interfaces give consumers easy-to-understand ways of being part of the storytelling process. This ease of interaction can result in increased engagement and an enhanced user experience.

Here are some ways marketers can leverage this mashup of media and technology to appeal to consumers:

Enlist users in the storytelling process

Create a web-based video series and use online commenting, sharing, and voting to solicit viewer ideas for future episodes. As the unfolding story details the characters' interactions and developing relationships, end each episode with a cliffhanger and allow online viewers to answer questions and vote on what they'd like to see happen next, or submit their own suggestions for future plot changes. Each subsequent webisode then reflects the viewer feedback from the previous week.

Our firm handled digital production on "Away We Happened," a recent web series sponsored by AT&T targeting a young Asian-American audience. The Facebook app, website, and mobile/tablet site allowed fans to view the series, suggest plot twists, and vote on what should happen next. Viewer engagement was strong, with some webisodes receiving more than 2,000 suggestions for future plot ideas. The six-episode web series ended up garnering 12 million views last year, and was renewed for a second season.

Let users put their own images in the stories

Many of us remember the slightly unsettling but fun experience during a recent Halloween season when we uploaded our Facebook images on "Take This Lollipop." That take on digital storytelling has also been applied to brands, where a unique video is rendered in real-time based on Facebook images and data. A baseline video can then be re-rendered to play with specific personal cues throughout.

One successful example of this approach was the multiple Gold Cannes Lion-winning "Museum of Me" from Intel, in which the users' life events are collected and enshrined. The brand followed that with the more lighthearted "Me, the Musical," in which user Facebook images and event milestones are assembled in a cheerful parade.

This approach drives traffic and prolongs engagement because people love to "play director" and see themselves and their friends in the results.

Give users the tools to create, use, and share their own content

Leverage online software tools that allow users to create their own insights, video tutorials, or photo collages.

An early example of that was the Nike True City app. A mobile network of tens of thousands of fans and Nike athletes contributed and shared unique insider content, user insights, and product access related to their specific cities, broadcast in real-time by real people to forge a powerful partnership. Another approach was taken by LEGO and Google to promote Google Chrome. "Build With Chrome" lets users create and share content tied to events such as Valentine's Day using digital LEGO building blocks.

While there are some risks in allowing fans to contribute to the positioning of a brand, our experiences with those types of projects have been overwhelmingly positive, with brands winning over new advocates and increasing brand affinity.

Today's multi-processor, multi-screen, multitasking, multi-location world provides the perfect petri dish for the growth of engaging media formats. In the same way storybooks from our childhoods gave us the chance to choose our own adventures, so too do the newest media and technology tools and platforms provide a similar opportunity to today's online audiences, but in a much more dynamic and exciting way. From what we've seen so far from a marketing perspective, it's both engaging and effective.

David Kwan is managing director at The Famous Group.

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"Sailor man sailing boat blue" image via Shutterstock.

 

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