For Transmedia Storytellers, What Constitutes Success?
For a commercially produced transmedia story, success may be relatively easy to define. How many people saw or interacted with it, and how much money did it bring in through ticket sales, downloads or product purchases? From the audience's point of view, simply being entertained may be an end in itself.
When it comes to transmedia stories created by nonprofits or independent producers with a larger social goal in mind, success may be much more elusive. It's harder to measure individual and social change, especially as the result of a single project. While some producers are satisfied to evoke particular emotions, open the audience's mind to a new way of thinking, or raise awareness of an issue, transmedia storytelling is perfectly suited to go beyond that and facilitate changes in attitudes, behaviors, and social norms—the building blocks of social change.
A transmedia project about teen health literacy that I helped produce at UCLA included a series of online videos, character blogs, social network status updates, live chats and other content. Afterwards, we saw substantial increases in health care-related knowledge and behavioral intentions among the teens who engaged with the story.
Participant Media's film Food, Inc., about the reality of where our food supply comes from, had an accompanying web campaign, book, discussion guide, and more. Those who saw it were found to be more likely to encourage others to learn more about food safety, shop at farmer's markets, and eat healthy food. And Mark Horvath, who started the nonprofit Invisible People (of which I am a Board member), has single-handedly made a bigger difference in the issue of homelessness than many large organizations, simply by telling his ongoing story and helping people who are homeless tell their stories through social media—in online videos, on Twitter and Facebook, via blogs, and on other sites. From a budget of essentially zero, Mark has inspired real change through the power of transmedia stories and attracted sponsors and extensive media coverage.
What is it about transmedia storytelling that holds such transformative potential beyond the more traditional approach? It's the immersive engagement that happens—reaching people where they already are so that the story interweaves with their day, building relationships with characters or real-life protagonists over time, and making it easy for the audience to take action in the real world to become part of the story themselves.
I've previously adapted my co-blogger Robert Pratton's prescription for pervasive entertainment to a broader social change context, laying out the elements that need to be in place to create an effective transmedia project (follow the link for an explanation of each part of the equation):
Immersive Engagement for Change = Behavior Change Model + Good Storytelling + Ubiquitous Media + Participatory Experience + Real World
So, what is transmedia storytelling success? There's nothing wrong with entertainment for its own sake, but combine an engaging story with a well thought-out strategy, and you can create real change in people's lives.