Books Beyond Borders

Audience Engagement

Even though there are broad stroke components that you can point to that describe successful transmedia properties, there is no definitive formula of, say, three parts narrative divided by three digital platforms and multiplied by two parts social media, which will yield a guaranteed success. What works for a particular project or audience may not work for another. It’s all about Audience Engagement Strategies.

A few years after the initial success of Sofia’s Diary, we were able to adapt it to 10 different territories and we thought we’d cracked the code to producing multiplatform entertainment. So we went ahead and applied the formula we’d used to develop and market Sofia, to different concepts intended for different target groups. We created a project similar in format to Sofia’s Diary called Looking for Miguel, which featured an older male character. We also developed a concept for an interactive fantasy adventure called Dark Siege. Both projects failed to attract an audience. Their floundering made it clear to us that different target groups respond in different ways to characters, plot points, and interactivity; a one-formula-fits-all was never going to work.

Even though Looking for Miguel and Dark Siege both failed to reach their targets, we more than recovered our financial loss by learning invaluable lessons about our trade. Interactive entertainment and the ways in which audiences react to it will change from project to project and from target group to target group. Moreover, the Internet changes daily; new digital platforms emerge and established platforms fade out. Remember Bebo and MySpace?

Audience Development Strategies

Audience Development allows the Entertainment producer to connect directly with its indented audience. It’s being used extensively in the last couple of years, from independent movies that have a companion web site and a Facebook Fan page, to the multi-million dollar interactive experience that involve games, web sites and live events. What all these projects have in common is the desire of their producers to engage an audience using digital and social media tools.

For the first time in this industry, creators can “own the audience”. They can talk to the audience and find out what they like (or dislike). The success of their work is not 100% dependable on the work of a distributor or sales agent. Using audience engagement strategies, directors and producers can validate their work directly with a real audience and can build a fan base and increase awareness of their project from early development stage to the premiere of their work, whatever a film, tv show, book or videogame. During this period, that in the indie world can mean a few years, audiences can be part of the production and feel that this is their work too.

In the end, this will mean a pre-built audience willing not only to pay for a ticket or a product, but they also become advocates that can spread the good word about the work on their own social media profiles or directly to their (real) friends.

Without multi-million dollar campaigns, the success of an independent film is always achieved with strong word of mouth and good reviews in the press (and a few awards at the most important festivals). What the transmedia approach allows, is for the producers and the creative team to start building that word of mouth process as early as possible so it can grow, as a snowball, during all the production process, so when the movie premieres it already has an audience. The success of movies like Blair Witch ProjectParanormal Activity or more recent Kevin Smith’s Red State was the result of the buzz created by the filmmakers using the internet and social media and a clear audience development and engagement strategy.

Most of the so-called transmedia projects that were produced in the last couple of years are just that – transmedia brand extensions. Most studio and network executives see it only as on-line marketing tool to promote to the young crowds of movie goers the upcoming summer blockbusters or the new sci-fi based network TV series. But the concept of transmedia goes beyond that.

Craft A Story For Transmedia

From beginning to end, a transmedia storytelling should be a social experience, one which draws people together and unifies them through shared and common experiences. At present, producers, writers and creators are obsessed with creating toys and applications which are too exclusive. They do not address the primary goal of storytelling—bringing people together by revealing some truth about the world we all live in.

If transmedia storytelling is to be even more successful in the future, we need to concentrate on designed experiences that are socially inclusive which have the power to bring people together through common interests and goals. This will require that we take more care in designing the path along which our readers and viewers access the stories we tell.

Inexperienced producers have a tendency of creating interactive experiences that are overly complex which ultimately deter audience engagement across every available piece of content. We need to define the ‘path’ between audience access points much like a treasure map so that audience members know where they are in relative to the story as a whole and where they’re going, regardless of which piece of content they’ve accessed.

Story driven experience design is relatively easy to achieve on TV because you are restricted to a linear format. Transmedia narratives, on the other hand, are disseminated across multiple platforms. Without a proper ‘map,’ piecing together so many disparate pieces of content can become a bewildering experience. Keep your audience’s engaged; make them laugh and cry. Thrill them. Frighten them. No matter what you do, keep your audience emotionally connected.