Storytelling by creators and brands: focusing on audiences

The C21’s FutureMedia in London demonstrated some of the exciting global experimentation that is taking place across all platforms with storytelling. Audiences are playing an ever-increasing role in the creation, production and dissemination of this content.

The takeaways are very clear from this conference. Content producers need to have an authentic relationship with their viewers, create compelling content on whatever platform, know when to intimately connect, and listen and respond continually to create a destination or brand that people trust and engage with.

Engaging audiences

One of the speakers, Matt Locke from Storythings, analyzed the ingredients of storytelling for content creators. He suggested following the ABC of narratives: attention, behaviour and circulation, as well as asking questions. He posed the major ones: What time in the day are you creating for given people’s attention patterns? The second question is: What do you want people to do? According to studies, people’s participation is divided into three levels of engagement: 23% of people are passive; 60% have an easy reaction to content, such as re-tweeting or liking on Facebook; and 17% have an intense reaction and are the ones who will re-create scenes or blog about the experience they’ve just had. The last question pertains to circulation: How do people share your content? Scale happens when people share and you are willing to lose control of it.

Know your audience

Maker Studios, which was bought by Disney for $500 million, certainly knows its audience. It targets the young demographic of millennials who watch its 55,000 channels. Millennials watch about 50% more online videos than the average Internet user and share those videos as well.

The stars and talents of Maker are definite personalities, people whose talents are uniquely suited to YouTube. Look at Pewdiepie, who boasts a staggering 32 million subscribers. Or the comedian/gamer Toby Turner, who has three YouTube channels. Each of these creators is in constant dialogue with their viewers.

Given that many of the stars are gamers, it is no surprise that Dan’l Hewitt, the managing director of Maker U.K. is more concerned about what King Candy Crush is coming out with next rather than anything on television.

Audience as collaborators

Take for example the podcast Serial, produced by Sarah Koenig, one of the creators of This American Life. The first season of Serial centres around the 1999 death of high school student Hae Min Lee, and the conviction of her ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed for her murder. Each week for 12 weeks, Koenig released chapters of her investigation to determine whether Mr. Syed really killed Ms. Lee. She talked to the people involved and followed the twists and turns of the story, sometimes uncovering new information.

Over a million people a week followed this case and were very engaged with the content. Some of the listeners saw themselves as collaborators in solving the crime and conducted parallel investigations on Reddit.

Serial has been so popular, it has crowd-sourced its financing for another season by appealing to its fans. It will again select a true story, follow the characters, raise questions and try to solve the case.

Audiences as creators

Pulse Films, on its side, re-imagined the music video. Sony wanted to release a music video for Bob Dylan’s iconic song “Like a Rolling Stone” for its 50th anniversary. To show how widespread an appeal the song had, Pulse Film created a multi-channel version of “Like a Rolling Stone.”

The experience allows users to surf 16 different “TV channels” and stars a host of iconic American TV formats and talent, including Pawn Stars from the History Channel, The Price is Right with Drew Carey, Girl Code on MTV, eccentric Detroit rapper Danny Brown, Steve Levy at ESPN and more.

Viewers can create their own version of the song on the video and no one version of the video needs to be the same.

Grow audiences with influencers

The advertisers at Dove had already established its Real Beauty campaign when they launched its newest ad last year. However, this ad became a much larger sensation when theAudience became involved as influencers. theAudience is a company that represents William Morris Agency talent on all platforms. Its 60 celebrities have over 300 million Facebook fans, and it uses their influence for brands that share the same values as their talent.

Initially, theAudience didn’t want to shill ads but changed its mind when they saw this ad byDove. In the video, women describe their appearance to a former police forensic artist who sketches them from behind a curtain, without seeing them. The artist creates a second series of portraits based on strangers’ first impressions of the same women. In the big reveal, the women see how much better they look in other people’s eyes.

The company used the hook of Mother’s Day to seed the video on Facebook, using the agency’s talent. The ad immediately went viral, garnering a great deal of press and viewers.

Listening to the audience and responding

Vice News, the headline-grabbing journalism channel, had a serendipitous start to its founding. Vice put its back catalogue of videos on YouTube. It found, to its surprise, that its audience, 18- to 24-year-old men, was watching them. This was a demographic that supposedly wasn’t interested in news reporting but these men found Vice’s take on stories entertaining and engaging. Again, the viewer trusts the authenticity of Vice’s reporters because they are part of its core audience.

Due to its success in attracting an untapped audience to documentaries, Vice is moving into television to broaden its base. It has a partnership with HBO to show its documentaries and a production deal with Rogers to build a Toronto studio to create news, drama, documentaries and programming aimed at the 18 to 34 viewer and created with mobile and Internet viewing in mind.

These examples demonstrate the elements of successful storytelling with audiences: authenticity, collaboration, listening and responding, experimentation, and creating. As a result of this engagement with their audiences, the businesses also created financial growth and investment opportunities to extend their programming reach or enhance their brands.

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