What’s the Value of Transmedia Storytelling for Organizations?

Transmedia storytelling is exploding across the media community. One of our new Blogging Fellows explores some of the implications for arts organizations.

An image from BAM's 150th anniversary print campaign.
An image from BAM’s 150th anniversary print campaign.

Transmedia is the art of sharing a narrative over multiple media platforms (print, online, stage, film, social networks), where unique content is delivered through each platform. For example, Fringe, the hit television show, used transmedia to expand its storyworld and reward its biggest fans. To learn more about how Fringe used transmedia, read my case study about the multiple platforms implemented over the show’s five seasons.

Though arts organizations are different than television programs, I believe it is increasingly imperative that arts organizations employ transmedia thinking as a way to expand a story over multiple media platforms. Almost every company has a Facebook page, a Twitter feed and a YouTube channel. What’s missing is cohesiveness and interconnections of story between each unique platform. Companies often post the same updates to all their social sites without considering that each platform offers a distinct voice and storytelling opportunities.

I’ve previously written about how I imagine theater artists embracing transmedia, but it’s my growing opinion that arts organizations should also integrate transmedia strategy with traditional marketing plans to tell their story because it has the power to create an identity that is more authentic and engaging (and fun!) for your community.

What story are you telling?

Organizations should begin each season asking: What story are we telling this year? Once you choose the story, look for ways each platform can feed the overarching narrative that celebrates your special season.

Brooklyn Academy of Music had some success telling the story of their 150th anniversary. BAM rolled out one of their most talked about print campaigns, BAM and then it hits you, which portrayed everyday people going about their day and remembering a moment from a performance they saw at BAM.

But this story was only told in print ads. What if BAM had created new moments online and off that literally hit the public where they lived? Patrick Stewart might have surprised lunching pedestrians with a scene from Macbeth in the middle of Bryant Park. Then, BAM could have captured the pop-up performances on video and shared on YouTube. The extension of the print ads would have rippled throughout the city and, potentially, the rest of the world.

What’s the role of artists?

Frequently, administrators who implement marketing campaigns don’t have deep conversations with artists about their work. The marketing team sends out a questionnaire about the show, and they base all the marketing on a fifty-word blurb provided by the artist. What if we actively integrated artists into the marketing of their own work?

A wonderful example of such an expansive story was The Ensemble Studio Theatre’s “Tea Time with Tyrone” for its production of Robert Askin’s Hand to God. I served as EST’s season producer for almost two seasons, so I personally know Rob. Recently, when we discussed “Tea Time,” Rob reflected on how the idea of creating Tyrone’s online presence grew from actors and the creative team playing around during rehearsal. As a result of this creative spark, he created a Facebook for Tyrone, then Twitter, and finally, he spawned the irreverent talk show with EST staff members as guests on YouTube.

As well-known theater professionals like Bobby Cannavale and Eric Bogosian saw the play, EST recruited them to be in “Tea Time” sketches. EST turned the concept of celebrity endorsement on its ear.

Artists have wild ideas. If you know the scope of your season before it begins, bring the artists in to a brainstorm about the story you’re trying to tell. They might imagine a clever way to tie their show into the story of your season.

Always stay engaged

There is a movement in theater called #NEVERBEDARK. It’s a big idea that I admire. To read more about the concept of never being dark, visit 2amt.com. Essentially, it means to always be producing in your space. Whether through readings, workshops, or full productions: Never be dark.

I like to apply this philosophy to online marketing strategy. It’s jarring when arts organizations that have been silent on social sites for many months suddenly erupt with a torrent of announcements about a new production. Or, worse: a plea for fundraising. Regulars on social sites who don’t hear anything from you only to be smothered by an onslaught of appeals will hide or unfollow you, if they haven’t already for lack of activity.

With a strong strategy, you can create a transmedia marketing story that continually engages. Your audience wants to discover cool and inspiring tidbits about your organization or production, not just another video of a choreographer pontificating about why she’s making deep choices. It’s a chance to start the dramaturgical conversation before your audience enters the theater.

Play. A lot.

Framing your marketing calendar around a transmedia strategy creates a unified voice for all your platforms. It guides your audience seamlessly from one place to another, making for a more holistic and engaging experience. No matter which platforms you use, always ask how each piece can tell your organization’s story in a unique way. And play. These are new toys. The sky’s the limit. When you have fun, your audience will have fun.

How has your organization played with multiple platforms, online and off?

James Carter is a dramatist, experience designer and producer. He was a founding member of terraNOVA Collective and its associate artistic director for eight years. Recent transmedia plays include FEEDER: A Love Story and NY_Hearts: LES. For more about James, read his blog onemuse.com where he explores the intersection of art and technology, or follow him on Twitter @jdcarter.