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The Perils of an “Engage & Abandon” Approach in Cross-Platform Storytelling

Strategy

The ultimate goal for anyone in the business of content creation – producers, writers, directors, marketers, advertisers, etc. is to reach and connect with audiences that will use and engage with their content in one way or another. As a result of all of these content producers constantly campaigning for audiences, people today are inundated with messages and live in a frenzy of hype and loud voices.

In order to cut through this clutter and make sure that your campaign is not one of those that never gets the right attention, or worse, is quickly forgotten, there are a number of approaches that can be taken. One relatively new way to connect with target audiences that is gaining steam lately is the idea of cross-platform storytelling or “Transmedia” experiences. Transmedia is loosely defined as the use of multiple platforms to tell, and/or allow your audience to interact with, your narrative. It is not “convergence,” where the same content is reused on multiple platforms, but rather using various platforms for different pieces of the overall story that are unique experiences unto themselves, but ultimately part of a larger narrative universe.

These cross-platform storytelling campaigns, particularly some of the more notable recent campaigns for movie, TV, or console game premieres, often spend huge sums of money to attract eyeballs and go to great lengths, such as major media buys, live events, contests, social media programs, in-depth websites, etc. What I find truly amazing about these campaigns that drive massive traffic on and offline is that once the event occurs, there is no other outlet or engagement to continue cultivating and connecting with the audience that was built – it stagnates. The event came, they viewed, it’s over. But why? The promise of transmedia is its inherent ability to keep the storyworld alive and ongoing after an initial event. If not used in this way, it’s  “Engage and Abandon,” and it’s not only a waste of resources, but a waste of potential.

The better bet and smarter focus should be building “storyworlds,” everlasting, not a single point in a linear path.

First, an example – the blockbuster film, The Hunger Games created a digital experience, www.thecapitol.pn, built to collect, personalize and dive into the story prior to the premiere of the first in the trilogy of movies. Amazingly, the campaign drove over 140 million people to this experience – a very slick, highly designed website. But what then? The studio just sent everyone to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, where they have to operate within those site’s rules, limitations and passive experiences.

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Rather than engaging with the fans that were drawn to the site that was built, and capitalizing on all of that traffic, the fans were sent to external social media outlets. A better use of the custom site and developed resources would have been to use the available social platforms to draw-in audience, rather than send them out.

This is where the paradigm currently sits and is a terrible waste. The beautiful www.thecapitol.pn experience is lying there stagnant, losing interest as quickly as it gained. Particularly in this case, where there are two more films to come, I can hear the marketing dollars piling up to recapture that audience that was built, and then lost…

Engage and abandon, it’s short sighted, a huge risk/reward every single time. Marketing needs to be defined as more of an investment than a one-off.  If a storyworld can be built with the idea that it can constantly pivot and grow, then every dollar spent to garner audience is an investment. If it is always just a lead in, then it is a sunk cost.

What I believe is the answer is to have an ongoing plan built into your campaign, to lead the audience into further engagement once they’ve been captured. Give the audience a 360-degree experience that enables socialization, creation, rewards systems, etc. and a reason to keep coming back and stay engaged.

Now you may be panicking at the thought of the sheer amount of content that would need to be produced to continue this engagement, but it doesn’t need to be daunting. If you go into it with a plan to keep audiences connected, and have a rich storyworld, you can plant seeds constantly and enable the fans to make them grow. You must create mechanisms for them to explore and targets to aim toward.

When you do this, you create a loyal, engaged audience that will travel anywhere you want to take them.  With the right tools and approach, anyone looking to connect with their audience in a deeper, more connected and long-term way can build and engage with their audience for ongoing benefit and growth.

It just makes sense; if you are going to spend the time, effort and money to drive audience, engage, don’t abandon them.

Comments on this Article: 3

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  1. Limor says:

    Imagine a storyteller behaving that way – forcing the audience to run arround for bits of the same story. It’s possible, but this kind of choice requires full justification and mastery, or else, the contract of attention and engagement is over – no matter how great the story you tell is.

    • Josh says:

      I agree, you never “force” anyone to do anything, but you give them different levels of involvement based on giving them choices. Many people enjoy different platforms for different purposes or they can stay in the environments that they feel most comfortable. It’s about expanding the ways stories are told and audiences can experience them. If you just want to see the movie, great, if you want to play a complimentary app on your phone then you can. If you want to do them both, you just had a bigger world to play with.

  2. Limor says:

    Notice you originally wrote about an “engage & abandon” approach in cross-platform. That happens on both ends very easily – media creators abandon their audiences, hence the opposite happens too. There is no obligation – from the core. It has to do with the mediums.

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