Transmedia—telling stories across multiple platforms and formats like YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, blogs and other social media—is very trendy right now. You’ve got the success of shows like The Lizzie Bennett Diaries and East Los High, in which fans got to interact with characters in “real time,” making them not only consumers of the content but story tellers as well.
As a relative newbie to transmedia, I’ve been feeling psyched about the possibilities, particularly when it comes to storytelling for non-profits. Think of the possibilities for engaging donors and volunteers, bringing organizations’ missions to life in a visceral way.
But when a friend of mine shared my obsession with her 17-year-old daughter, this was her response:
“Transmedia is a word for old people.”
What?? Aside from making me feel about 100 years old, what did my friend’s daughter mean by that?
My friend’s daughter explained that young people don’t need a word to describe transmedia because this is how they live every day. The narrative of their own lives unfolds across different social media platforms and they consciously create identities for themselves depending on where, what, how and with whom they share information.
So a younger person may have one persona on Tumblr, another for Facebook (where their parents and grandparents hang out), yet another for Instagram, and so forth. And they take in information in the same way: watching a series on Hulu while IM’ing a friend or scrolling through animated gifs on Tumblr or watching reaction videos on YouTube. The idea that there is just one way to consume content is just flat-out incomprehensible to them.
So that’s why transmedia is a word for old people—if you’re older than age 30 or so, you grew up in a broadcast world where you watched whatever the networks or cable channels chose to beam at you with no easy way to beam back at them or communicate with like-minded folks consuming the same content (though some folks tried their best—I’m looking at you, old-school Star Trek fans).
Of course, nowadays nearly everyone consumes content the way younger people do. For example, the NY Times recently redesigned their news pagers so that comments appear to the right of the original article, giving both equal visual weight on the page. But while older consumers are “doing” transmedia, they don’t live it the way younger folks do.
You can see this playing out in organizations because the primary decision makers—senior executives and CEOs—generally Don’t Get It. They still think of marketing and communications as a one way street. They treat social media channels as PR tickers. Most importantly, they still think of people as audiences rather than as collaborators in creating a shared experience—which is how younger folks see themselves.
In order for companies and non-profits to succeed, they need to reevaluate where and how they tell their organizational stories. It’s not just from a narrative perspective. For example, something that drives me crazy is how brands promote themselves on Tumblr. Some companies like General Electric and IBM are producing cool gifs and graphics, but they never share anyone else’s content. The whole ethos of Tumblr revolves around endless sharing, so why aren’t companies participating in that? It isn’t just about what you put out there, it’s about what you pass along.
As content creators, we need to make the case for true multichannel, multidirectional storytelling that is collaborative communication and gives a chance to folks share their own stories in turn. This isn’t a nice-to-have opportunity, it’s an absolute must-be-done to survive. Remember my friend’s daughter. She’s not waiting around for us to “get it.”
About AlisaI'm a writer, blogger and social media specialist with nearly 15 years experience in medical and science writing for organizations that include Caltech and UCLA, as well as non-profit fundraising and political organizing. I specialize in making complex information clear and compelling. Learn more about my work here