By Sam Ford, PepperDigital (originally for Fast Company)

“Transmedia storytelling” has become a common phrase in many media industries circles. But what does it look like for B2B?

The phrase “transmedia storytelling” has been widely adopted in media/entertainment circles in the past few years. Originally used by Marsha Kinder, the concept was explored in-depth by Henry Jenkins in his 2006 book, Convergence Culture, and subsequent work. In short, the concept looks at a connected story told over multiple media formats.

Originally, transmedia storytelling was most passionately studied and adopted in relation to entertainment properties. Jenkins explores franchises like The Matrix to illustrate it in Convergence Culture. As one of his graduate students at the time the book came out, I applied the concept to in-depth explorations of professional wrestling and soap operas. And a wide range of industry practitioners began to think about transmedia storytelling as a way to supplement the narratives of television shows and films, as a way to market the launch of a new story world, as a way to resurrect or keep alive a narrative between installments of primary texts or after its primary text has ended, and so on. By 2010, the Producers Guild of America had come to consider a “transmedia producer” a new official credit in the field.

Meanwhile, people started applying the “transmedia storytelling” approach to marketing and corporate communications, starting with Grant McCracken back in 2005. Meanwhile, Faris Yakob began mapping out what “transmedia planning” might look like in 2006. Today, there is no shortage of marketing conferences or conversations that end up with “transmedia” being woven in somehow.

In order to drive a more serious consideration of what transmedia storytelling means for marketing/advertising/public relations, the Annenberg Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California recently launched a new initiative called the Transmedia Branding Research Group. They kicked it off by bringing in more than 35 different people for a full day of brainstorming on what “transmedia branding” might mean.

We started the day talking and thinking primarily in terms of so-called “consumer brands.” But, as the day wore on, I joined Burghardt Tenderich and a few other colleagues to pose the question of what “transmedia” means for a professional services firm or other B2B company, where storytelling in the entertainment sense might not be a major focus but where relationships stretch across multiple media touchpoints already.

The Lab has decided to make transmedia storytelling for business-to-business brands one of their primary areas of focus, an endeavor in which I look forward to participating. As that effort gets underway, here are my initial thoughts about what “transmedia storytelling” in the B2B world really means. In short, I think B2B transmedia storytelling can be most powerful when it:

  • Is built on real-life relationships. Hill Holliday’s once suggested that the difference between B2B brands and B2C brands is that B2C brands typically have to use their storytelling to create the illusion of “brand personality” or of a relationship between the product/company behind the product and the customer. Meanwhile, the vast majority of B2B customer relationships are built on direct interaction between human beings at each company. The concept of “transmedia,” then, should often be focused on extending these relationships which already exist into new realms.
  • Has the advantage of having its story world “set” in the real world. Much like the world of professional wrestling unfolds 24/7 as a fictional story world within our “real” world, the “story” of B2B companies similarly unfolds in real-time: spanning across news releases and digital content from the company, coverage in the news media, experts from the company participating in industry events and in industry publications, those experts’ participation in social media, etc.
  • Focuses on the people behind the “brand” of a company. “Transmedia” for B2B companies gains power by focusing on how the company’s marketing, research, and products/services intersect with the experts who drive their business. Often, then, subject matter experts at the company become the key “characters” in the transmedia story of the B2B brand-which makes these representatives’ visibility especially important.
  • Demonstrates the thinking and expertise which inspires the company’s products and services. In building an overall narrative about a B2B company, the focus is on the expertise, not the products of that expertise. Situating the company’s commercial offerings within that passion and knowledge is key for telling a story beyond selling products.
  • Puts an emphasis on the importance of internal collaboration and external continuity. Of course, several of these types of activities have long been a major part of B2B marketing/communications, but thinking of them not only as “storytelling” but also as connected starts to reframe how the company thinks about its overall reputation and the way its communications connect to one another. It also helps connect parts of the company (HR, marketing, customer service, sales, investor relations, governmental relations, etc.) that might not regularly interact if the company’s various communications aren’t thought of from a “transmedia storytelling” standpoint.

I’m looking forward to playing some small role in brainstorming with the Annenberg Innovation Lab on these issues more deeply in 2013, but I feel the concept of “transmedia storytelling” holds much promise in helping B2B marketers think more deeply about how they connect their marketing and communications efforts and better serve the audiences they seek to reach in the process. And I look forward to thoughts from any readers as we further hash out what B2B transmedia storytelling means.

(For more on transmedia storytelling as a concept, see Jenkins’ and “Seven Myths about Transmedia Storytelling Debunked”.)

[Image: Flickr user Zach Rathore]

Similar Posts:

By Sam Ford, PepperDigital (originally for Fast Company)

Global communities have rallied to support two terminally ill Kentucky children in the past few months. What can we learn from these collective acts of kindness, organized via social media?

In Spreadable Media, my co-authors and I suggest the most fundamental change in communication in a digital age is the role most of us now play in the circulation of media content. As such activity becomes an everyday part of life, we have begun to see how spreading media content gets connected to some small action to get involved.

Over the fall and winter here in Kentucky, I’ve witnessed one particular phenomenon that has captured the hearts of a wide range of Bluegrassers and spread far beyond: a public role, organized via social media, for granting the wishes of terminally ill children. Twice these past few months, grassroots campaigns launched that required some small, discrete action from hundreds of thousands of individuals and, in the process, mobilized a community.

First, this fall, word spread of 13-year-old Beech Grove boy Lane Goodwin, who had been battling a rare form of cancer called Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma since 2010. Lane’s wish was to receive more than 100,000 likes on the Facebook page his family had set up to communicate about the teen. The effort started among friends and family via Facebook.

Since Lane had always given a thumbs up in all the pictures taken of him to indicate his positive spirit through all his treatments and setbacks, the “Thumbs Up for Lane Goodwin” campaign was born. Not only did people like the page, but they were also taking pictures of themselves giving the boy a thumbs up in return. Through a community effort, soon the media and a range of celebrities alike became aware of the campaign.

Lane received “thumbs up” over the next few days from the Kentucky State Police, Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway, a range of University of Kentucky and Western Kentucky University sports figures (including a whole stadium of WKU football fans), Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, the crew of Duck Dynasty, Johnny Depp, Flo from the Progressive commercials, Kyle Busch, the U.S. Marines, WWE’s Vince McMahon, Christie Brinkley, Anderson Cooper, Matchbox 20, the Oklahoma State basketball team, the San Francisco 49ers, the Blue Man Group, Paula Deen, and Turtleman from Call of the Wildman, among many others. (See pictures here).

Only days after word began circulating more widely about the “Thumbs Up for Lane” campaign, his Facebook page reached 100,000 likes. That total had doubled to 200,000 likes soon thereafter. By the time of Lane’s death a month later, his page had received 369,000 likes.

Then, this Christmas season, word spread of a 9-year-old Salyersville boy, Dalton Dingus, who has stage-4 cystic fibrosis and who wanted to break the Guinness world record for number of Christmas cards received. While other Christmas card campaigns have been organized previously for terminally ill children, what has been particularly amazing in this situation is the rapidity with which a Christmas card campaign was organized online, and the wide geographic range of those who have participated in sending physical mail to the boy in a short amount of time.

From a giant, 46-pound Christmas card from the postal service, to cards from throughout Europe and Asia, Dalton had 12,000 cards by early December. According to Good Morning America, the campaign went from a neighbor suggesting friends and family send Dalton cards via Facebook, to wider pickup in social media, to local media, to national and international coverage, and led to home visits from Miss Kentucky and, once again, Turtleman. Businesses got involved, too. In some areas, Kroger posted signs for customers to bring cards there, and the grocery chain would handle getting the cards to Dalton’s family.

By the day after Christmas, Dalton had received more than 500,000 cards. The postal service has moved to delivering the cards to Dalton’s grandfather’s church, where volunteers (50 on Christmas Eve alone) sort and organize the cards, flagging those they want to show Dalton directly. By Dec. 28, the numbers had topped 700,000, and the cards continue coming in.

On its own, this distributed “make-a-wish” effort, carried not not by a visit from one single celebrity but by collective, small action by hundreds of thousands of people, show how small acts of mobilization are becoming a greater part of everyday life. They align with the call from Frank Eliason and others for us to consciously use our social media presence to make positive contributions to the world, via the Positively Social campaign.

But such examples also point toward the potential for action and visibility beyond an initial moment of kindness. For instance, Lane Goodwin’s story drove discussion in communities across Kentucky and around the world. My Facebook feed was filled with conversation threads about the Goodwin’s family’s plight and the need to intensify the battle against childhood cancer to find cures during the fall, and those posts persist, months after Lane’s death.

People also reached out with financial support that, even before Lane’s death, the Goodwin family focused toward the Thumbs Up for Lane Goodwin Childhood Cancer Foundation, aiming these small acts of kindness for one boy toward greater visibility and action for a larger cause.

Fundraising or helping children with cancer is not new; church benefits and donation jars at convenient stores have been a staple of local efforts for decades. But new means of communication have allowed such local efforts to reach a wide scale, with great rapidity. And an era of social media brings these stories into people’s homes and into common visibility throughout their social networks. That new environment increases the potential for moving from awareness to action.

Recently, I shared Mr. Rogers’ quote: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” Despite all the negativity we see so frequently in both the news and in online communication, it has been inspiring to see how communities have mobilized in response to these wishes from Lane Goodwin and Dalton Dingus. And I hope it proves to people the potential of what we can all do to use new means of communication in a digital age to support others on a micro level and to raise visibility of key issues–and take action–on a macro level. Time will tell what we might be able to accomplish together in 2013.

[Image: Flickr user Brett Davies]

Similar Posts:

By Sam Ford, PepperDigital (originally for Fast Company)

Examining the concept of “residual value” of content from the past.

After the atrocity in Newtown, Connecticut, earlier this month, many found solace, comfort, and guidance in a voice from the past–a voice many of us grew up with: Fred Rogers. The group 170 Million for Public Broadcasting posted the following words from Mr. Rogers in the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary:

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers–so many caring people in this world.

The quote came from a video from Mr. Rogers to parents about how to talk with children about scary events in the news. In his career, Rogers (who was also a Presbyterian minister), had been called on to talk to parents about dealing with tragedies from the Robert Kennedy assassination to the 2001 U.S. terrorist attacks.

So, perhaps it isn’t surprising that parents, children, online communities, and news organizations all seemed to quickly seek out–and spread–Rogers’ words. On Dec. 18, PBS NewsHour reported that Mr. Rogers had “gone viral,” with that post having been shared more than 90,000 times across the Internet. As Mackenzie Carpenter reported in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, these words from Mr. Rogers were picked up by Meet the PressThe Washington Post, and elsewhere.

PBS might describe this as Mr. Rogers “going viral,” but it wasn’t the content forcing parents, friends, and journalists to share it. Rather, it was the collective action of thousands of individuals and communities, action from people who read in Mr. Rogers’ words a meaning that spoke to them today, and that–through sharing it–felt they could connect to others dealing with a tragedy that has impacted the whole nation.

But Carpenter’s piece also pointed toward an issue Rogers’ legacy now faces. While PBS still has web resources dedicated to Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, the program is no longer in their regular lineup.

It’s a problem I’ve encountered as a parent. Back in 2010, I wrote an article called “5 Marketing Lessons from Mr. Rogers” after rediscovering my nostalgia for the program. At the time, I didn’t see it in the television lineup. I couldn’t find it in video-on-demand. I wrote that I hadn’t gotten my 1-year-old DVDs of the show because little content was available in commercial circulation, and I linked to a petition that was circulating at that time with 2,000 signatures to get more DVDs released. And I was afraid Mr. Rogers’ work might eventually disappear into historical footnotes.

My daughter’s now three. Some months back, we stumbled on some Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood clips people had circulated via YouTube. And his ability to talk frankly and respectfully to kids spoke to her. Eventually, we even found that the local PBS affiliate does air Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood at 5 a.m. on Saturday mornings. I was interested in finding more but didn’t really know where to look.

In my forthcoming book with Henry Jenkins and Joshua Green called Spreadable Media, we borrow from Raymond Williams’ writings to talk about the “residual value” of content from the past–and the public’s ability to rediscover and apply new meanings to that content, pushing it back to a more central place in the culture.

It was the unofficial circulation of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood content on YouTube that reconnected me to my desire for my daughters to experience lessons from Mr. Rogers–lessons I felt would resonate, even if some of his decor and some of the technology featured in the show is dated. Further, it was only after this widespread grassroots circulation of Mr. Rogers’ words in the past couple of weeks that I discovered–since I last checked in 2010–that quite a few DVDs are now available of his show, and they are also now accessible through Amazon Instant Video and iTunes.

Here, we have a perfect example of how “retro” content finds new meanings. A generation who grew up with and have great nostalgia for Mr. Rogers are now reconnecting with the program as parents, realizing how the show might enrich our children’s lives. After hearing Mr. Rogers’ advice regarding how to cope with tragedy, there is likely renewed interest on his insights on other timely issues.

It remains to be seen if PBS and The Fred Rogers Company find new ways to make audiences aware of how to connect with Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood via online platforms, or to get the content back in more widespread distribution (and into airing times when we actually want our kids to be awake). But it will be interesting to see if they are able to listen to, and capitalize on, this moment when the grassroots circulation and interest in Rogers’ work has renewed interest in the program’s decades of material.

Similar Posts:

© 2010 PepperDigital