Free eBook to Celebrate 20 Years in Social Marketing!

Download Free eBook

 

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of Weinreich Communications, I’m thrilled to share with you a new ebook I created to help social impact professionals get started using social marketing in their programs. This free 22-page publication is designed to inspire those working in nonprofits or the public sector, and others seeking to create health and social change in their communities, to use the effective, systematic social marketing approach.

Even if you’re already a social marketing pro, I hope you’ll download the ebook to share with your colleagues or clients who may not be as familiar with how marketing can be used to create social impact. It lays out the key principles of social marketing, provides lots of resources and has a section for those who are considering social marketing as a career. Please help me spread the word about social marketing and let me know what you think about the ebook. Thanks!

 

 

Lauralee’s Depression: An Immersive Storytelling Case Study

I’ve had a fun summer as one of the main writers for the Miracle Mile Paradox, an alternate reality game a group of us from Transmedia LA decided to create as a learning experience (for us as designers). I was originally thinking about how we could bring in a nonprofit angle, a la Conspiracy for Good, but a cause marketing strategy didn’t seem to fit well with the story. Luckily, I was able to figure out a way to bring in my real passion, which is transmedia entertainment education, and even draw on a project I’m managing at the Entertainment Industries Council working with (primarily) TV writers and journalists for accurate portrayal of mental health issues.

When the opportunity arose to write for some of the characters, I decided to go for it, as the realtime portrayal of a character via social media had always intrigued me. While there was an overarching storyline for the game, which took place over several months, there was a lot of leeway for character development and story arcs for individual minor characters. With almost 30 different characters in the story, with several writers covering two or more characters and quite a few more people who started creating a character and gave up fairly quickly, there was a lot of opportunity for interesting stories to play out on the sidelines of the main storyline.

The main story centered on an inventor named Rex Higgs who discovers blueprints for a machine called a “time switch,” builds it, and ends up on the wrong side of an evil multinational financial investment company called the Agent Intellect Corp (AIC). One of my characters, Lauralee Simcoe, is a corporate communications assistant working at AIC whose only functional role in the game is to have players hack into her online account at AIC for information. I created a story arc for her that involved her experiencing clinical depression, getting treatment and recovering. The strategy behind the narrative was to engage the game participants by getting them emotionally involved in Lauralee’s story, with elements of education, modeling and an accurate depiction of potential roadblocks and their resolution.

I’ve compiled excerpts from the story across various social media platforms to give you an idea of how Lauralee’s depression subplot played out over the five months or so of the game on the Storify site.

Wizards and the CDC: Collaborative Storytelling Towards Change

I’ve made the case previously for how stories can play a role in your efforts to bring about social change or individual behavior change. One of the best ways to draw people into your story is to provide opportunities for them to participate — whether they can contribute to building a rich storyworld, or actually have a role in the direction of the narrative. When someone feels like they are part of the story unfolding around them, they can vicariously experience what is happening to the characters. This type of immersion done well can evoke empathy, get an individual to think about how they would respond if they were in a particular situation, and/or frame their conception of how the world should work.

Collaborative storytelling is an experience in which multiple people contribute to the course of a narrative. There are many forms this could take – an exquisite corpse project, in which one person picks up the story where the last person left off; LARPs (Live Action Role Playing) and other role playing games like Dungeons & Dragons; interactive stories where the audience can vote on what action the characters should take next;  and shared storyworlds, in which parallel or intertwined story-related content may be created collaboratively by a group of people.

As I’ve been involved in several transmedia projects – both on the inside and as a participant from the outside – I’ve been struck by how emotionally invested people can get in the story and with the characters. I wanted to give other social marketers and health communicators a taste of how a participatory storytelling project might work, so in advance of the CDC’s National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing and Media (HCMM) in Atlanta, GA on August 7-9, I set up an experiment to run concurrently with the conference.

I created a site on Tumblr that provided some background on the story [the Hogwarts Conference on Muggle Medicine (HCMM) was happening at the same time as the other conference] and how to participate. By following the @HCMMstory Twitter feed and using the #HCMMstory hashtag before and during the conference, participants (both in Atlanta and virtually) could contribute tweets written as though they were attending the wizard version of the conference. Some of the sample tweets included:

  • Think I grabbed a wonky portkey on my way to the conference. I ended up in the penguin pen at the Georgia Aquarium. #hcmmstory
  • Heading to the panel on “A Sock on Every Head: Addressing Health Disparities Among House Elves.” #hcmmstory
  • Don’t miss the Quidditch yoga session happening at dawn. An active wizard is a healthy wizard! #BYOBroom #hcmmstory

The story started a few days before the conference as the wizards were gearing up to head to Atlanta, and continued through the end of the conference. The @HCMMstory Twitter feed ended up with 23 followers, about 10 people contributing content, and about 40 tweets to the story. Most of the tweets were in the days before and first day of the conference. As time went on and conference fatigue set in, fewer and fewer tweets were posted to the hashtag. I found it increasingly challenging to follow the CDC conference and simultaneously come up with clever content for the story, and was so busy at the event that I didn’t have much time to devote to rallying the troops to contribute. I’m hoping that the other participants found it fun and that it was a taste of what could be done on a larger scale with a clear behavior change objective.

You can see the tweets on Storify to get a sense of how the story played out.

Rick Austin at the KTExchange did a short interview with me at the conference about why storytelling is important for researchers, and about the HCMM Story experiment.

A great example of this type of participatory storytelling for change is happening right now at Ed Zed Omega – a collaborative online “thought experiment” following the stories of five young people who have dropped out of school. Created by Ken Eklund, who was also behind the collaborative alternate reality game World Without Oil, Ed Zed Omega encourages participants to interact with the characters via social media and to submit blog posts and other content sharing their perspective and advice on school and education.

I also love the model used by Beckinfield, which encourages people to create video diaries as a character they create themselves living in the fictional and supernatural town of Beckinfield, CA. Weekly emails provide participants with updates on what is happening in the town, from which they can create their character’s storyline and collaborate with others. Those who just want to view the content can do so, jumping from character to character to experience the story from different angles. Imagine this model being used for a community imagining how to tackle a shared problem like youth violence or pandemic flu, with different types of characters — or people responding as themselves — addressing the issue in their own ways. In responding to a fictional prompt (or an actual situation), people would have to think through the possible courses of action and their implications, and see how their decision plays out with the other participants.

If you want to see how the Harry Potter theme could be played out more fully to incorporate social change objectives, take a look at what the Harry Potter Alliance has been doing. By framing social issues as challenges from the series, the HPA rallies fans to take action in the real world and be heroes like their beloved characters.

Think about how your own projects could benefit from bringing people together to tell their own stories and how weaving a new narrative out of the separate strands could catalyze change for good among the storytellers and those who engage with the story.

Photo Credit: Scott Smith

Change the World with Transmedia Storytelling

We live in a transmedia world. Information, stories, marketing come at us from all sides — from the radio news waking you up in the morning to your box of cereal describing the plight of the puffin; emails, texts and tweets with the latest updates from family, friends and co-workers; the billboards you see on the way to work; in-person meetings with your colleagues using the inevitable PowerPoint slides; your favorite TV show… We are bombarded with data that we constantly process on the fly to create a coherent picture of our world.

Why does this matter for nonprofits, public agencies and others who are working to change people’s lives for the better? Because the people you are trying to reach also live in this transmedia world. We need to reach people where they are, and where they are is practically everywhere! Of course, your particular audience is more likely to spend their time in certain places than others, but don’t assume that reaching them on one platform is enough to make an impression. (I know the term “audience” is not the most appropriate when we’re talking about a more participatory model, but I don’t have a better word yet for “the people whose behavior you are trying to change.”)

In addition to spreading your messages and interventions across multiple media or platforms, you need to find a way to grab their attention through the clutter. I’ve often written about the power of story and the use of the entertainment education approach to bring about health and social change, and I believe that combining proven behavior change models with transmedia storytelling has the potential to radically transform how we change social norms and create large-scale social movements.

If you’re not familiar with it, put simply, the transmedia approach uses multiple platforms to convey different parts of a story (as opposed to the same story told over again via various media). Of course, the word means different things to different people, and a broad debate has been raging in the field as to how exactly to define “transmedia” (sound familiar, social marketers?). Though the most typical example of an entertainment/marketing-focused transmedia project involves big-budget elements like a feature movie, video- or alternate reality game, graphic novel, webisodes or other production-intensive media, that by no means defines the approach. In fact, sometimes a mobile phone and social media are all you need to create world-changing transmedia content.

In considering how best to use this approach within the context of health and social change, I think “immersive engagement” may be a better term than “transmedia.” I love Robert Pratton’s equation defining pervasive entertainment, which does not describe every transmedia project, but which I think includes the key elements that can contribute to effective change:

Pervasive Entertainment = ubiquitous media + participatory experience + real world + good storytelling

We can adapt that idea for social change as:

Immersive Engagement for Change =
Behavior Change Model
+ Good Storytelling + Ubiquitous Media + Participatory Experience + Real World

Let’s look at each element of that equation (I’ve re-ordered the elements from the original to indicate their priority in this application):

  • Immersive Engagement for Change – Ultimately, your goal is to create an experience that leads to your audience taking some sort of action as a result of being engaged and motivated, whether it’s adopting a healthy or pro-social behavior, changing how they treat other people, helping the environment or actively joining a movement that aims to solve a social challenge. Awareness and education are necessary, but usually not sufficient by themselves to create real change.
  • Behavior Change Model – Start by identifying what you need to accomplish and how you intend to get there, by understanding what you need to include in the experience to effectively motivate the adoption of the key action(s). In a long-term story-centered project, you can follow the Sabido Method, which has been used successfully for decades to drive development of entertainment education content and brings together behavioral, communication and learning theories. You can use other simpler models, such as social cognitive theory or BJ Fogg’s behavior model, but the crucial point is to understand the pieces that need to be in place in your story and in the structure of your project for change to happen.
  • Good Storytelling – Engagement starts with a good story; without that element, the rest of the pieces will fall flat. A good story does not just mean an issue that you feel is important for people to know about. Give a lot of thought as to who the key characters are, what the conflict is, how the story arc will play out, and how best to present different parts of the narrative for maximum effect. Whether you are creating a fictional world or a nonfiction series about real people, the elements of what makes a good story don’t change. The story is your opportunity to create characters your audience can relate to, put them in situations where they need to make decisions related to the actions you want your audience to take, and show the consequences of those decisions.
  • Ubiquitous Media – By offering your content in the places the audience is already spending their time, your story can seamlessly integrate into their day. These touchpoints could be their mobile phone, their Twitter or Facebook stream, a link to a website, YouTube, email, snail mail, a comic book or location-based markers. The audience should encounter your content — whether fiction or nonfiction-based — alongside the other chunks of information to which they have chosen to pay attention, rather than making them go out of their way to find it. And your selected platforms must work together to support the story strategically and synergistically based on their strengths and weaknesses, and how your audience uses them.
  • Participatory Experience – As much as possible, we need to offer opportunities for the audience to go beyond just reading/watching/hearing what we’ve created, to enable them to participate by interacting with our content or — the holy grail — creating their own. While it’s unrealistic to expect a majority, or perhaps even ten percent, of your audience to devote time to writing something or creating a video, be sure to offer ways to participate for those who are most enthusiastic about the story or project. This could be anything from playing an online game or solving a puzzle that moves the narrative forward, to interacting with characters on Twitter, roleplaying a character in the story, connecting with others via a discussion forum to talk about the story or project, sharing their own real-life stories, attending a live (or virtual) event, entering a contest or other activities that bring people deeper into the story.
  • Real World – What is the point of a social change project engaging people with stories if the experience doesn’t ultimately include the real world? Rob Pratten describes pervasive entertainment as “[blurring] the line between real-world and fictional world.” This might mean having a character from the story send a text message to a participant’s mobile phone, bringing the story off the page (or out of the computer) and into their real life. To take it a step further for social change, I would say we also want the audience to draw the lessons from the story world (real or fictional) and apply them within the real world. If the story includes a young woman who models effective negotiation skills with her boyfriend when he doesn’t want to wear a condom, we’d like to see the young women in our audience learn and apply those skills in their own lives. If the story highlights the problems faced by a village that does not have access to clean water, we can provide ways for our audience to get involved in providing clean water to others in a similar situation through supporting a particular nonprofit or joining a movement working toward solutions. The immersive context of the story means that it touches people’s lives wherever they may be.

Thinking through the elements in this model can help us make sure that we design transmedia stories that are more likely to succeed in bringing about real positive change in people’s lives. In future blog posts, I will share some of the fiction and nonfiction transmedia projects I’m working on as examples to help flesh out these concepts.

In the meantime, I have created a Facebook group called the Transmedia for Good Network, where those of us who are thinking about how best to use these tools beyond entertainment and marketing can get together to share our ideas and projects. If you’re interested, please join the group!

Awareness Schmawareness (and a new webinar series!)

Think you need to do an awareness campaign? Think again. I talk about this common pitfall and more in my latest video:

If the video inspires you to learn more about how to use social marketing to make your program more effective, I have a new webinar series coming up! The Hands-On Social Marketing webinar series starts January 11th, and will focus on the social marketing process, audience research and segmentation, behavior change strategies and social marketing evaluation. Webinar #1: Social Marketing Step-by-Step Tues, January 11, 2011, 11:00 am PST / 2:00 pm EST / 7:00 pm GMT This 60-minute webinar lays out the process of developing an effective social marketing program by following six key steps. Following this clear process, you will ensure that your program is developed and implemented systematically and strategically. Webinar #2: Understanding and Segmenting Your Audience Tues, January 25, 2011, 11:00 am PST / 2:00 pm EST / 7:00 pm GMT This 60-minute webinar will discuss how to select the target audience(s) you will address with your social marketing program and the various types of research methods you can use to understand what motivates them. Webinar #3: Behavior Change Tricks of the Trade Tues, February 8, 2011, 11:00 am PST / 2:00 pm EST / 7:00 pm GMT This 60-minute webinar presents an assortment of methods you can draw from to help your audience adopt positive or healthy behaviors. We’ll discuss various behavior change theories, the use of fear appeals, the design approach and more. Webinar #4: Real-World Social Marketing Research and Evaluation Tues, February 22, 2011, 11:00 am PST / 2:00 pm EST / 7:00 pm GMT This 60-minute webinar focuses on how to conduct research to plan and evaluate your social marketing program. While many feel evaluation is the most challenging part of social marketing, this webinar will give you the confidence to tackle a design for your program. Archived webinars from previous series on social marketing fundamentals and social media are also available. For more information and to register, just go to Social Marketing University Online.

New Edition of ‘Hands-On Social Marketing’ is Here!

Back when I first started consulting in the mid-90s, I saw a big gap in the field of social marketing. There were some good books on social marketing out that explained the key concepts of the field (particularly Alan Andreasen’s Marketing Social Change book), but not much on how to actually DO social marketing. The closest to what I had in mind was the National Cancer Institute’s “Pink Bible” (as many of us in the field call it), which is filled with practical how-to advice on designing health communication programs, but it was not comprehensive enough. So, I decided to write it myself.I completed the final draft and sent it to the publisher days before my first child was born. The book itself was born in 1999, titled Hands-On Social Marketing: A Step-by-Step Guide. Over the years it was translated into several languages, used by practitioners in the US and around the world, and integrated as a textbook into college and graduate programs. The book held up pretty well for many years, because of its emphasis on the timeless concepts and process. But around 2005, something happened that made the book feel more and more out of date as the years went on. It was called social media. Over the past several years I’ve been working on and off on updating the book and identifying the changes in the field that needed to be included in a new edition.

I’m happy to say that the second edition of the book is now out! It’s been renamed Hands-On Social Marketing: A Step-by-Step Guide to Designing Change for Good, to make clear that the book is about social marketing, not social media marketing (though the book certainly touches on that topic as well). The book still explains key social marketing concepts and takes you through the steps of the social marketing process (now six rather than five – I’ve divided the “planning” step into “analysis” and “strategy development”). It still has extensive worksheets that help you apply the concepts in each chapter to your own program, and sidebars with how-tos and useful resources. But it has new chapters and emphasis on incorporating social media into your program, as well as using the design approach to create behavior change. While the first book had more of a focus on public health applications (my own background), the examples in the new book span the range of social, environmental and, yes, health topics to which social marketing can be applied.

For more information about the book, you can take a look at HandsOnSocialMarketing.com. The site includes a detailed table of contents and some sample chapters, as well as an online version of the social marketing resource list included in the book’s appendix. Soon the publisher will be providing me with pdf versions of the worksheets to post as well.

You can buy a copy of the book on Amazon.com. If you teach a course related to social marketing and would like a complimentary review copy, you can request it via the publisher, Sage Publications. If you’re interested in reviewing the book on your blog or for other publications, please let me know. I would be especially appreciative if, after you buy the book, you would post your review of it on Amazon – I’d love to know what you think of it and how you are using it. And if you like it, you can also join the fan page for the book on Facebook to find out about the latest developments.

Finally, on my YouTube debut, you can see me talking about the book on video (below). I’ve been encouraged to create a limited series of short videos on topics from the book, so I’m considering that. What do you think?

 

Can You Tell Me a Story?

Those who tell the stories rule the world.

– Hopi American Indian proverb (also attributed to Plato)

Stories can be powerful. They can be life-altering or world-changing. When we use them in social marketing, stories can serve many different roles:

  • Grab people’s attention to get them to focus on our issues
  • Make abstract concepts more concrete and relevant
  • Shape people’s understanding and interpretation of issues and events
  • Provide vicarious experiences that prepare individuals for real-world situations
  • Increase empathy for others
  • Persuade people of the importance or benefits of taking action
  • Strengthen relationships between individuals or across groups

With the centrality of story to what we as social marketers do, I was excited to learn of the Reinvention Summit – a “virtual summit on the future of storytelling” put together by Get Storied. This two-week event will focus on the power of narrative to change the world. Between November 11-22, the summit will offer online webinars, interviews and panel discussions with over 30 experts on various aspects of storytelling.

The social change-related sessions I am most excited about are:

  • Andy Goodman and Lily McCombs – Social Movements as Participatory Storytelling
  • Pip Coburn – Expanding the Threshold for Change: Narrative, Technology and Innovation
  • John Elkington and John Marshall Roberts – Sustainability and Global Behavior Change
  • Richard Geer – It Takes a Village to Tell the Story: Reinvention in the Community Sphere
  • Nancy Duarte – That Resonates with Me! How to Change the World One Presentation at a Time
  • Angela Maiers – Story Power: Reclaiming the Place of Story in Education and Life
  • Katya Andresen – Storytelling Your Cause: What Donors Want and Need to Know About Your Story

And in the transmedia realm:

  • Lance Weiler – Storytelling R&D: How to Build a Transmedia StoryWorld
  • Gunther Sonnenfeld – Dynamic Publishing, Transmedia and the Construct of Good

Best of all? The basic pass costs only $11.11 (this price ends Wed., November 10th at 8 pm ET). If you miss that deadline or want more benefits, the conference organizers gave me a coupon to pass along for $25 off an Activators or Explorers Pass (Code: REINVENTION). [By the way, I bought my pass and tweeted about the event long before the organizers got in touch with me about it because I think it’s such a great opportunity to learn!]

Even if you don’t “attend” the summit, you might be interested in downloading a free e-book by Michael Margolis, the president of Get Storied. Believe Me: a storytelling manifesto for change-makers and innovators offers principles for how to use storytelling to create change in your organization or community.

Let’s get better at telling our stories! We’ve got some good ones.

Photo: Ruth Lozano

Open Our Eyes: Seeing the Invisible People of Homelessness

When I received a note from Kevin Hendricks asking me to contribute my thoughts to a book to support Mark Horvath‘s nonprofit InvisiblePeople.tv, I jumped at the chance. I first came across Mark (@hardlynormal) on Twitter about two years ago, and was drawn in by his ongoing narrative describing his day-to-day work at a homeless shelter, forays onto the streets to do video interviews of homeless people, and worries about becoming homeless himself (again). I marveled at what he had been able to accomplish with a videocamera and an outdated laptop to give homeless people the opportunity to tell their own stories. (I challenge you to watch some of the videos on the InvisiblePeople.tv site and not come away seeing the people you pass every day in a whole new light.)

When Mark won $50,000 in the Pepsi Refresh grant program at SXSW last year, he used it to create a new project called We Are Visible, which empowers homeless people to connect with others via social media. He also just returned from a road trip across the U.S. to raise awareness of homelessness and to share the stories of the homeless people he met in each city. Throughout all of this, Mark has been on the verge of homelessness himself.

Kevin wanted to find a way to help support Mark in his important work and came up with the idea of creating a book that has just been released — Open Our Eyes: Seeing the Invisible People of Homelessness — as a joint fundraising/awareness-building project. When you purchase a copy of this book, 100% of the profits will go directly to Mark and InvisiblePeople.tv. The book includes the stories Mark has chronicled on the InvisiblePeople.tv site, along with short essays from people whose lives Mark has touched and ideas for how readers can make a difference for people who are homeless.

Below is my contribution to the book, but please buy the book to read the rest of it as well. Other contributors include: Brad Abare, Chris Brogan, Wendy Cohen, Lee Fox, Jessica Gottlieb, Alan Graham, David Henderson, Jeff Holden, Michael Ian, Becky Kanis, Natalie Profant Komuro, Jeff Lilley, Geoff Livingston, Heather Meeker, Brandon Mendelson, Stefanie Michaels, Scott Monty, Shannon Moriarty, Chloe Noble, Stephanie Rudat, Kari Saratovsky, Lisa Truong, and Scott Williams.

Hero by Example



Mark Horvath is my hero. Not just because he selflessly devotes himself to raising awareness of the issue of homelessness, something that most people prefer not to contemplate, but because of how he is doing it. Mark does not just make noise, screaming “Someone has to do something about this problem!” He grabs a bag of socks and heads out to tell the stories of homeless people, one by one. And he pulls the rest of us along at the same time.

The Invisible People project is truly a poster child for what can be done in the social media era. When people complain to me that their budget is too small to make a difference, I point them to what Mark has been able to accomplish with a budget of—essentially—zero. Though I’m sure he would prefer to have a fancy video production and editing set-up, the constraints of his equipment have actually worked in favor of what he is trying to accomplish. The raw, unedited footage parallels the raw emotions that the stories often evoke in viewers.

By giving homeless people a voice, Mark is helping the people most affected by the problem to be part of the solution. When he gives them the opportunity to tell their stories, he reminds us that they are human beings first, above all. We can no longer pretend that the shabby figure with the shopping cart does not experience the same emotions as we do, or that they prefer to live on the street. And Mark has opened our eyes to the fact that beautiful children and babies are homeless too.

If all the project did was just to make us “see” the homeless people we pass every day, that would be a major accomplishment. But the larger picture is that Mark sets an example that inspires others to take action. Mark is one of the biggest mensches that I know. The Yiddish word mensch doesn’t just mean a good person, but someone who does the right thing no matter how inconvenient or difficult. Despite the fact that he is constantly on the verge of becoming homeless himself, as soon as he finds out that someone needs assistance, he does whatever he must to help that person.

The biggest payoff of the Invisible People project is that it pushes us to get out of our comfort zone and follow Mark’s example. People are hurting everywhere, so much so that the problem seems overwhelming. But he shows us that each of us—one person at a time, just like Mark— can use our unique talents to help one person at a time.


All proceeds from this book support the work of Mark’s nonprofit InvisiblePeople.tv. You can also support InvisiblePeople.tv directly by making a donation.

Buy it from Amazon for $9.99.
Buy it for the Kindle for $3.99.
Other digital versions are also available.

Better yet, if your organization could use someone who is an expert at using social media to make people care about an issue, offer him a job. How have his talents and passion not been snapped up by a smart advocacy organization yet?

[Full disclosure: I am a board member of InvisiblePeople.tv, for which I am not paid.]

Immersive Technology for Social Change

I recently attended the Immersive Technology Summit, which was a daylong showcase of how organizations, storytellers and researchers are using technology to transport people to alternate realities. The term Immersive Technology “refers to simulated realities, interactive devices, and applications that are combined to create an ‘immersive’ experience into technology. It includes, but is not limited to, technology that blurs, if not erases, the line of distinction between the confined physical world and the boundless digital world.”

As Harold Tan, one of the summit organizers, noted when talking about why immersive technology is important, life is about experiences, and technology can be used to immerse yourself in other people’s experiences; you can live a hi-res depiction of an artist’s imagination.

Though I was only able to attend the morning sessions, I was pleased to note how many projects have nonprofit applications. I’ll share some of the highlights here.

Fred Nikgohar of RoboDynamics described how robots are being used to bring people together across time and space. Robots are serving as a mobile telepresence to bring together geographically dispersed talent within a workplace, or to allow an out-of-town manager to be present to oversee his employees on the factory floor. Fred noted that it only takes an average of five days for staff to make the mental adjustment of referring to the robot representation by the remote employee’s name. This has obvious applications for telemedicine and education in geographically remote areas.

Mark Bolas at USC’s Institute for Creative Technology demonstrated how his lab is creating virtual environments for training and simulations, transforming real space into a walkable virtual location using virtual reality headsets and warehouse space. Military and hospital simulations stretch space through redirection tricks like flipping the door to a different wall without the user noticing to minimize the physical space needed. One of the demonstrations in the exhibit hall showed another way of allowing the user to explore a virtual location with a stationary hamster ball-type of apparatus synched with the view in the VR goggles.

Bonnie Bucker and Garry Hare of Imagined Communities talked about their design-based educational experience that connects students with their communities. After rendering their neighborhood in 3-D, youth identify areas of need in the community to reimagine how it could be improved. For example, a blighted area could be turned into a community garden. The youth give virtual walking tours of the neighborhood, and residents can vote on the changes they like the most. The new design can then be realized in the real world. I loved when Garry said, “I’m interested in the political troublemaking aspects of augmented reality.”

Jacquelyn Ford Morie, also from USC’s Institute of Creative Technologies, talked about the virtual humans and avatars the ICT has created for various purposes. She demonstrated Ada and Grace, the virtual human museum guides at the Boston Museum of Science. They can understand and respond to natural spoken language, engaging visitors in both explaining the science exhibits and in demonstrating applied computer science.

In addition, ICT created the “Coming Home” project (also known as Transitional Online Post-Deployment Soldier Support in Virtual Worlds), which provides mental health support to returning soldiers in Second Life. This virtual veterans center provides real-time in-world stress reduction and mindfulness classes and areas where soldiers can come together for peer support. This includes the Warrior’s Journey – a narrative component where individuals’ avatars enter a tower and follow their choice of classic warrior stories from various cultures that depict values like duty and dedication. At the end of the journey, they meet the avatar of that character and can have a conversation with him. This is an opportunity for returning soldiers to “rewrite” and reframe their own personal stories, which they may feel conflicted about. They can then add their own story online by uploading pictures and text.

I think the technology is getting to a point where nonprofits can start looking at whether the immersive approach can help them further their goals. As a panelist noted, when “Jackass 3D” gets the highest weekly box-office ratings, it means that immersive media is making its way to the mainstream. I’m sure we can find better uses than that!

For more reading on augmented reality:

Photo Credit: janjochemo

Transmedia Storytelling for Social Marketers: A Sample Campaign

Lately, I’ve been talking about transmedia storytelling to whoever will listen. If you’re not familiar with this approach, transmedia refers to a story that is told on multiple media platforms, with different parts of the story appearing in different places. The readers/viewers may enter the story at various points, and may need to solve puzzles or follow clues to discover the different nodes of the story. Transmedia is different from multimedia, which would be a retelling of the same story told using different media (e.g., a movie, a graphic novel, an audiobook). Beyond using transmedia for the sheer joy of telling a story, this approach is now often used to promote television shows and movies, as well as marketing products. Want to try out a quick example of a transmedia story in action? No Mimes Media has created a 10-minute alternate reality game (ARG) you can experience online. (Hint: Look for clues to get to each of the next parts of the story and keep your phone nearby.)

Why Use Transmedia in Social Marketing?

For all the reasons that the entertainment education approach works to change knowledge, attitudes and behaviors, transmedia storytelling has the potential to match and exceed that success. Entertainment education-based social marketing has traditionally focused on “product placement” of health and social issues within the plotlines of television shows, radio serials, movies, video games and other individual media. When someone is wrapped up in the plotline of a show and their favorite character becomes sick or models a positive behavior, that person is more likely to remember information delivered in the course of the program and desire to act on it.

In a transmedia story, you are immersed in the plotline either as the main character or as you get to know the characters and their world from many different angles. Often, transmedia stories are told in real-time, with the characters posting to their Twitter accounts, writing blog posts and creating YouTube videos. They may come to feel like friends, especially if the audience is encouraged to interact with the characters. This type of immersive experience can make a strong impression on knowledge, attitudes and perceptions of social norms, and can motivate action.

What Might Have Been

Transmedia is one of those things more easily understood with a tangible example, so I spent some time thinking about how I might structure a campaign. I remembered that a couple of years ago, as part of the Great California ShakeOut (a statewide earthquake drill), the event included a simulation game called After Shock that did not quite live up to its great potential. The idea was that during and after the earthquake drill, participants would use blogs, Twitter, video, photos and more to document what happened to them personally during the “earthquake” and how they were dealing with the aftermath. It was a fun, exciting idea, and I played along, startling my Twitter friends and posting to the blog on my account at the site. Many others did as well, with blog posts, photos of “earthquake rubble,” and other creative stories that showed they had thought through the implications of how an earthquake would impact their lives. Unfortunately, there was not much direction from the coordinators as to what we were supposed to do, and participation fizzled. (At least from my viewpoint, I didn’t see much happening on the site and did not receive any clear instructions to help me continue.)

What’s Shakin’? Earthquake Preparedness Transmedia Campaign

I’ve put together a sample transmedia campaign that addresses the flaws of what After Shock could have been, with the goal of motivating earthquake preparedness in Southern California. I was inspired by Gary Hayes’ transmedia worksheet (below) and the creativity of Luci Temple’s hypothetical transmedia case study based on the television show “V.”

Objectives

What’s a campaign without objectives? Here are the main ones I’d be shooting for:

  • To increase the number of people who know what to do to prepare for an earthquake.
  • To increase the number of people who know what to do during and immediately after an earthquake.
  • To increase the number of people who believe that being prepared is important and doable.
  • To increase the number of people who create a family emergency plan.
  • To increase the number of people who have an earthquake/emergency kit in their homes, offices and cars.
  • To increase the number of people who take preventive measures to secure their homes to prevent damage during an earthquake.

Narrative

In transmedia storytelling, the story narrative is often in the background or not visible at all. Designers must write the backstory and timeline, and then identify the “artifacts” (tweets, postcards, YouTube videos, etc.)  that the characters create as a result of that story. It’s often up to the participants to piece together exactly what happened, and where they might need to read between the lines.

Here’s the basic narrative of a possible storyline (yes, it’s kind of silly), and afterward we’ll look at how the transmedia campaign could bring it into being:

Shaky McShakerson works in downtown LA as an IT guy in the City’s Bureau of Important Processes. He’s married to Terra McShakerson, who works out of their house in Sherman Oaks as a photographer specializing in doggie fashion. They have two kids – Tembla (4) and Shaker Jr (1).

10:36 am Tuesday morning, a 7.7 earthquake hits LA, centered in Hollywood. Shaky’s at work – he has to help out with the city’s response. Terra is at a doggie fashion shoot in Pasadena. Tembla is at preschool and Shaker Jr. is with Terra’s mother in Van Nuys.

Shaky and Terra can’t connect with each other via phone. They had no plan for emergencies and have no idea what condition their home is in. The immediate aftermath of the earthquake is chaos: a 405 freeway overpass is down, traffic lights are out across the city, they can see smoke from several locations in the distance. Finally they are able to connect with each other via Twitter, but Terra still can’t reach her mom or the preschool.

Shaky is part of the emergency response and is responsible for setting up a blog to keep people informed through official channels. He can’t leave his post downtown, so Terra is on her own.

Terra jumps in the car and tries to move as quickly as she can from Pasadena to Van Nuys. She runs into many roadblocks along the way. Finally she arrives at her mother’s house, which is intact, although several houses on the street have collapsed chimneys and broken windows. She sees that her mother and Shaker Jr are fine, but she needs to get to Tembla. She arrives at the preschool and sees that it is in shambles. Everyone has been evacuated and parents are freaking out looking for their kids. Finally someone remembers to call the emergency out of state phone number that was given at the beginning of the year and they find out that the teachers brought the kids to the elementary school yard down the street. She collects Tembla, who is very upset and traumatized.

She takes the children back home, and discovers that their house did not fare very well. Gas is leaking, and it takes a long time for her to find a wrench and the shut-off valve. The house is full of broken glass, the floor is covered with what had been on the shelves, and the furniture has traveled across the rooms. The electricity is out, and the water does not seem to be working either. Terra sets to work trying to figure out what she needs to do now and how to begin to recover.

The days and weeks that follow include some major aftershocks, anxiety attacks from Tembla, and the realization that they should have been much more prepared. They don’t have enough food, water and medical supplies. The city is not recovering very quickly. The survivalist neighbors who they always thought were crazy for storing months worth of food are the only ones on the block who are doing well. Terra’s best friend Florence is a nurse and shares stories of what she’s seen in the hospital.

Terra and Shaky decide to get prepared for the next disaster and put together their supplies. So when a 6.1 aftershock hits, they are ready and able to deal with it, and get on with their lives without much hassle.

The Transmedia Campaign

1) Billboards will be posted around the city for “Terra’s Doggie Fashion Fotos” including the URL (ads will be so ridiculous that people look for the website to see if it’s a joke). Also, street teams passing out postcards with the same image/URL at gathering places around LA.

2) A website for Terra’s business will include her phone number (with voice mail message) and links to her Facebook page and Twitter account. The text will use earthquake metaphors as clues for what the campaign is about and provide insight into her personality and lifestyle.

3) Terra’s Twitter account will be the main driver of the narrative (with tweets also going to her Facebook page), and here is where we will also meet Shaky and Florence via their accounts. Quite a bit of interaction will have already occurred before the campaign begins. When the earthquake hits, we can see Terra’s panicked response and her attempts to reach her family. She and Shaky reach each other via Twitter. She urges people to call her on her cell if they know anything about her mom and kids.

4) When people call her cell phone number, they’ll hear her message about what she’s seeing on the streets as she’s trying to get to her family and her relief as she arrives at her mother’s house. She uses Twitpic to post pictures of the damage she sees all around.

5) Meanwhile, Shaky is setting up a blog for his city department that provides updates on what’s happening around the city in terms of emergency response, as well as safety information. He invites people to post comments about what happened to them during the earthquake and whether they were prepared. He shares the “official” department website and phone hotline that people can call over the next week for updates.

6) Once back at home, Terra tweets about the challenges they are facing and looks for information on what to do to prevent any further damage. She finds a smartphone app and companion website (created by the campaign) with earthquake preparedness information and shares that information on Twitter.

7) Over the next week, Terra uses Twitter to give updates on what she’s doing to prepare for the next earthquake, and uploads some video to YouTube. She posts information about caring for pets in earthquakes on her business Facebook page. Shaky uses the blog to give tips on preparedness and to invite participants to a live event.

8) The campaign concludes with a live event coinciding with the Great California Shakeout, where Terra and Shaky make an appearance to urge earthquake preparedness (and to take doggy fashion fotos). Those with smartphones will be able to see a simulated aftershock in real time via augmented reality, to reinforce how to respond.

There are many more touchpoints we could add (e.g., TV, radio, live chat, etc.) but this gives you a flavor of how it might all work together. Of course, keep in mind that this approach can only work if members of your target audience are already using most or all of these media. You would need to do research with them to find out what media they use, and what their current knowledge, attitudes and behaviors are, before jumping into creating the campaign.

Any takers?

Some Transmedia Resources (Updated 6/30/10)

    Photo: chiaralily