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!
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.
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
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.]
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