Summary of a presentation on digital storytelling by Pieter Blomme, digital storytelling expert at REC., for Cultuurconnect.
Your news feed is flooded with them from the moment you look at your phone.
A video of your friend’s dog destroying the furniture.
A picture of your co-worker’s baby in a ‘cute’ new outfit.
Another one of Trump’s famous Twitter posts that cause a lot of engagement.
They are all stories and they are all digital, but is this Digital Storytelling done properly?
According to me, digital storytelling done right is always based on these 5 key elements.
1. The best digital stories originate directly from your brand's mission, the so called why.
2. They start from what your user wants, and not necessarily from what you want to tell.
3. They contain essential story elements with strong characters, surprising plots and emotional story arcs.
4. You don't always need high-tech equipment to make them. Creativity is king.
5. You need to know how people behave on the internet, and what storytelling possibilities the internet has to offer.
Digital Storytelling is telling a well-considered story, a story with a 'why' behind it. So before you start, make sure you have your unique perspective on what you want to tell the world, and why.
Always start with why.
Why do you do what you do?
What’s your purpose, cause or belief?
For example: YouTuber Simone Giertz's, or 'The Queen of Shitty Robots' as she calls herself, mission is to bring girls closer to technology. Therefore she invents shitty robots. She makes YouTube videos about it.
To fully grasp the above, be sure to watch the TED-talk Start With Why, by Simon Sinek. He uses the Nike brand as a good example. Sure, they sell shoes. But they sell unique shoes that are wonderfully designed. Most important: Nike wants people to overcome their own borders by just doing it. All their online campaigns show people doing incredible things, and great stories come from that.
If you're crafting a story, user-centered design is really important. Always ask yourself the question: ‘Why would my user care?’
Social Media prevail, and are all about likes, shares, conversation and making communities.
A helpful formula to decide if a story is worth making, is the so-called ‘XY Story Formula: the hook, or the frame.’. It goes like this: ‘I’m doing a story about X. And what’s interesting (surprising, notable…) about it is Y'. When not sure always get a second opinion, ask your colleagues, friends, sister, grandmother… would they care about your story?
The following diagram also can be very helpful too to decide if what you want to tell is worth telling.
Once you’ve figured out for yourself if your user would care it’s time for the next question: ‘Why would they share?’. Statistics say that 84% of Social Network users share content because it’s a way to support causes or issues they care about, 78% share content because it lets them stay connected to people they may not otherwise stay in touch with their interests and 73% share content because it helps them connect with others who share their interests. Other reasons are because it allows them to feel more involved in the world, to give people a better sense of who they are and what they care about and because they hope to change opinions on products they like.
Last but not least: why would my users talk about my story? Try to find the topics your community cares about.
First of all: let's get a bit scientific here to accentuate the importance of storytelling.
In a study called ‘Speaker-Listener coupling’, researchers examined what happens to our brain when someone tells us a story. They found out that when a speaker tells a story to a listener their brainwaves will start to form similar patterns, as shown in the picture below. However this only works when the speaker tells a coherent an well-structured story, hence the importance of good storytelling.
When you're thinking of a good story to tell, bear this in mind: ‘Interesting people doing interesting things in interesting places.’. That should be the essence of every story. The American scholar Joseph Campbell identified a pattern of narrative that appears in drama, storytelling, myth, religious ritual and psychological development. It’s called ‘The Hero’s Journey’ and it describes the transitions the main character experiences during the development of the story. Look at the image below and see if you recognize this structure from your favorite book or movie. If you want to know more about the different elements in a story, definitely read the book ‘Story’ by Robert McKee. Also the online course ‘Pixar in a box: the art of storytelling’ on Khanacademy is a must watch for everyone who wants to create great stories.
To capture your audience your story should also contain an element of surprise, empathy or engagement.
People just can’t resists mystery or surprise. Content that triggers people’s curiosity always works. For example: if an article has the following title: ‘Man texts his ex-girlfriend and you can never guess what happened afterwards.’ you would want to read the article to find out what happened, right?
Empathy, which speaks for itself I assume, is another great storytelling component. Just watch this video from the German supermarket corporation EDEKA.
If you want your audience to engage with your content you’ll have to make sure you ask them to. Always use a clear call to action. What's more: you don’t need to set up a huge project to get your audience to engage, a small project can evoke as much engagement as a bigger one.
Want some more great examples of storytelling?
Listen to the podcast ‘This American Life’ by Ira Glass. It’s a weekly podcast from about one hour covering an aspect of the American life and it’s the ultimate example of storytelling.
Another one is YouTuber Casey Neistat. You love him or you hate him, I’m not gonna pick a side here, but one thing is for sure: he knows how to tell engaging stories.
And one last example is Johan Lolos better known as @lebackpacker. He engages people from all over the world with his 'Peaks of Europe' photography series on Instagram.
Digital Storytelling implies the use of all kinds of technology. So make sure you know the possibilities and trends concerning technology and formats. You should be able to use consumer material in creative ways, shoot, edit and animate videos, take photos, record audio, blog, vlog, use VR, AR, Bots… But be careful not to get carried away in all this.
Always make sure you know what format your audience prefers. You can use the most innovative technology and the most creative formats if your targeted audience doesn’t know how to use this technology or doesn’t know about those formats you’ll basically just be making content for yourself.
Also never let your budget interfere with your creativity. Even with basic tools you can make amazing stories. On the website ‘Kit.com’ you can find information on different tools and what kind of material people used to create their content.
And if you decide to invest in something, invest in video. Videos are like the unicorns in the world of Digital Storytelling. And if you can, do live video, that’s like the king of the unicorns. Just bear in mind if you want to post videos on your Facebook channel, make sure to publish them directly on Facebook, because if you post videos from your website or from YouTube for example, Facebook won’t show them on peoples timelines.
We can’t imagine a world without the internet anymore.
The World Wide Web lets you connect with people all over the world, but make sure to focus on engagement and conversations with your fans, preferable to trying to reach the people that don’t know you. This way you build a community of brand ambassadors that will share your stories.
Your content also needs to be customized to mobile use and you need to work data driven. Budgetwise, you should spend as much money and time on the making of content as you spend on the distribution of it.
And last but not least never forget that you don’t own platforms like Facebook. Online you only truly own your website and your app if you have one. It’s Mark who owns Facebook and he is able to completely change Facebook’s algorithm whenever he feels like.
Want to know more about Digital Storytelling?
- Postgraduate Digital Storytelling or Postgraduate Digital Content & Journalism