Linear Storytelling, CDs and Privacy: RIP? Social Learning Summit Takeaways

by Patricia Aufderheide

ausmc (1)At the annual Social Learning Summit at American University, the mesage was this: Storytelling is key, but not your father’s or even older brother’s beginning-middle-and-end kind of storytelling.

Especially the part about the end. As keynoter Joe Gizzi from MXMargued in a presentation about how corporate brands are seducing us these days, stories don’t end any more. “Linear storytelling is officially dead,” he pronounced. If you connect meaningfully enough with people to have them care about your story, they want to and will show that they care about it by connecting you to other people who might like it, adding to the story, having a conversation that enriches the story, and generally going about making it their own.

“Collaboration culture eliminates linear stops and starts,” he said (Gizzi specializes in pithy quotable quotes, and of course he does). You got them to pay attention, after all, by inserting yourself and your stuff into the slipstream of their lives, which you could do because their lives (ours, actually) happen to be pathologically transparent to those who know how to datamine. “Is anyone getting creeped out yet?” he asked an increasingly creeped-out crowd.

All this crowdsourcing under surveillance has the effect of making makers accountable, he said. When everybody edits, mistakes get corrected more often. Later, another keynoter, NPR’s Melody Kramer, encouraged people to accept making mistakes as part of the human flow of this group process.

You’ll also be telling that story in lots of different ways. At an entertainment panel, MXM’s Chloe Troia shared her belief that nobody should (or even is) offering just a one-screen experience for viewers. Streams of social media flow along and help shape audience experiences, she said. And of course provide a nonstop flow of feedback to makers to adapt the ongoing story.

And you might not be selling people a product they own. Billboard’s Emily White is watching numbers for sales of digital tracks as well as CDs and DVDs plummet, with streaming subscriptions and services rising rapidly. Those streaming services also provide makers with lots more user data to shape their understanding of how and when to merge with the slipstream of someone’s life experience.

Although the summit’s speakers were brand-savvy to the max, fast-talking, and good at slinging the business jargon, some of them and many in the audience came from the nonprofit world, and heavily made use of the #dogooder hashtag (although they also found out that hashtags as well as RT, MT, @ and other Twitter arcana are soon to be history). One big takeaway for those who want to make media that matters, according to Joe Gizzi: the techniques that work for brands work much better for non-profits and causes. They don’t have to work nearly as hard to make people care about what they care about.


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