SXSW: Engagement and Action

by Patricia Aufderheide

sxsw-2014At SXSW, social-issue storytellers—filmmakers, journalists, game designers, and more–could benefit from a range of messages, not all designed for the social-issue space. Consider:

You’re building storyworlds, not just a story. This mantra came from panels on interactive documentary, on social media panels, and on future-of-TV panels. The idea is getting familiar: You create not only a story with your work, but it also fits somewhere in someone’s cultural experience of media, and occupies some space in it. Know that. What might in the past have been marketing or publicity or advertising or word of mouth is now part of an identity-shaping effort that makes your work part of someone’s day, life and identity.

You’re making your media for communication, not consumption. Realize that people aren’t approaching your media as an individual consumption experience, but a participant act. They want to use it, so make it easy for them to do that. They want to join something other people are joining, so show them that. If they like it enough, they may want to appropriate elements of it to help shape their own identity; love that, facilitate it, leverage it.

Think episodes when you think story. Creating an episodic framework for your work is another way to enrich and evolve your storyworld. Seventy percent of Netflix viewing is episodic, and part of the explanation is that people aren’t just watching a show, they’re joining a community, an environment, a storyworld.

Think action, not awareness. Think outcomes, not inputs. When you’re designing media that matters, you want change to happen. That’s why you’re making it. So identify changes that can happen, and create pathways for people to take action. Then figure out if you’re successful by measuring change. All easier said than done, though; even when you want to do it—and many would rather not, as real change is not only really hard but difficult to attribute to one thing—it can be tough to get metrics to show it.

Get serious about the data. Numbers aren’t cold; they track real human activity. Use analytics to find out what’s working for you and what’s not. Use social media to test out strategies cheaply, and find out if they’re working with the analytics.

Crowdfunding is community building. Yes, crowdfunding is working better and better to raise funds, but don’t forget that its greatest benefit is in building community. It can be painful, it can be embarrassing, it can make you wish you had made more friends in high school. But it’s a key to building the networks you need to do everything else to build your storyworld.

Thanks to ITVS’ Karim Ahmad, Storycode’s Aina Abiodun, Murmur’s Mike Knowlton, The Atlantic’s M. Scott Havens, The Goggles, NYT’s Jason Spingarn-Koff, Sundance’s Chris Horton, FilmBuff’s Janet Brown, Cinetic’s Ryan Werner, and the entire gang from Participant Media (who ran a day on engagement in storytelling).


Fair Use Question of the Month: Crowdsourcing Journalism