We’re revising the curriculum here in the communications department where I work. We’ve talked a lot about multimedia, in its many incarnations, and some about the impacts of social media and search as well. One of the elements that communicators need to understand now is the deconstructed story.
It’s a tough adjustment. For as long as most teachers have been around, the curriculum was designed for teaching students the “best practices.” This means researching, organizing and designing and presenting an optimal information experience for the goal. Goals classically included conveying information, influencing others or entertaining an audience.
Changes in technology mean that your audience has a lot of the control now, and this means you need to change how you do things. If you are informational, you had better pay attention to being entertaining as well, or no one will choose to see your information. If you are persuasive, you had better get the facts straight, since it is so simple to check on what you are saying. You get the idea.
I think a lot of this means that communicators need to think in terms of storytelling overall, rather than in particular modes of communication.
So what makes a good story?
Conflict – It may be internal or between people or organizations, but conflict creates interest.
Character – I come from the journalism side of the house, where we are not used to thinking of sources as characters, but I think readers do. Brands and organizations can be characters as well. Characters have motivations, complexities, and a combination of internal and external states.
Context – This one is really hard in newer media. It’s tough to have a lot of context in 140 characters. But across multiple tweets, pins or status updates, context can convey in a powerful way. This requires the communicator to think holistically. As the journalist live tweets a meeting that later becomes a story that later becomes a live web chat with readers, a consistent presentation of context helps readers follow the story as it moves across media.
Choice – This one is a real challenge as well. It requires the communicator to relinquish control of the message. Entertainment media are leading the curve on this…it’s as old as affiliated toys that go with your movie. But it’s an increasing expectation that other types of communication need to be able to deal with as well, even if the reader’s choice is to get this information elsewhere. You still get to be the authority on what matters, and that’s what people will still pay you for.