Telling stories with multiple media

We just finished the second week of our mini-MOOC for Elon communications alumni. This week, we looked at a story called Snowfall from the New York Times  and an interactive story from ESPN. Discussion focused on the strengths of multimedia elements in narrative and on the challenges of creating quality multimedia stories. Here are some highlights:

Multimedia storytelling benefits

  • Multimedia storytelling puts things into context better than a single medium does
  • Multimedia storytelling helps to engage the audience, by being interactive
  • This engagement can make multimedia storytelling more memorable
  • The first-person accounts that multimedia storytelling excels at help build credibility and empathy
  • A well-done multimedia story leverages short attention spans while keeping the audience in your story (take note strategic communicators!)
  • Autoplay elements can attract attention and help keep the audience engaged.
  • The best multimedia storytelling plays to the strengths of the different media to tell the stories
  • Supplying multimedia content options is a good idea for strategic communicators pitching news media.

Multimedia storytelling cautions

  • Including different elements needs to be thoughtful, or they can just be distracting
  • When stories get too detailed or complicated, audiences can get lost.
  • Multimedia storytelling is risky if you don’t keep up with the technologies the audience will have. The multimedia elements need to work for all.
  • Just because you have tools doesn’t mean they are appropriate. The story should dictate the tools.
  • Autoplay video can be a problem. It causes waits for download, embarrassing moments.
  • Telling multimedia stories means having a different type of structure organizationally that traditional news would. It needs a coordinated, team approach.
  • Integrating multimedia elements needs to be thoughtful – a just-in-time, in the story approach works well, but a bunch of distracting sidebars does not.
  • These kinds of pieces are expensive. It’s a cost-benefit analysis opportunity.
  • Navigation matters – linking points in elements that go together contextually is a benefit to the reader.

Thoughts on Content Shock from Elon alumni

This spring, I am running a MOOC course for our communications alumni. It’s a sampling of topics we cover in our graduate program in interactive media and it will be publicly available in March.

One of the most interesting parts is the discussion board, where our graduates, who are working in many different aspects of media, are commenting on the topic of the week.

This week is mine, and focuses on content strategy. We read this article on content shock in addition to the video lectures and discussion. Here are some highlights from the conversation:

  • Content shock is a real problem in areas of media ranging from marketing to entertainment to social media to journalism. Content creators are having to be increasingly intentional about audience and quality to survive.
  • Curation and republishing hurts content creators, because audiences aren’t distinguishing between sources for content.
  • There’s a generational difference in the complexity audiences want. Younger audiences want more snack-sized information on multiple platforms. This is a challenge for organizations that don’t have the deep pockets to finance this kind of work.
  • Professional communicators know how to create fair and truthful information of high-quality, and this is an increasingly important skill set.
  • Niche markets are growing markets and communicators need to build and maintain quality relationships with them.

Social media and IRL strategy

We’re planning a MOOC here at Elon that will first be for our alumni and later for the whole world. It’s been a lot of fun putting together the lessons on interactive media and working with the technologist putting the whole thing together. The last thing to do is to get people to sign up, of course, and this is where promotion comes in, so I spent the weekend writing a plan, including a hefty dose of social media.

I teach a class that is partially focused on social media strategy, and often it seems like social media efforts want to be their own little island. It shouldn’t be that way. There are 3 ways at least that you can create synergy between your social media efforts and your enterprise, IRL.

Highlight the new – This is an easy thing to think of, since it fits into existing models of news. Here, you use social media to announce the new and the different. It’s a natural for communication, because the novelty factor is an inherent value to your audience. Caution here – make sure it really is a value before you shout it from the rafters. Social is an interactive, conversational space and no one likes to talk to boring people or drones.

Reinvigorate the old – The one enduring thing about social media is that it is ephemeral. This can be a disadvantage when trying to make an impression, but an advantage when you are trying to sustain a relationship but are limited in the amount of new content you can create. If your content is evergreen, it usually bears a repeat telling.

Understand and adapt – Social media is a conversation, and that means your audience is talking to you. You had best listen. They are giving ideas on what they like and don’t like about the way you do business, and logging/assessing those comments should be a regular part of your development and support processes. Caution here – make sure that your audience on social is representative of your audience IRL, or that you are collecting feedback in other ways as well. Twitter may be a great way to assess what affluent 20-somethings think, but for retirees, I’d go with Facebook.

Management by shutting up

I always make my graduate students watch an episode of The Apprentice.

It’s not because it’s a great piece of high-quality television that’s graduate education worthy. It’s not. But ti is a good conversation starter about the role of individuals in team work.

Our graduate program centerpiece is called “interactive project for the public good,” but is better known as the “Fly In,” for we do actually fly. In groups of 6-9, the students go to another country to collect content to create a website for an NGO.

I think of them as little miracle projects, because we go from wheels up to website in 3 weeks, all produced by a group of essentially advanced beginners. The students learn a great deal from this experience, and one of the greatest lessons is about being effective in teams.

The Apprentice is edited to highlight little pathologies in interpersonal relations that come to life in the boardroom when the aspiring apprentices try to rip each other up in front of their prospective boss.

Those little pathologies are things that can make or break a team.

There are typical teamwork issues like social loafing and managing up. The more damaging ones, though are the devaluing of input from some people on the team. It quickly becomes toxic when a person says something, is ignored, and decides that if his or her input is not valued, he or she will shut down or, worse, try to sabotage the others. When this happens, everybody loses.

It’s hard, especially when teams are diverse, to make the effort to thoughtfully listen to everyone. And that’s why it’s important to think about inclusiveness as a team value ahead of crunch time.

Google is not a source and other thoughts on plagiarism

As I’ve written before, plagiarism is more than a moral issue, it’s a practical one that can make you seem untrustworthy. Thanks to my students, I’ve found a new way to unintentionally plagiarize.

Go to Google and type in definition and a word you want to know the definition of. Go on. I’ll wait.

Did you get something like this?

Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 5.13.06 PM

Looks pretty official – like a dictionary definition or something. But maybe it isn’t. Let’s try another definition.

Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 5.18.52 PM

Also looks like a definition. And it is, but it’s a sourced one. That Wikipedia stuff at the bottom of the box isn’t just a helpful place to look for more info. It’s where the words defining the term came from. If you use those words, you need to cite it to the original source. I’ve seen, in a student paper, “According to Google” as a citation, and information from one of these source cards used without credit, and both uses are wrong.

As Google wants to become an on-page source of the information you want, they are pulling content from different sources to fill those definition boxes, but when you cite it, you need to go back to the original source.

Moneyball journalism

Why would anybody major in journalism any more? Is that a job that will exist in the future? I think so. Here’s a presentation I did at AEJMC last year on the unique selling propositions that journalism still has.

The power of curation for building an audience

I read a lot. In fact, most days, the first thing I do in the morning is head to the computer to check out what good ideas other people have come up with that people who follow me on social media or here might be interested in. I pick and share the best, and that, in a nutshell, is curation. Here’s what I told my students about it: