American Psychological Association

120th Annual Convention
Orlando, Florida, August 2-5 2012

Transmedia Storytelling - Creating Engagement and Meaning in Organizations, Education, and Practice

      Transmedia Story Telling
Drs. Keely Kolmes, Jerri Lynn Hogg, & Pamela Rutledge

The room was surprisingly full so early into the convention (even before the opening ceremony), with many well-known media and social psychologists in attendance. Dr. Rutledge began by noting how this is much more of a 'fun' topic than many psychology presentations - with their focus on pathology, and things like depression, anxiety, and so forth. In addition, research shows that the best time to engage a tired audience is not too early, not too late, so it's all good.

Dr. Rutledge introduced the panel and proceeded to paint a picture of just how prevalent and vital the power of story-telling is, and how effective the use of 'transmedia story-telling' can be, in particular. Done properly, developing a story can be a boon to a brand, such as Nike has done with the narrative of a Greek Goddess and "on to victory" storyline. By actively engaging an audience and turning them into engaged participants, organizations, products, celebrities, and institutions can do more than 'advertising'; they can offer "an invitation to inspiration".

Pamela Rutledge, Ph.D.

Story-telling is not new, Dr. Rutledge explained, but the tools we have today can facilitate entirely new ways of telling - and participating in - stories. After all, "We live in a participatory culture", increasingly so. Morever, "storytelling is all about psychology".

So what is it - transmedia storytelling? First, some context.

Dr. Rutledge shared some statistics which [along with the Pew studies and research as reported by Larry Rosen, e.g.; see
Poke Me] reveals the way in which people now access media. For example, among those under 25, research has found that 25% watch TV online. 1/4 use YouTube, and 53% of Facebook users use that platform's games (e.g., Farmville). Sixty-nine percent 'multi-task' as they use media, for example watching television and going online to get the back story.

In 2011, there were 10 BILLION 'apps' in use.

Mass media models have changed from one speaker uni-directionally 'broadcasting' to a wide audience, to a model of many sharing with many: 'The Network Model'.

"It's a whole new world.... [We are] changing our fundamental notions [and] expectations about time and space."

An illustration of using multi-media and story telling well: "A story that unfolds across several platforms. Users can join the story at any point." Each story is self-complete, and users are motivated to participate in the story. This may assist in "branding", as the product and participant become "co-adventurers on a journey". [In discussion later Dr. Rutledge responded to a question about the Harry Potter effort to bring characters from film to web, amusement park and toys, etc. She noted that the web page was an early big effort, but ultimately it failed to engage.]

For an effort at storytelling to succeed it must be persuasive, and must establish an audience connection. It must be engaging on many levels: the sensory, executive and intuitive levels.

Aside from persuasion and audience connection, a third factor is financial interest.

In promoting anything, the power of branding is not a new concept. Even with religion, if you think about it - there is the Bible (text media) plus Nativity Scenes, and varied media used to tell the story. [Think politics as well, as we are increasingly deluged with images, narratives and buzz words across various media.]

Dr. Rutledge went back even further, historically, noting that persuasion campaigns often take the form of the Greek 3-Act Structure: A protagonist, conflict and resolution. What is introduced today is the interactivity. You can actually influence the story's resolution, and thus you "have skin in the game" and you're invested in it. One classic example has been the success of 'Matrix' in going from film to animation and to other varied media.
[Note- October 14, 2012: Red Bull's transmedia branding/sponsorship of an outer space-to-sky dive was quite 'engaging' as well.]

Now consider a 'case study of The 3 Little Pigs'. Today's version? Pig 1 has a blog, and here you can get his back story, how he's no longer living near the others, and so on. Pig #2 is on Twitter. He's gotten quite knowledgeable about various building materials now. Pig 3? He's a famous chef now, with a cookbook, and a Facebook page with millions of fans.

Every story needs an anchor. Meaning. What's the headline? What's the tease? Example (on screen image). "Will Barbie Take Ken Back?" . For anyone who missed it, the famous couple broke up in 2006, apparently. [Source: Foursquare. A billboard shows Ken announcing 'Barbie, You're the only doll for me!'] So Mattel has launched a campaign to help persuade Barbie to take Ken back. An anchor. (Or hook.)

Tom's Shoes is another great example, this one based on real life, but also engaging across several media. The owner worked his way to donating a million shoes to those without, by matching sales with donations. He promoted a "Day without Shoes" and really showed passion, and then "he puts shoes on kids - and makes *you* part of a solution... that's the power of TransMedia done well."

Case Study: Jay Z. He has portrayed pages of his book on cars, on a swimming pool bottom, and other unlikely spots, and created a mystery game where followers could win autographed photos by following his 'clues'. As a result, he quickly had 1/2 million people following him on Facebook alone. "He's more than an act now."

Non-profits are all about a story. Business too. Education as well (which Dr. Hogg will be addressing next). As time was running out, a quick summary and overview:

What we are seeing is a 360 degree view, with engagement at multiple levels, across a wider audience. Key factors are 1) emotional engagement - with a core story and clear protagonist; 2) cognitive engagement, with various media pieces which provide gaps, mysteries, narrative space; and 3) social engagement. Remember, "technology is only a tool" and "respect your audience". You're producing this experience for them, not you.

Jerri Lynn Hogg, Ph.D.

The next speaker, Dr. Jerri Lynn Hogg, picked up on the reference to use of transmedia in education, which is where she focuses. So how can transmedia storytelling be applied for educational applications? A timeline was presented, beginning with the fact that in 1983 the first 'distance education' was undertaken. In 2010 more than 6 million people took online courses. These are now offered "cross platform, cross media".

The idea that a lecture takes place outside of a single place where students assemble can introduce new opportunities (in addition to access) such as homework which involves submitting a video, or a reaction to a slide presentation. People are now not only more acclimated to digital applications, but our everyday lives often now include "multiple devices in front of us".

Dr. Hogg gave an example of an assignment she gave to students, which involved finding a 'weak link' or spot on a Wikipedia page, and to 'fill in the blank'. This led to much discussion on a discussion board among students, which in itself was interesting. Also, sometimes students' proposed contributions were rejected by Wikipedia.

With little time remaining, Dr. Hogg noted how the DIY - Do it Yourself - movement has been a boon to education. Collective, public education as well. She mentioned
Cowbird - "a public library of human experience" where one can contribute to the collective story. Or stories can be contributed to via games, such as the 'I Heart Robot' project demonstrated. In this scenario a robot's home is L.A. but its spaceship crashes in Montreal. How to get robot home? Class discussion centered on things like the distance, the language barrier, E.T....

And then younger students may have been introduced to the power of the story of Flat Stanley. (The I Heart Robot was described as sort of a 'Flat Stanley on steroids'.) A project in Florida involved 600 students, age 13-17, where the focus was on news media stories...

And with time run out now, the final presenter is introduced.

Keely Kolmes, Psy.D.

Dr. Kolmes spoke now on the clinical applications of TransMedia story telling, as she learned from Dr. Rutledge. Dr. Kolmes is a therapist who has been leading recent discussions about privacy, consent, and boundary issues in the context of this very public social media age. She has focused on the clinical aspects of "brand development" - what story does your brand tell? When your public brand is an extension of yourself, not only is your name involved, but "your reputation, your voice, what you stand for". And, not least, what is your "likeability"?

Speaking of the power of story-telling and the importance of brand, in the clinical practice of psychotherapy it is not uncommon that either a client or therapist seeks or is shown information which adds to the 'story' of the other. Dr. Kolmes shared some of her own research, including a study of 332 clients who were [active] on the Internet where 70% of reported going online to seek *personal* information about their therapist. Where do they look? Mostly Google (78%), Facebook (42%), Linked-In (17%), and blogs (10%). Sixty percent seek family information, and 54.7 % looked for age or birthday. [Kolmes & Taube, 2011]

Then too, stories get told *about* therapists, and health professionals find themselves rated (as do teachers) and occasionally find something untrue and/or unhelpful. What to do? This has been a recent dilemma and discussion point for some psychologists, along with other aspects of boundaries, limits, etc., in addition to caring for our own "brand".

Things like 'status updates' can be revealing; it's easy too to see who is paying attention, to what.

Other new experiences follow. Does this happen to you? A client may hand their therapist a phone and ask you to read an e-mail exchange which s/he finds upsetting. Some have brought printouts to sessions. At the same time, some therapists may value the opportunity to work out what exactly is the issue and "to see if it's really worth the upset". [Here I see a lot of CBT value if there is distortion, but also an argument for a therapist knowing how text-only can be misinterpreted, for example. Knowing the 'new media'.]

So a client hands you the phone or a printout [and I've had teens want to show me their blogs during a session, which similarly may be helpful]. And then, what if a client sends you YouTube clips? To what extent can clients use different media to explore a fuller potential? There is 2nd Life, Augmented and Virtual Reality, exposure therapies, use of avatars...

Some other dynamics and questions - and again, time was up, so a last bit quickly - Is there a difference between seeking versus just stumbling upon, stories? How does accessing content change our perception? What is the effect of not identifying our visit?

And how do our policies encourage or discourage the use of these stories, clinically?


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2011 Convention Highlights:
2011: eHealth Odyssey | Googling, Twittering, Poking | Zimbardo: Reflections + Enduring Lessons from 40 Years Ago: Stanford Prison Experiment
Opening | Avatar-based Therapy | Canine Cognition: Chaser | Aaron T. Beck @90 | Cavanagh: Computerized CBT | Seligman: Flourish
PsychTech: Virtual & Augmented Reality | Relationships 3.0 | POKE ME: Social Networks & Kids | Telehealth & Telepsychology Licensure - Barriers and Possible Solutions

2010 Convention Highlights:
Online Support Groups & Applications | Evidence & Ethical Practice | Opening Ceremony | Sir Michael Rutter: Resilience
Group Memory | Psychology in the Digital Age | Steven Hayes: What Psychotherapists Have that the World Needs Now

2009 Convention Highlights:
Internet: Pathway for Networking, Connecting, and Addiction | Opening | Virtual Psychology & Therapy | Q&A with Zimbardo
Seligman: Positive Education | Future of Internet Media | Sex, Love, & Psychology | How Dogs Think

2008 Convention Highlights:
Grand Theft Childhood | Opening | Malcolm Gladwell | College Success, Love, Hate, More | My Life With Asperger's
My Space, You Tube, Psychotherapy, Relationships... | Aaron T. Beck - 2008 | The Mind and Brain of Voters

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