On February 8, a delegation from the private national French TV channel TF1 visited the University of Washington campus to exchange ideas about community-centered storytelling, transmedia, and branding. Since their audience has changed tremendously, they expressed the need to change their content strategy accordingly.
Hanson Hosein, Director of the Communication Leadership (CommLead) program at UW, started the presentation with a brief introduction of CommLead. Associate Director of Comm Lead Scott Macklin, CommLead faculty Brent Friedman, and CommLead fellow John du Pre Gauntt also gave presentations.
Using Content to Build Relationships
Hosein and Macklin talked about the importance of storytelling and community building. When discussing content creation, Hosein said the key problem is how to make connections between the content and the people who want to be engaged. Since the audience is no longer passive, content serves as the currency to nurture the relationship, as well as build trust between brands and viewers. Storytelling’s power lies in its ability to change people’s behavior.
When asked about how to balance targeting niche markets and maintaining global reach, Hanson noted that brands like Coca-Cola are trying to reach specific audience and create personalized experiences for them. However, those specific messages still come from the canon which demonstrates what Coca-Cola stands for.
On the other hand, Macklin’s presentation centered on one important question: whose interests are being served through the practice of storytelling? By identifying this, the content can be tailored to satisfy multiple interests, and it becomes easier to establish the engagement strategy and measures of success.
Transmedia Strategies to Harness Fan Devotion
After this, Friedman gave an in-depth presentation about transmedia, an unstoppable trend which he defined as “a franchised extension.” For instance, Star Wars, as a core media property, has accumulated plenty of fans worldwide who want to continue engaging with Star Wars-related content after the movies. Content creators need to think about a narrative that is open to multiple expressions and platforms to keep these fans engaged. But with that said, they need to be careful to not alienate the true fans: each piece of media must maintain the DNA of the original property. Whether it’s games, comics, books, or social media, each piece should target its the specific audience while keeping the big message in mind.
The key to all of this, Friedman explained, is creating “a universe worthy of devotion.” “[It] has to be built correctly, managed correctly and then, each expression has to be true to the overall principles of the original franchise,” he said. In this framework, there are many opportunities for brands to work with sponsors and weave their stories into the universe that the audience lives in. The value of transmedia is in its ability to build communities and aggregate people who share the same passions.
“Once you have people’s attention and devotion, the worst thing you can do is to let it die,” Friedman said. Luckily, one advantage of transmedia is that the franchise provides multiple ways to continue generating content to sustain interest between major installments.
On the future of transmedia, Friedman noted that franchises often create their own “personas,” and fans absorb that identity into their own. Essentially, they need to be able to say, “I’m this [type of] person,” Friedman said. “Your communities are made up of a lot of sub-communities,” he added, “and you need to treat them as respectfully and as importantly as the community at large.”
One audience member asked Friedman about the impact fan groups can have on the general audience. Friedman explained that even though super fans make up approximately 10 percent of the core audience, their halo effect – how their perception of a franchise influences others – always brings in more general audience.
Finding the Right Technological Solutions for Engagement
With new solutions like beacon technology and visual reality springing up, engagement has reached a whole new level. Du Pre Gauntt’s presentation provided a mental filter for all these new technologies and solutions.
Since everyone can be a content producer, du Pre Gauntt explained it’s easy to overwhelm people with advertisements. Therefore, the fundamental problem is to use advertisements more efficiently by always asking, “How is this solution valuing human attention?” Identifying the signals people respond to can help build deeper relationships between brands and their audience.
Remaining Relevant in a Competitive Market
Olivier Abecassis, the CEO of TF1, said his key takeaway from the presentations was realizing the importance of developing relationships between brands, content and users. However, he was concerned that influencers, especially on social media, would compete for those relationships. Under these circumstances, awareness of competition and balance is crucial.
When asked about how TF1’s audience is changing, Abecassis summarized by saying viewers simply want more. In order to provide them more content and personal experience, TF1 has been working hard to satisfy their audience’s specific needs. For example, he noted that millennials have a more fragmented way of viewing content and may get it from multiple sources. The station has worked to supply content specifically for that audience by adapting it to multiple platforms.
In an era of “always on”, people are constantly on their phones consuming content. Therefore, people want to develop a relationship with a brands and companies more than ever — as long as that relationship is handled respectfully and genuinely.
— UW Comm Lead (@CommLead) February 8, 2016