Storytelling and How it is Changing in the Digital Era



Nowadays, the buzz is all around social media. Every brand wants to know how they can use social media to promote their offerings, go viral, and be seen as an expert in their field. I attended a panel on just that at Engage 2015: The Digital Storytelling Conference at the Crosby Street Hotel. The panel, Redefining Engagement in Social Media, followed a short but very engaging (no pun intended!) presentation by Rachel Shechtman, founder of STORY, the highly creative and interactive store in Chelsea that changes themes every 4-8 weeks

Chris Bath, a Strategist at Contagious, moderated the social media panel, opening with short introductions including movie clips from each of the panelists. The panel started with an overall discussion of how each company chose to build their social media strategy. Rajiv Mody, Vice President of Social Media at National Geographic, kicked off by explaining that social media is a platform for National Geographic to advance the belief of the “power of science, exploration, and storytelling to change the world.” All social media activity exists to further their mission, and their social strategy is built to surround that. Ginned Finch, Vice President of Linear and Multiplatform Strategy at Comedy Central emphasized how different platforms speak to different viewers, and the current emphasis in social media strategy to create content that is platform specific, unlike the early days of the industry when you could post the same thing across all platforms. When determining strategy, Comedy Central determines if they are trying to accomplish one of two goals with their social media strategy: driving awareness (generally for a new series), or monetizing content which then influences the content they create. Sabrina Caluori, Senior Vice President of Digital Media and Marketing at HBO, explained that it’s also important to focus on the ROI of the creating the content in the first place. Caluori shared that creating the content itself, especially for use on Instagram and Snapchat, is often very time and resource consuming, so it’s important to validate how the content generates value.

Finch and Mody discussed at length their experience and use of Snapchat, where both Comedy Central and National Geographic have Discover channels. Finch pointed out that Snapchat is exactly their consumer sweet spot and they use their extensive library of existing Comedy Central content to share with their audience. Caluori explained that their demographics don’t work well with Snapchat (those on Snapchat are not likely to be the ones to spend $15 per month on premium television) so they focus less on the platform.

There was an interesting discussion of the tension between owned properties (websites, apps) versus properties of social media sites that are not owned by the company. Finch explained that they have native Facebook videos but they are always driving people back to cc.com, where they can control the branded environment and overall user experience. Mody shared that National Geographic is an early adopter of Facebook instant articles, and it works well because it meets consumers where they already are frequenting.

As for what’s next in the social media sphere, there is a lot of buzz around live streaming (Periscope and Meerkat) according to Caluori, as well as the potential to be more creative with content, especially for HBO. Finch said it was important to be focusing on how to measure success, and that the industry needs to reset and look at how to monetize. Mody shared that the pace at which things are changing is a challenge as it’s hard to stay ahead. However, virtual reality and visual storytelling have major potential for National Geographic.

Overall it was an interesting discussion of the trends in social media, what works, and where the concerns are. Trends included focusing more heavily on monetization, customizing content to specific platforms, and balancing using branded environments versus those that are not owned by the brand.

About the author: Sara Weinreb

Sara Weinreb is a necessary troublemaker respectfully challenging the status quo. Sara is the founder of IMBY, curating American-made everyday essentials that are anything but basic. Additionally, Sara facilitates design thinking and human centered design workshops, and writes for several tech publications.  Sara has previously served professionally in leadership roles advising to social enterprise accelerators and hundreds of entrepreneurs as Vice President of Programs and Strategy at PresenTense and Director of Operations at PurposeFuel. She is passionate about sustainable fashion, design, impact entrepreneurship, travel, and using business as a force for good. You can find Sara on her yoga mat, taking photos, eating her way around the world, and on her blog.

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