The World Is Flat: Will Transmedia Overtake Social Media?

March 24th, 2010 |


Interactive Marketing Consultant for The Ocean Agency, recent college graduate, and fan of all things social, whether online or off. To find out more about what I do online, go here

One of my favorite panels from SXSWi asked an increasingly important question concerning digital marketing and online storytelling: “Transmedia 2010, are we there yet?”

Presented by Daniel Lorenzetti and Juan Garcia, the panel looked at the adoption of transmedia storytelling tactics by major media outlets. For those who are just reading about transmedia for the first time, it was first defined by USC professor Henry Jenkins:

“Transmedia is not that new of a concept, but the emergence of today’s social and mobile networking technologies, combined with the myriad of entry points to brand messaging, meaning that transmedia storytelling should be central to every marketing effort, online or otherwise.”

Put simply, transmedia storytelling aims to engage consumers at every entry point by extending a story. This type of storytelling is already commonplace with TV shows like The Office, 30 Rock, and Community where branded web extras are advertised during the airing of the show itself. In this way, advertisers are extending the story from the small screen to the web.

While this is fine and dandy, and also an interesting way to extend a story from TV to the web, many social media purists are asking, “Where’s the interaction? Where’s the engagement?  The power of social media lies in the two-way conversation between brand and consumer! How do these branded web extras create engagement, NBC?”  Those are valuable questions to ask.

The future of transmedia storytelling will offer a greater level of engagement than anything we have seen with social media thus far. Check this out:

If I Can Dream” is a new web based reality show from American Idol creator Simon Fuller. Five young men and women, looking for stardom, live in a house in Los Angeles with cameras in every nook and cranny. There are even cameras in their cars. While this may seem just like Big Brother, there is a twist – users can interact directly with the members of the house through social media sites like Twitter and Facebook as the story unfolds. This is a new level of engagement, a new level of reality television. What’s more? Similar to American Idol, you help choose who will become a star. The user has a direct impact on which housemate will achieve stardom.

This marks a new level of user engagement in a storyline – you have control of the outcome, or at the very least, an illusion of control, and you get to interact with characters as the story unfolds.

If I Can Dream

So is this new level of engagement better described as social media or as transmedia?

I think it is best defined as transmedia, where a storyline is available at multiple points, and social media is merely a tool utilized to spur interaction and engagement.

In this way, social media is just a part of transmedia storytelling, and this trend will continue. During the panel, Juan Garcia asked, “Instead of merely checking in at different locations, what if we could leave digital graffiti at each location?  A video that could be viewed by the people who came next? A picture that we encouraged people to comment on?”

This blending of the digital and real world will fall under the realm of transmedia, not social media. Social media will soon be seen “like air,” as envisioned by Twitter’s founders, and as a small piece of an overarching digital strategy that focuses on storytelling and engagement at all consumer entry points.

What do you think? Will the term social media fall by the wayside as it becomes incorporated into just about every digital campaign?

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Daniel Prager