Transmedia Blog

Using Twitter for Storytelling

robert | March 10, 2011  ‐  5 Comments

There’s an excellent post on the problems and experiences of Twitter storytelling at Sliverstring Media but while I’m waiting for my comment to be moderated I thought I’d re-blog it here:

The key to success with storytelling in any media is to work with the strengths of the platform. Twitter is a real-time, social, conversational stream that is best used to invite and build participation. Thinking of Twitter as thousands of 140-character “book pages” is the wrong mindset. It’s like thinking that a short story is just a long story with fewer pages or a short film is a 15 min feature film.

The key to Twitter storytelling is:

(a) use it to invite participation. Create scenarios and “exercises” that open the door to followers to contribute. Make it conversational. Allow followers to become advocates by facilitating the spread of the participation, not only the spread of the tweet. That is, it’s not simply a RT of the story tweet but an invitation from one follower to a non-follower to get involved – perhaps using some game mechanics with the storytelling to provoke and reward that.

(b) recognize that Twitter is both a Discovery and an Exploration platform. That is, current & recent story tweets and the participatory tweets are Discovery content – they’re luring audience into the world. At the same time the historical Tweets offer backstory and context – Exploration content – for those in the  audience that want to dig deeper. Hence you’re right that audience should be able to dip in at any time in the life of the story and become immediately engaged without having to read the premise/synopsis etc. The way to achieve this is to finely craft each Tweet so that it works like a Zen koan – it’s a 140 character meditation on the story that is revealing, intriguing and surprising. This is particularly important if the tweet is from the voice of a narrator rather than a character. I have always measured the strength of a short story by whether it leaves me thinking about the premise of the story for longer that it took to read. The same should be true for every Tweet. Remember that twitter is a real-time news stream which means you’re only as good as your last tweet

(c) use it to build & populate the world. As I hinted above, a story might have several Twitter streams from the perspective of different characters or entities. This means that while a “narrator” stream might tell *the* story, other streams might shed new light and different perspectives on the narrator’s voice. As with any transmedia experiences, these new streams should all add value to the core narrative yet at the same time be optionally consumed. One example I’ve been exploring with a storyteller is to have a twitter stream for a fictional Government bureau in much the same way as George Orwell has in 1984 – the  stream sends continual optimistic official news  “production up by 120%”, “inflation static at 1%”, “crop yield the best since records began” – which is directly contradictory to the experience of the narrator! Such a stream builds out the world with a new richness but is timed to impact the through-narrative should someone choose to read both. I appreciate that this may contradict the “Zen koan rule” but then it’s not being used for Discovery, it’s Exploration so I’ll allow myself some latitude 😉

In terms of commercializing the Twitter platform, it’s value is in the social spread of the story and the building of audiences. Revenue should be taken from other platforms.

Calls to participate “case (a)” are much easier to provide examples for than the koan “case (b)” although you’ve listed some good places to research.

Jay Bushman’s Twitter stories are always provoking and inspiring followers to create their own stories. He brings the fictional setup, let’s say the context or the world, but then it’s up to everyone else to bring their imaginations and participation.

For #sxsw we’re running a rather trivial story of the Three Pigs by way of illustrating the mechanism of participation and interactive narrative. Firstly we stage the story as a competitive game between the pigs and the wolf – the battle outcome determining the course of the story – and secondly we’re using tweets from the pigs and wolf to provoke reaction and participation from friends and followers. Using our Conducttr platform we can facilitate some of the invitation to participate using our “3rd party reply” feature which takes a follower’s friend’s Twitter ID and sends it a message from the fictional character. What we’re doing is not meant to be a gold-standard example of this thinking/storytelling in action but a simple eye-opener.

A Unified Labeling System for Transmedia Projects

robert | February 11, 2011  ‐  43 Comments

I’d like to develop a unified labeling for transmedia projects. The objective is to allow the audience to quickly and easily determine

(a) if this is the kind of project they will like

(b) what is expected of them in terms of time and effort required to enjoy the project.

I believe this type of communication will help multi-platform projects become more widely accepted and more easily understood.

The diagram below shows a simple label that I think covers all the necessary bases. The fields are explained below.

Age rating.

Same idea as for movies and games, identifies if this experience is for children or adults.


The genre of the story.

Type of experience.

In my Transmedia Radar Diagram I show how an experience can be explained in terms of four dimensions: “A” – authorial control, “P” – participation (audience ability to change the story), “R” – degree to which the story builds its fictional world on the real world and “G” – degree of gaming such as use of puzzles and challenges. In the labeling system, the radar is reduced to a simple binary decision and the producer is required to indicate the two strongest aspects of the experience.

A = the author’s story is a predominant feature. Of course story is important in all experiences but an A indicates that on balance with the other dimensions, there’s plenty to read or watch. This will be true for experiences based predominantly on books, comic books, webseries and so on.

P = audience participation will change the course and/or outcome of the story

R = the real world places and facts are used as a foundation for a fictional experience. Of course this could be argued for any contemporary or historical fiction but here we’re inferring a pervasive or alternate reality experience.

G = solving puzzles or completing challenges is a predominant feature of this experience.

Platforms used

There is space for five icons to communicate which touchpoints are used to tell the story. For example, video, online, locations, audio, phone calls.

Remember that the label is being used to sell the project to a prospective audience. Hence the producer should use icons that communicate the predominant or more appealing part of the experience.

Time required & Duration

Time  tells the audience how much time commitment they must make to complete the experience.

Duration communicates the period over which the experience will unfold.

So, for example, a 90 min movie unfolds over 90 mins so that would be 90 mins/ 90 mins. An ARG might require 5 hours puzzle solving, video watching and blog reading over a 6 week period – so this would be shown as 5 Hours/ 6 Weeks.

Level of difficulty

This tells the audience how familiar they need to be with this type of experience. For example, reading a book or watching a movie would be “easy” whereas solving a complex puzzle with online collaborators from around the world might be “difficult” or maybe even “killer” – depending on the producer’s marketing angle.


Here are some examples that illustrate the label in use.

Lowlifes is a crime thriller that unfolded over a month and takes about 2hrs simple effort to read the book, watch the videos and read the online blog. The story is on rails but is firmly rooted in the location and history of San Francisco’s Tenderloin district.

The Jejune Institute is a location-based game that takes the audience about a hour of solving puzzles and walking around San Francisco.

No Mimes Media LLC’s 10 minute Mime Academy game is a introduction to alternative reality games that has the audience following clues. Note that making and receiving a telephone call is a cool feature of this experience.

Lance’s Pandemic 1.0 took place over Sundance 2011 (10 days) and I’m guessing took about 2 hours to experience. Although there’s a lot for the audience to do in terms of finding hidden objects and matching story segments together, I’ve not scored the experience with a “P” for “participation” because the authorial aspect is very strong (character tweets, videos, objects) and the challenges (G) are a predominant factor.

Next Steps

It’s up to all interested parties to talk about the need or otherwise for such labeling, work through any problems and improvements and then to start implementing it.

Getting Started in Transmedia Storytelling

robert | January 25, 2011  ‐  23 Comments

THIS POST HAS BEEN UPDATED to refer to the 2nd edition of the book.

This is the second edition of Robert Pratten’s massively popular Getting Started in Transmedia Storytelling. It’s a practical guide to developing cross-platform and pervasive entertainment written by a thought-leader and early practitioner. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a complete newbie, this book is filled with tips and insights gained from years of work in multi-platform interactive storytelling.

Buy a hardcopy
From Amazon

On Kindle

How to Improve Engagement with your Webisodes

robert | January 7, 2011  ‐  3 Comments

This is my article that was originally posted at Culture Hacker earlier this week.

Why do some web producers release their webisodes weekly when they have evergreen content? That is, if their series of web videos are not tied to current events, why not release them all at once?

One answer might be that the release schedule is tied to the production schedule – episodes are being produced one week and released the next. But why not release them two weeks apart or wait until enough episodes have been produced to release all at once or daily? Why not four hours apart or on demand?

My point is only that there should be some reasoning behind the scheduling and not just because TV has scheduled weekly content.

You see, if TV has taught us one thing about audiences, it’s that they don’t like to be kept waiting. They don’t like to wait while the commercial plays, they don’t like to wait while the episode downloads and they don’t like to wait week-to-week. Many people record several episodes of a series before the viewing or they’ll buy the complete series on DVD. But of course audiences come to TV and the web with different expectations so why copy the TV model online if you don’t have to?

Re-thinking your web series

This blog post looks at how you might optimize the release schedule for your webisodes. Core to my approach is understanding how you want the audience to engage with your story and then designing an integrated experience that consequently determines how the video will be released. There is no initial assumption that the schedule should be weekly or any other time period.

There is, I suppose, an assumption that most web series will have more than just the videos: there’s usually a website, a blog, a forum, a mailing list, a Facebook page or some other mechanism that represents an opportunity to inform the audience of a new release and provide them with a backchannel. These additional non-video platforms are what makes your web series “an experience” rather than a series of videos. Even a single YouTube channel with the comments and likes enabled creates a participatory experience. Whatever the implementation, it is the experience that builds, empowers and engages your audience – it multiplies the draw of the video.

Here’s a short list of considerations for determining the time interval between episodes with the key objective being to maintain engagement between episodes (i.e. you want audiences to watch the next episode):

  • production limitations & opportunities
  • distribution limitations & opportunities
  • business model limitations & opportunities
  • strength of story episode to episode (the narrative hook)
  • length of each episode (longer webisodes might benefit from  longer periods between episodes to avoid overload)
  • audience expectations and headroom (giving too much to consume between releases may lead to abandoned subscriptions).

Mind The Gap: Is the Narrative Strong Enough to Bridge the Delay?

Figure 1 illustrates how we’d like audience to move from episode to episode. In this example there’s enough interest or engagement to have them come back for more.

Figure 1: Audience follows episode to episode

Unfortunately there are a number of failure scenarios if the period between each release is wrong. In Figure 2, the audience abandons the web series because the content isn’t strong enough to have them come back – there’s not enough pull to bridge the gap.

In Figure 3, the audience is asked to work too hard to keep up and soon they find they’re overwhelmed with content for the given schedule.

Figure 2: Abandons

Figure 3: Overload

In both these failure scenarios one solution is to adjusted or fine-tune the schedule – if that’s possible. As I mentioned earlier, there may be reasons why you’re stuck with the schedule.

Figure 4: Release schedule adjusted

Using Transmedia Storytelling to Maintain Engagement

Web series can be expensive to produce and the number of episodes is as likely to be determined by budget as anything else. This could mean you don’t have enough webisodes to span the schedule you’d like or you need to maintain engagement between webisodes because the schedule is fixed.

Figure 5 shows how narrative spread to secondary, less expensive, media can be used to stitch together the web series – providing a mid-episode fix of story for those eager for more. The trick here is in the storytelling: to have the webisode and secondary media satisfying in their own right  and hence consuming all media is optional which hence alleviates the chance of overload. Implied in the notion of “secondary media” is that it may indeed not stand alone and should be consumed as additional exploratory content (e.g. another optional layer).

Figure 5: Transmedia Storytelling applied to web video series

Figure 6 in contrast shows two equal media platforms both scheduled for episodic release but appealing to different audience sub-segments or consumption habits: e.g. media 1 is consumed while at work and media 2 consumed on the commute.

Here, each media has its own (intervening?) release schedule with additional narrative hooks and branches to take the audience to the next episode in the same media or to alternative media.

Figure 6: Native Episodic Transmedia Storytelling

Finally of course, additional secondary media might be added to two primary media platforms – as shown in Figure 7

Figure 7: Multi-layered Transmedia Story.

Allow Audience to Go with the  Flow

So far I’ve assumed that all audience members are to be treated equally. But why not reward engaged followers with either additional content or early “pre-release” content? And if you do, does it matter that they might share with others ahead of the “proper” release?

I believe that when you have someone that’s engaged you should allow them to ride the engagement out and see where it takes them. This means allowing them to request additional content on demand ahead of the release schedule which I further believe has the potential to turn engaged audiences to advocates – hence recruiting more audience.

YouTube’s “Unlisted” video option is perfect for this: casual viewers won’t see or find the video before it’s made public but engaged audiences can be sent the link.

Transmedia Example

My Lowlifes project has three primary media: novella, webisodes and blog. I determined that it should be scheduled to be released two days apart over a period of 15 days or so.  I felt that daily would lead to content overload and at three days the whole release would drag on too long.

One approach would have been to alternate the media – novella chapter on day 1, video on day 2, blog on day 3 and so on. But this would have incorrectly implied a sequence or priority to the media platforms that I was keen to avoid.

Consequently, at the same time content is made public, subscribers receive an email with links to the three media episodes plus the ability to request additional content from anywhere within the series. This would allow someone who was really into the videos, for example, to watch them all in one sitting by simply requesting them.

It’s not a problem for me if someone grabs all the videos and posts them all on their own blog because my objective is to get them seen. It’s evergreen content and within 3 weeks it would all be available in any case.

For Lowlifes, the scheduling and on-demand requests for content is made possible by a service called Conducttr -a pervasive entertainment platform from my company tstoryteller.com and will soon be available for all members of our Community.


In summary then, if you assume that the audience always has something better to do with their time and money, it will absolutely focus your mind on maintaining engagement between webisodes and this will:

  • determine the optimum release schedule where you have the flexibility to choose it
  • highlight the need for a transmedia experience around an inflexible release schedule
  • provoke a discussion about whether you should allow content on demand for the most engaged audience members.

What is Pervasive Entertainment?

robert | December 12, 2010  ‐  4 Comments

Pervasive entertainment is entertainment untethered and unencumbered by time, location and reality. For those who like equations, here’s one:

pervasive entertainment = ubiquitous media + participatory experience + real world + good storytelling

Pervasive entertainment may start with single-media – fictional story in a book or a true story in a TV documentary – yet will then spiral outwards to encompass more media platforms, more audience participation and more touchpoints (touchpoint = online and real world places where audiences come in contact with the entertainment).

Pervasive entertainment becomes a living, breathing entertainment experience that continues without you – evolving, morphing, refining, improving, growing – even when you’re not watching. But the story has you hooked. The evolution of the experience has you hooked.

You know that if you turn on your mobile device they’ll be another piece of content to grip you further; to drive you deeper. Soon you’ll become addicted; crazy for another fix: a tweet, an email, a video, a puzzle, a PDF, a link, a blog comment…

…and when the content doesn’t arrive you’ll create it yourself. You’ll feed someone else’s addiction.

Pervasive entertainment blurs the line between real-world and fictional world; between work time and play time; between author-directed plot and audience-improvised role-play.

Pervasive entertainment is transmedia storytelling evolved 😉

What is Transmedia?

robert | December 12, 2010  ‐  2 Comments

Q: Does the “trans” in transmedia stand for transfer or transcend?
A: It has to be both

Transmedia storytelling is more than just having the reader jump from one media to another, it’s having the story transcend the media – to engage and engross the audience to the degree that they don’t notice the media switch.

Many argue that the best single-media – a good book or a good movie – has the power to take the audience away to another place and forget the current surroundings. That’s true. But what happens when the book is read and the movie over? There are questions: Why? How? Who? Where? And that’s when the best transmedia storytelling leverages that engagement by removing the decision making between “the book I’ve just finished” and “where can I buy the next piece of media in this franchise?” Transmedia storytelling seamlessly transports the audience from media to media on a cushion of coherent storyworld (and frictionless purchasing process?).

Transmedia: Evolved

Transmedia storytelling is a large umbrella that covers multiple single-media projects and a single multiple-media project… and of course the two combined.

It’s easy to call the first type of transmedia “a franchise” because it most closely resembles what we’re familiar with – the book adapted to become a movie adapted to become a game adapted to become a toy… except of course in transmedia storytelling neither media is an adaptation of the other: they’ll all originals but with the same roots (like siblings but with no twins).

That second type of transmedia storytelling  – the single multiple-media project – is more often than not referred to as an ARG because again that is the implementation with the highest profile. But an ARG is a special type of  transmedia project.

So how should I describe entertainment can grow and contract to suit my time and location (and device if one is needed)? A form of transmedia storytelling that in one moment is single-media and at another moment multiple media? Not quite an ARG and yet interactive, participatory and blurs the line between fact and fiction?

It’s called Pervasive Entertainment.

Content Strategy for Publishers and Authors

robert | November 16, 2010  ‐  No Comments

I was honored to have been invited to be a panelist on the Digital Book World webcast on content strategy.  The presentation is below but the audio can be found at the Digital Book World website.

Measuring Return on Investment in Transmedia

robert | October 27, 2010  ‐  4 Comments

It’s becoming increasingly common to create free content or experiences  to publicize the release of a paid product. For example, a comic book give-away or web video series as a prequel to a AAA game or an ARG (alternative reality game) for a movie.

There are those who wonder if this free content is only for the benefit of existing consumers/fans who would buy the paid content in any case… and hence the question arises “why bother”?

The presentation below explains why free content & experiences make good business sense and how it can be cost-justified (a) if the goals are known [increased awareness, increased advocacy, increased revenue, improved insights] and (b) there is a content strategy to support the goals.

View more presentations from Zen Films.

Transmedia and Augmented Reality

robert | October 14, 2010  ‐  5 Comments

This is a presentation I gave in Silicon Valley to a team exploring Augmented Reality (AR). The goal was to provide an overview of what transmedia was and then to suggest ways in which one might approach using AR as part of a transmedia experience.

How the Music Business Can Benefit from Narrative Engagement

robert | September 23, 2010  ‐  2 Comments

This is a presentation made to the Music Business School in London, England that discusses narrative engagement as a way to connect with fans and increase revenue.The Music Business School operates a fast-track  industry course for those running or seeking to run independent record labels and developing recording artists.

Some important points made in the presentation are:
(a) why and how storytelling techniques can be used to increase sales
(b) why the audience should be placed at the heart of everything the label does
(c) why a music tax collected via ISPs is a bad idea for independents
(d) how piracy can be embraced and used as a part of a multi-platform business strategy.

View more webinars from Zen Films.
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