As the concept of transmedia storytelling becomes increasingly mainstream it is important that we do not lose ourselves in continuous debates on what transmedia storytelling is and what it is not. It is relatively easy to theorize and predict with no end; what is considerably harder, however, is to turn all this transmedia theory into practical advice. Granted, we are still experimenting a lot with what works and what doesn’t, but I do believe that it is important to begin to compile transmedia successes, basic economic mechanisms, and common-sense into manuals, guide-books, and/or best-practice sets. What follows is my attempt to do so, in the form of a draft that remains subject to change.
A) The Pillars of a Transmedia Strategy
A successful transmedia strategy rests on the following nine pillars:
1. Narrative and narration: What the story is, and how it is being told. Both narrative and narration need to be outstanding in order to cultivate an engaging and valuable cross-platform experience for audiences.
2. Audience: Who will listen, engage with, and experience the story. Transmedia producers must know their audiences extremely well, and must be keenly aware of who their consumers are, on which media they spend the majority of their days, and how much money they have to spend.
3. Production: The integration of creativity and business. In order for a transmedia project to be successful, the creative side and the business side need to be aligned and work towards a common vision. Discrepancies between the creative and the business departments can quickly cause a loss in product quality, a blemish of the brand image, and in the worst case, can alienate fans and audiences.
4. Multiple Platforms: The whole point of a transmedia project. Some experts believe in a minimum amount of platforms that need to be involved to make a story truly ‘transmedia,’ but I for one believe that even two different platforms are enough if both are actively used to convey different parts of the overall universe or narrative. How many platforms need or should be employed really depends on the type of intellectual property involved and must be assessed on an individual level.
5. Platform Potency: The assessment of which platforms lend themselves best to conveying different parts of the story universe – both stylistically and practically/economically. Leveraging platform potency can have a significant effect on how audiences experience a story and on a project’s financial returns.
6. Economics: Both initial funding and a clear, reliable plan on how to monetize one’s transmedia story. One will not work without the other. Starting a project off with funding is one thing, but sustaining it in the long-run is completely different. Even without a need to make profits paying for a story’s upkeep requires careful planning and a decent return on investment.
7. Legislation and politics: Needless to say, transmedia producers must be aware of and comply with the laws regulating them and their work. In some cases, this can even involve actual politics. What is particularly important is that in the age of globalization, this awareness of legislation and policies exceeds the domestic level and encompasses the situation in countries around the world.
8. Marketing/communication: One useful by-product of a transmedia narrative is that each platform promotes all others. However, transmedia producers must not rely on this effect alone. Instead, they should make a conscious effort to map the experience for their audiences, both through cross-links embedded in the story and pointers at the end of one platform’s content.
9. Participation/engagement: Consumers need to have a possibility to be involved, a prerequisite of today’s times. It remains up to the transmedia producer’s discretion whether this involvement takes the form of mere interactivity – controlled by the producer – or whether it also includes participation – a chance for audiences to use their thoughts, opinions, and imagination to influence the story.
B) Aspects Crucial to All Strategic Decisions
In addition to the seven pillars that a successful transmedia strategy rests upon, there is also a set of aspects that transmedia producers must consider from the very beginning and each time they make a strategic decision:
1. The audience: Who they are, what they want, what they expect, which media platforms they use most.
2. The vision: What are my project, my brand, and my business about? What are our goals? What are our values?
3. State of the project: Where is the transmedia project now? Where is it situated in relation to the producers’ vision, the audience, and economic interests? How has the narrative universe unfolded so far? Which platforms is the project using currently, and which platforms offer the best prospects for future use?
4. The competitors: Who else is out there? What are they doing? Where are they headed? Are they getting/ have they gotten dangerous? What do they have that I do not, and in turn, what do I have that they lack?
5. Current trends and developments: What is going on in the world? In my field? Is audience behavior changing? What sparked any relevant changes and how can they be useful to my project and my vision?
6. Probable trends and developments: What is going to happen? What signs are there and what do they say? Are they relevant to my project?
7. Globality: What relevant developments are taking place on a global scale? Are there any changes that facilitate or hinder my plans to distribute globally?
C) Key Rules
These are mostly based on common sense, but it cannot hurt to draw attention to them:
1. Plan ahead like in all other business plans. Make a 1-, 2-, 5- year plan, and have a vision of what you want your project to achieve in an ideal world.
2. Check the feasibility of all the pillars mentioned above before you start spending money on your project.
3. Pay particular attention to the global distribution possibilities of your project. It is a globalized world, and critical mass can be achieved more easily internationally than on a domestic level alone.
4. Hire an experienced entertainment lawyer and use agreements right from the very beginning. Licensing and copyright for cross-platform projects continues to be a major challenge in the age of media convergence with rapidly changing distribution models. Moreover, you want to minimize the ramifications stemming from possible creative and entrepreneurial differences within your team.
5. Have an artistic vision besides your business vision. Storytelling and the creation of media content remains an art, and it is the artistic vision that will make your project stand out from the mass by creating a connection to your audience.
6. Know your audience. Understand your audience. And most importantly, understand what your audience values. Consumers do not pay for the product itself, but for the value it generates for them.
7. Monitor trends very closely. Times are changing more rapidly than ever, and it is important to keep up with the times, and ideally, to be one step ahead. You want to be a leader, not a follower.
8. Have a clear measure of success. Define your critical mass from the beginning, set your own goals for financial success and exposure, and adjust all of them according to the features of your project (e.g. target audience, initial investment, distribution channels, etc.)