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The Rise of the Corporate Transmedia Storyteller

The following is also cross-posted on

According to Google CEO Eric Schmidt, by the end of today the web will fill up with more information than what had existed in entirety prior to 2003. Much of this deluge is being created by ordinary netizens, rather than by corporations. The web has become a raging river filled with tweets, status updates, photos and videos.

There’s both a positive and negative side to this story. In fact it has spawned a divergent debate of ideas.

Nicholas Carr in his book “The Shallows” argues that the digital deluge is rewiring our brains for less depth. NYU professor Clay Shirky, meanwhile, says in his book Cognitive Surplusthat as more of us become content creators rather than consumers, it’s ushering in a new age of enlightenment.

Regardless of which side of the debate you buy into, one that sees superficiality rising versus another that envisions a new Renaissance, one thing remains clear. Space on the Internet is infinite. Time and attention, meanwhile, remain finite. Therefore, “Digital Relativity” will become a major challenge.

Taken in context, when you do the math it’s easy to see that it’s going to be harder than ever to reach people. On the one hand, social networking sites like Facebook consolidate audiences. (The average user spends five hours/month on the site.) On the other hand, social media is forcing us to make hard choices every day – Bieber vs brands, Forbes vs families, business vs. babies.

The new law of digital relativity (e.g. the relationship between time and space) means the end of scarcity. This was the currency that, for years, powered marketing budgets, filled media coffers and drove the information economy. Now that scarcity is gone, however, we will need to adopt a new set of skills.

Enter the Transmedia Storyteller.

Even though millions of us are now content producers in some form or another, the reality is there’s still chasm when it comes to quality. There’s art and there’s junk. Audiences want art.

To stand out today it’s critical that businesses create content. Activating your cadre of internal subject matter experts is the surest path to visibility. According to the 2010 Edelman Trust Barometer, the public is increasingly relying on subject matter experts as trusted authorities. And many businesses are beginning to do just that, especially on LinkedIn and Twitter.

The reality is, however, that organizations need to do more than just unleash their subject matter experts en masse. They need to activate them in multiple channels at once and equip them in how to create a compelling narrative – an emerging set of skills called Transmedia Storytelling

Transmedia Storytelling doesn’t need to be fancy. It can be executed with low budget tools. However, it does need to be thought through. It requires that a business’ subject matter experts know how to simultaneously tell good stories and to do so using text, video, audio and images depending on the venue.

Transmedia storytelling is the future of marketing. And those who can span across formats and share their expertise will stand out in an age of Digital Relativity. There’s a first-mover advantage here. However, it remains to be seen who will grab the ring.

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    Easy - Posterous - The Rise of the Corporate Transmedia Storyteller

Reader Comments (21)

Hello! Spot on. End of media scarcity, new rules of engagement, new systems thinking needed: transmedia planning [derived from the transmedia storytelling model that Jenkins developed] wrote a thesis about this a while back: ON FX

October 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFaris

Great post Steve!I think the key to this is understanding and appreciating how we connect with each other. You can tell by a few questions how someone learns by probing and listening to them then tailor a narrative towards that using a metaphor which all parties understand. Best

October 12, 2010 | Unregistered Commenter@Iconic88

Exactly! Transmedia involves telling a story in parts via a mix of media platforms. When the story parts converge, say on a person's iPad, what they get (theoretically) is a rich, engaging experience. For marketers, this ability to converge a multimedia brand story is huge as it takes marcom to a whole new level -- where relevance and context matter. Quality transmedia campaigns will be sticky while junk will be ignored. Interesting, PR folks should do well with transmedia because they understand the nuances of editorial and narrative-selling.

October 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGerryCasanovaNY

Transmedia storytelling is interesting in that it gives the view/user a role. That role is less interesting in that it appears limited to interpretation. The more interesting angle is when we consider the "P" part of "VUP". Players do more than interpret. Players influence, create, and change. They act on the board upon which they play -- or at least players of some games.I've heard this referred to as participatory transmedia. I think it's the horse to watch in this race.

October 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRobert Rebholz

Excellent points, Steve. And I think that the big boys can learn a trick or two from the hustling entrepreneurs that have been doing this. Whether it is Gary Vaynerchuk, Chris Brogan or countless others.

October 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Siteman Garland

Hi Steve - nice post. I think that transmedia is actually more than just the future of marketing, it is the future of product development & associated franchises by providing companies the ability to use storytelling as a device (through multiple "organic" media) that actively seeks participation & consensus.While not all transmedia vehicles or platform types engender participation directly (as Robert suggests), there is still an element of "media purity" (absence of scarcity) that allows for the consumption and interaction with these types to deliver on true audience/consumer desire & sentiment.In sum (and to Faris's points), transmedia could be considered storytelling in its purest form.,Gunther

October 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGunther Sonnenfeld

The important thing is that, at the end of the day, WE are the ones that made decisions on how to spend our time. All we need to do is sit down and think about those decisions; then and only then we should be able to understand what's of interest to us and those around us. Great points Steve! ~Paul

October 13, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterpaulylacosta

Steve,Totally agree. The challenge is getting clients with limited bandwidths and zero skills in this space to be prepared for the shift. The need hand holding, so I am guessing that's where you guys come in?Ed

October 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEd Cotton

Yes Ed and others.

October 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Rubel

I tend to prefer the term Cross Platform than Transmedia though. :) Our work is split 50/50 these types of projects as well as creating things for the ad industry. ( its great to see an article that speaks to a lot of the work we've done in the past with interactive documentaries like the NFB's Waterlife ( and this online fictional narrative called about a crazy 5 car collision, The Autotopsy ( A mistake a lot of producers with no digital experience make is creating a long linear story where users are just clicking next, next, next. Going from A to B to C in a digital story isn't effective... There needs to be interactivity in the content and in the way the user obtains their story. When producing and creating stories for the online world you have to think in a non-linear fashion. A user essentially needs to be the director of the content they're viewing and should be able to travel in a non linear path and experience the story in their own way.

October 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAdrian Belina

Very excited about the possibilities of transmedia but still think 75 per cent of what is being created is not art but creative brand support. I just spent two days at a transmedia conference and although some work is quality (like the Canadians above) and has integrity, it was depressing the amount of people who are willing to COMPLETELY change their content for brands without even blinking. Such people are not making art. At the moment it has huge potential but it needs much more work and integrity to be deemed a completely new art form.

October 14, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterhilary O shaughnessy

This is very interesting, but first let's define both "transmedia storytelling" and "art."According to Wikipedia (admittedly not a recognized source, but hey, work with me), "In Transmedia storytelling, content becomes invasive and fully permeates the audience's lifestyle."Let's assume that any audience is going to run screaming if we try to invade and fully permeate its lifestyle. Can someone offer me a more in-depth explanation of what this term really means?And as for art, what do we really mean when we use that term? Are we saying we're not going to insult the intelligence of the consumer? Are we saying we're not going to act like obvious salesmen? Our corporate message will instead take on some aspect of genuine value? I'm all for that.

October 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKristin Yates

Just wondering if the cool term, "transmedia storytelling" is an artful labeling of integrated media - multi-channel, niches, segments, all that. I'm not a marketer - but heard integrated media first used via a Google staffer who is in that role speaking as a part of marketing panel two years ago to entrepreneurs.

October 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah Nystrom

ello!transmedia and 'integrated' are different to my mind - i refer you back to my original post from 2006

October 19, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterfaris

Social media will make the story (rather than the proposition) THE critical marketing platfrom.

October 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRichard Stacy

I agree with Steve Rubel that Transmedia storytelling is the key to corporate and marketing communication. Last week in Social Media class at NYU we discussed Transmedia storytelling with the professor Laurel Hart who pointed out that Chilean miners’ story is a great example of Transmedia storytelling. Besides the story itself, the way Chilean government was communicating it – a number of video cameras capturing all strategic events and live-streaming it on broadcast and the Internet, followed by interpreters and English speaking journalists, media training of the miners, participation of the president – became a benchmark for future storytelling on multiple levels. I think that insightful corporate communication professionals are already using Transmedia storytelling. It’s just that there are not so many examples to learn from. Yet.

October 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commentercarcharell

What if 'transmedia storytelling' was actually used as a means to tell a story. It seems that the focus appears to be about marketing. What if a story was conceived and created specifically with 'transmedia storytelling' in mind? Essentially, storytelling and marketing become one in the same...

October 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Gibert

And from a diligence perspective, organizations that fail to look before they leap into transmedia storytelling will suffer worse than ever. Yes, the acceleration of the storytelling makes it more permissible to recover from a mess-up - because so many others are doing that too - but that same acceleration also makes it harder to successfully lead valuable conversations that hold an audience.So it pays to think long and hard, as you go along, about what your storytelling actually consists of and how effectively you are doing it.

October 28, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterddassociation

Sorry Steve, but you've somehow managed to make transmedia sound staggeringly dull. I find it fascinating that words such as “storytelling” and “transmedia” are creeping into the vocabulary of consultants and self proclaimed social media experts and I find myself wondering if you have all run out of delightful social media jargon.Has the emperor’s new clothes of social media become so tarnished Steve? Or, from a corporate communications viewpoint, does social media no longer offer the necessary differentiation for the seasoned guru? Is the “age of conversation” over and have we really entered “the age of the storyteller”?By stating that “transmedia storytelling is the future of marketing” you have, of course, positioned yourself perfectly. It’s only matter of time before David starts building PowerPoint decks and Edelman publish a Corporate Transmedia methodology (probably called something like “The Narrative Economy”).

October 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMarcus Brown

Thought-provoking entry, Steve. Thanks. It's the snarky, mean-spirited comments I find boring.

October 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJason Salyers

Hi! This is such a great article and I am sure a lot of entrepreneurs are going to benefit from this. I am Donald Brownlie Fleming, an Australian Entrepreneur, ebook author (Master Selling by Donald Brownlie Fleming) and a Philanthropist. If you have time, maybe you can visit me too:

November 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDonald Brownlie Fleming

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