In Ireland, we have a long history of storytelling. Seanchaí (pronounced shan-a-key) were traditional Irish storytellers who could spin tales of Celtic myths and legends. They were the form of entertainment back in the day, and it explains why there are so many good Irish poets and authors. Oscar Wilde, anyone?
While you don’t have to have the same talent as James Joyce or Samuel Beckett to become one of the great digital storytellers, there’s a lot you can learn and apply from these talented (analog) writers.
Overview: What is digital storytelling?
Digital storytelling is about creating a message and telling a story with digital tools and technology. It encompasses different digital elements, such as images, text, music, narration, and animation.
Digital storytelling done well follows the same principles of regular storytelling:
- A good hook or introduction
- A strong and clear message
- Show, don't tell
The idea is to connect with your audience by telling a story that resonates with them, makes them feel some sort of emotion, and prompts them to take the desired next action (retain the information, subscribe to a newsletter, complete the assignment, etc).
Storytelling media has several purposes, such as:
- In the marketing department to better engage customers
- In a classroom (physical or virtual) to provide a better way for students to absorb information
- In an e-course where a student has to use digital storytelling to complete an assignment in a learning management system
3 benefits of digital storytelling
Whether you’re using digital storytelling to market your product or to engage learners in a course you are teaching, here are three benefits that apply to all scenarios.
1. Harness innovation
Digital storytelling gives you the chance to use new technologies and make the most of different digital mediums to tell your story. It helps you stand out and engage more tech-savvy audiences who are used to and expect to see the latest technologies, whether in a learning environment or when being exposed to marketing messages.
Think about using a mix of any of the following:
- Facial recognition
- Virtual reality
- Augmented reality
- Data visualizations
2. Tap into different skill sets
Some people are good writers and excel at using words to get across their point of view. Others are more visual and use imagery to express their message, while others still are super tech-savvy and can use the latest platforms and tools to create content. And some people are storyline creators; they have the ideas but they aren’t able to effectively execute them.
With digital storytelling, you can harness a mix of these different skills to produce a creative message that not only stands out as a whole but is also strong in all of the required elements.
3. Better engage your audience
You could poll a group of people and find that one person loves reading blog posts, another prefers watching videos, and someone else wants to see images on social media. Our attention spans are shortening, which means you need to push boundaries to keep your audience engaged.
Whether they are in the classroom, at home, or in a store, you can use digital storytelling to surprise your audience, to show them something they haven’t seen before, and to challenge their perspectives. If you combine new approaches with a strong mission and a clear goal, then you’ll have a better chance of creating successful digital content.
German retailer Aldi hit gold with audience engagement when it launched its Kevin the Carrot Christmas ad back in 2016. It’s been so successful that it now spans multiple mediums, including toys that people .
How to create a digital storytelling strategy
Having an idea is just one element of digital storytelling. You need a strategy that will help you execute that idea for a successful outcome.
1. Be authentic
Being authentic means staying true to your mission and who you are as a company. Don’t suddenly throw your brand voice and identity out the window just to try to fit with a certain trend. If you’re known for being thoughtful and serious, don’t suddenly start throwing out jokes and memes just because of a hashtag on Twitter.
Innocent Drinks has a strong brand identity and its digital content reflects this. It is known for its sense of humor, witty comments on social media, and inventive ideas.
In the style of a news announcement, it unveiled its range of breakfast smoothies on Twitter using ingredients such as toast and sausages. Of course, this was a joke and the brand shared a picture of its real breakfast smoothies using fruit and vegetables in a post below.
This digital narrative was on brand, and the company continued to stay on brand in all of its comments and replies to the post.
2. Optimize the story for different devices
Don’t let the idea of your story overwhelm all other aspects of the digital storytelling process. If you want your story to have an impact, your audience needs to be able to easily access it in the optimal format.
If your video doesn’t play on mobile, or the images don’t show up correctly on different screens and devices, then your story will not be successful in creating an emotional connection with your audience.
3. Take a data-driven approach
Just because you get the opportunity to be creative doesn’t mean that you should forget all you know about your audience when putting together your content.
Remember to tailor your approach to your audience. Consider the demographic you’re targeting. Here are some questions you should think about when delving deep into your data:
- What kind of language and tone resonates with your audience?
- What topics do they care about?
- What devices and channels do they use?
4. Work to your timeframe and budget
It’s important to be realistic when coming up with an idea for a digital story. As an interactive storyteller, you might get carried away by the possibilities (we’ve all seen this happen on The Apprentice), but if you can’t achieve it in the specified timeframe or within your budget, then you need to rethink your idea.
A digital story doesn’t have to be complicated or use a lot of different technologies; the most important part is to convey your message effectively in a way that will resonate with your audience.
5. Measure your success
As with any other tool that you use to engage your audience, you need to set goals. What do you want to achieve and how will you measure the results? Which metrics best indicate success or failure?
As part of your digital storytelling process, you could test different versions of the same story using different digital tools and mediums. This will help you understand which elements of your story lead to success and how you can optimize your storytelling efforts to engage your audience.
Strategy before idea
Digital storytelling is not a silver bullet for audience engagement. The content needs to be relevant, your tone needs to be tailored to your audience, you need a good idea, and you need to execute in a way that users can easily consume, all while staying within budget.
You need a narrative that is just as brilliant and engaging as Beckett’s masterpiece Waiting for Godot, but one that is much less confusing and answers your audience’s questions.
Make sure you have a proper strategy in place, so you know you aren’t throwing money at the latest trend without being sure of what you will achieve.