By Caitlin Burns

Geek Culture has become increasingly powerful in Hollywood and Fan Communities on social networks are as sought after by consumer product companies as they are by TV shows and feature films. What draws fans to a property, product or community? What is the magic alchemy that gives some properties armies of loyal torchbearers?

Social communities have always been built around shared interest, and some of the most powerful examples of pre-internet social communities are fan clubs and communities, like those that sprang up following Star Trek, Howdy Doody, Soap Operas and countless others. In the absence of the Internet as a means of organizing, fan magazines, comic book conventions sprang up that over decades have become institutions where studios and other companies spend millions to present their new properties to new fans.

A strong fan base provides word of mouth advertising and a staging point where viral marketing campaigns can quickly launch. These fans can also sustain a property long term, like fans of Star Wars, who remained zealously loyal to the brand for decades between films.

What draws fans strongly to properties are aspirational drivers, themes and messages within a franchise, or associated with a product, that resonate on a very human level. Transmedia Storytelling is a method of providing content to highlight those themes and messages, by consistently integrating them into stories everywhere fans can think of looking for them.

From the driving platform, where the largest range of audience members have access to the property, those who are engaged will immediately, often before the property is released, start looking for additional content on different platforms, online, on cell phones, in magazines, etc… This system has been more or less the same, with ever-advancing technology, for 15 years. From promotional websites, to trailer releases to fan networks operated by studios. Fan sites such as www.aintitcoolnews.com and www.rottentomatoes.com are examples of sites that dictate as much consumer-action as profoundly as newspaper reviews once did.

People not only rely on these communities and sources as reference but expect a certain amount of interactivity as a normal part of a film’s release. The material as a whole follows a traditional magazine format, showing snippets of the film and reviews by critics but is the primarily the same format that one saw reviews and trailers presented in since the 1930s. What then, distinguishes a property? How can social media be used as a tool to expand on these antiquated formats?

Audience members and consumers on the whole, are savvy and proficient in following content across the platforms available to them. As the viral marketing revolution shows, word of mouth is a powerful tool that can catapult a story or ad from one niche to mass-market exposure. Why do they do this? They want more.

Each week thousands log onto websites to see extended previews of the next episodes of their favorite shows, once they’re logged in, additional narrative content keeps viewers tuning in again and again, in between airings of episodes, and in the time between seasons. These narrative strings create added value for a property that can be sponsored, or packaged later to provide new revenue streams around a property. There are many ways to provide additional narrative content to the fan communities that spring up around new releases (and older releases): alternate reality games, casual games or interviews with cast members, and centrally, official property hubs that help direct fans to new threads in a Transmedia Storytelling tapestry are fantastic tools to validate fans, and create long-term fan loyalty. The more often fans are validated by the properties they adore, the more loyal they become.

Providing opportunities to explore fictional worlds, based around stories or products, is an excellent way to create and maintain fan interest, especially if the additional effort can be later celebrated by the property by including elements from the extended narrative in the driving platform’s storyline. A single line of dialogue in a film that is related to something in a related video game, online story, or other fan endeavor, can send fans into rapturous cheers and really cements the dedication of torchbearer fans, those who are evangelizing the property to others and makes them feel included in the world in a very solid way that is easy to execute and creates incredible loyalty.

Social Media is all about interactivity, and modern audiences crave a sense of connection to characters and stories they love. Expanding the universe of a narrative into and around social networks, providing additional content and creating inroads for fans to feel ownership in a property’s fictional world is a sure way to extend the life of a property into a world-class, franchise that stands the test of time.

Caitlin Burns is a Transmedia Producer and Editorial Lead at Starlight Runner Entertainment. To hear more of her thoughts on media, follow her and catch up on her other blogs through Twitter: Caitlin_Burns

Caitlin Burns
Caitlin Burns has spent a decade working with narrative intellectual property franchises, independent artists, brands and philanthropic initiatives as a transmedia producer. Developing content strategies, overseeing multiplatform story worlds and localization campaigns spanning the globe, she understands what it takes to create a success story. Her work includes projects with Starlight Runner Entertainment including Pirates of the Caribbean, Disney Fairies, and Tron Legacy for Disney, James Cameron’s Avatar for Fox, Halo for Microsoft, Happiness Factory for The Coca-Cola Company, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for Nickelodeon and Transformers for Hasbro. She has also worked with Sony, Showtime, Pepperidge Farm, Scholastic, Tribeca New Media Fund, FEMSA, Wieden+Kennedy, Reebok and Stratasys.
Caitlin Burns

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