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Digital Storytelling: Breaking Down the Buzz

The latest buzzword is “digital storytelling” a term that is casually used to describe almost everything communicated on the internet. Bloggers, marketers, communicators and teachers have undermined the useful definition of this phrase by using it every chance that they can.

PRSA Boston and The Boston Globe decided to help professionals navigate the landscape of digital storytelling by hosting a panel discussion on June 12th. Panelists spoke about digital trends, strategies and tactics that create a definition of digital storytelling for the PR professional.

Digital Storytelling 1(From left to right, Julie Dennehy of PRSA Boston, Alvin Chang of The Boston Globe, Erin Hayes and Ian Barett of MediaBoss Television)


Here are the three insights that stole my attention during this event.

  1. Shooting great looking video is easier than you think…don’t sacrifice quality.

    “Treat everything like it’s going to be broadcast content…just in case CNN calls."
    -Ian Barrett
    Creative Director, MediaBoss Television & Owner, Ian Barrett Agency, Inc

    You never know how much attention a video is going to get. If the content gets picked up more than you thought it would, the last thing that you want is to be stuck with footage quality that does not do its content justice. Most people’s smartphones shoot HD 1080p quality video. The only other factors that you have to worry about are lighting and sound. Picking up an external microphone for your iPhone may come in handy more than you think.

  2. As content becomes more interactive, start to stomach the fact that you are not in control.

    “Is it worth creating a playground even if kids are going to get hurt?”
    -Alvin Chang
    Newsroom developer/ data visualization specialist

    This is the question the Boston Globe had to ask itself before creating an interactive map of the downtown area following the April 15th Boston Bombings. Bostonians are invited to click on the map to pinpoint the location where they stood when the bombs went off. Then there is an option to type in the narrative of your experience at that location. Whether someone’s narrative is a tame reflection or an emotional nightmare, the commentary is the content.

    Sometimes the creator is not the storyteller. Sometimes your audience wants more interaction than a distant comment section can facilitate. Sometimes people want content that creates community, and when this happens, be prepared to take a back seat to your audience.

  3. A big key to shareable content is quick digestion.

    Why will people care about your content? What is the story and what is the language that makes it most digestible? This strategic positioning is still the beating heart of the professional communicator. The digital revolution did not change your job description as much as you think.

    For example, The Boston Globe created another map that highlights every Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks location in the U.S. in two different colors. How long does it take you to understand the story being told? Dunkin Donuts has not expanded across the country as much as Starbucks and still remains very centralized around its northeast headquarters. Maybe America doesn’t run on Dunkin? You looked at the map for a half of a second and you got it. Readers don’t have to waste any of their precious Twitter characters on a spoon-fed headline because they immediately have their own to write.

Digital Storytelling 2As the capabilities of digital content continue to evolve, so will the practical definition of digital storytelling by the PR professional. The individuals who have the courage to challenge the definition of buzzwords such as digital storytelling will be the ones that help move us forward on this timeline of innovation.



Photo Credit: Bill Bradley, Principal, Bottom Line Communications

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Mike Sotiriadis

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