All about Digital Storytelling
Human brains have evolved alongside a continuous tradition of storytelling that stretches back to our earliest history – literally – because our earliest history was traded in the form of verbal stories, long before writing was invented.
Our ancestors, who paid attention to cautionary tales, or learned from stories about how to overcome problems or gain advantages, survived - and passed on their genes.
The result: our brains are evolutionarily primed to receive and process information in the form of a story.
Businesses have realized how effective storytelling can be. It’s now much more common to see storytelling in action – persuading, educating, and motivating people.
What is Digital Storytelling?
What is a digital story?
A digital story is quite simply storytelling that uses digital technology. This can take myriad forms, including long-form personal anecdotes and micro-stories that consist of just a few scenes.
Most digital stories are made using videos, and this is what most people think of when you talk about ‘digital storytelling.’ It’s worth noting that there is no prescriptive format for a digital story - it can include any kind of visual (or sensory) element. Some of the most effective digital stories are nonlinear in nature, relying on audience interaction to drive the story forwards.
Why Digital Storytelling?
There are many reasons to use digital storytelling. The digital media we use for storytelling today enable businesses and organizations to share their stories instantly, with audiences around the globe.
Digital storytelling isn’t restricted by borders or specific technology – it can travel around the world and captivate audiences. This means any content can be shown on any screen or other digital display.
Digital storytelling also happens to take place in the same arena where we spend most of our time – the digital world.
Whether via a smartphone, laptop, or dedicated screen, we’re all sitting in the perfect position for receiving digital stories that matter.
What is the goal of digital storytelling?
The goal of digital storytelling depends on you. Digital storytelling is a tool. Like any story, a digital story is created to share knowledge and ideas, or to persuade people of a particular viewpoint.
For business, digital storytelling can be used for a number of goals. Some examples:
- Helping staff train more effectively
- Raising awareness of social/workplace issues
- Increasing deal sizes and reducing the sales cycle
- Shaping your brand identity in the mind of your customer
- Helping customers understand your offer in a relatable way
Moreover, digital storytelling has a special trick that makes it a special communications tool – emotion. Digital stories can elicit powerful emotional responses in audiences. This is something hard to achieve with any other medium.
What is the difference between storytelling and digital storytelling?
Digital storytelling is a subtype of storytelling – it’s storytelling that uses digital media and visual communication. However, there are some distinctions that make digital storytelling particularly valuable.
Digital storytelling at its best will use a combination of carefully chosen scenes, characters, and backing music to create a full-sensory, emotional experience.
Without digital media it is much harder to achieve the same depth of engagement. Studies have shown that digital storytelling has a unique ability to engage audiences, forming a deeper connection to the subject. It has even been shown to have the ability to evoke empathy and change deeply-ingrained attitudes.
Digital storytelling techniques
To make your digital storytelling impactful, you can use several proven techniques. These can help ensure that your core message gets across, with the right impact.
How do you create a digital story?
What are the 6 steps of digital storytelling?
Creating a digital story is a complex business, but it can be divided into 6 clear steps to make it easier to succeed.
- Brainstorm your digital story concept
Sketch out ideas and flow. Flowcharts mind maps can be helpful. Identify key features, audience, and emotional triggers.
- Write a script for the digital story
Using characters you have identified. Use the elements of storytelling (below) to write a compelling narrative with an emotional hook.
- Create a storyboard and shot list
A sketch of each scene can help when it comes to the filming, but use a format that makes sense for your story. A shot list is perhaps more important, and this is derived from your storyboard. The shot list should include every shot needed to make each scene in your storyboard. Consider what B-roll footage you might need to keep the audience’s attention and add depth to the scenes.
Remember you don’t need to film in the same order as your story! Rationalize your resources and organize the filming to minimize non-productive time. If you’re using regular people instead of actors, it can be very helpful to spend 5 minutes ‘warming up’ and getting them used to talking on film. Rehearsals are also recommended to keep additional takes to a minimum.
- Assemble your story
Using film editing software, the scenes are put in order and given all the finishing touches they need. The soundtrack can be finalized too, with any voiceover or music for adding details or setting the mood. Save your work in whichever format/s make sense for your distribution strategy.
Share your digital story using a purpose-built digital storytelling solution, or using whatever screens your audience will want to watch your digitial story on.
What are the 7 elements of digital storytelling?
There are 7 elements that make digital storytelling highly effective. These are:
Every story must have a hero for the audience to identify with. The hero is not you – it’s the customer. Give the audience clear cues that indicate this, such as shared challenges or relatable situations. The soundtrack can be a valuable tool for this.
Grab the audience’s attention with a clear problem. There’s a sound scientific reason for this – when a clear and recognizable problem triggers a release of cortisol in the brain, which forces the mind to pay attention. Use challenges familiar to your audience.
This is you. Guides almost always pop up in stories, and they help The Hero get on the right path. In a business context, you do this by showing the customer how you understand the problem and that you can help them solve it.
We have short attention spans, so it’s good to make this a prominent part of the story and keep it easy to understand. Just a few steps are enough. Make it clear how you, The Guide, feature in these plans.
What’s at stake? Why does it matter? There might be a million reasons, but without a strong emotional component your story will fall short. Emotional investment in the character is what makes it engaging and the reason the audience keeps watching to the end. What if he doesn’t catch the train? Will the puppy fall down the chasm?
We could also call this ‘a close shave.’ The function of this element is to entertain the idea that failure is still possible. You’ll recognize this from action movies, when The Hero comes perilously close to ‘losing it all’. It leaves the audience on the edge of their seats and makes the ending so much more satisfying. For your customer, this might mean seeing a relatable character (someone like them) coming close to experiencing failure, imagining it, or seeing it happen to a competitor. The thing that prevents this near-disaster is your solution, Delivering Success (below).
Like the dessert at the end of a fulfilling meal, delivering a sweet taste of success is the final act in your story. It makes all the danger and effort worthwhile, and it closes the loop of your tale. Consider the aspirations of your audience here, and make it relatable to them.
How long is a typical digital story?
There is no predefined ‘ideal length’ for a digital story – it depends a lot on the specifics of the subject and audience. However, a general trend is emerging for shorter, more bitesize content. Video streaming platforms offer so many options that audiences are waiting to skip to the next piece of juicy content. For this reason, a general audience will tolerate 2 minutes of video, whereas an audience motivated to learn about a specific topic will happily devote 10 minutes to an engaging story. In social media contexts, 30 seconds might be perfect. It is better to assume that audiences will want to ‘snack’ on smaller stories than invest a lot of time.
What are the dos and don’ts of storytelling?
- Identify your audience, and make it interesting to them.
- Keep it real – use authentic stories that are realistic and true-to-life.
- Use interesting, relatable, 3D characters. Not stereotypes.
- Keep it simple and clear. Make it easy to understand.
- Use emotion. Be aspirational and inspirational, and pull those heartstrings.
- Use too much detail or not enough. Get the balance right.
- Confuse the audience with jargon. Use everyday language.
- Make it about sales. Keep it about the hero (your audience).
- Use words when images can suffice. Time is limited and words take time.
- Exclude input from others. Research and multiple perspectives create richer stories.
What are the 6 main elements of storytelling?
There are 6 main elements of storytelling. Consider these carefully when you brainstorm your concept and create your script. The 6 main elements of storytelling are plot, theme/style, point of view, setting, conflict, and characters.
- Plot – this is the overall action of your story, a description of events in chronological order.
- Theme/style – this is the aesthetic aspect. Lighting, music, filming style, and delivery all play a role.
- Point of view – is it 1st person? 3rd person? Are you following multiple characters?
- Setting – it should be clear where/when the action is taking place. Home or Office? Outdoors or indoors?
- Conflict – this is often embodied by ‘The Problem’ that must be overcome.
- Characters – every story needs characters, so the audience can relate them to people in their own lives.
What are the golden rules of storytelling?
There are several ‘golden rules’ of storytelling that can help your digital stories reach the desired effect. The three most important golden rules for storytelling are identified by storyteller Jonah Sacks, who recognizes the growing influence of social media in the way we share and consume stories.
1. Build it around emotion, not facts. The personal experience is what gives stories their power. Lace each story with the emotional impacts, opinions, human connection, and shared values.
2. It’s not about you. Even when it is. People want stories with characters they can relate to, and which symbolize values. Characters are proxies for the values they display, which are rewarded or punished.
3. Be authentic, not boastful. Stories in a ‘social era’ are different to the time when messages were simply broadcast. People want a personal narrative to match the synthetic personal experience that social media offers. If your product is amazing, then show it in the context of a personal experience, instead of just saying it. And be honest – because dishonesty is a serious risk.
What makes a good story? 4 lessons from the Pixar method of storytelling.
Pixar is well known and much loved for their wildly popular animated movies. For this reason, they are a good case study in powerful storytelling that uses simple rules. The Pixar method of storytelling consists of these elements:
- A Protagonist with a clear goal that drives the plot.
- The protagonist must have opposition to their goal, which must be overcome.
- The protagonist should have flaws (ideally relatable ones).
- The protagonist must have their own emotional arc and ‘personal growth’ story.
As you can see, Pixar’s method overlaps considerably with the 7 elements of storytelling above. Pixar uses this simple structure to drive a compelling story that is enjoyable to any audience. Using this structure makes it easy for the audience to navigate the plot, with familiar ‘landmarks’ that are found in every good story. There are additional elements too, such as a sprinkling of humor and the highlighting of wider issues – but these are the cherry on the cake.
Ultimately, what makes a good story is just a clear structure (using the four points above).
Examples of Digital Storytelling
Digital storytelling is used in many different ways, across every industry and sector. It is used to inform, persuade, entertain, and educate. It can also be used to create deeper customer relationships and forge a strong brand identity.
Digital storytelling for events
Companies use digital storytelling at events to capture attention and demonstrate tangible benefits. This is especially valuable for software companies, or businesses that have complex solutions.
Using an immersive experience, potential customers can be shown stories that show relatable characters struggling with familiar challenges – which are solved by your amazing product. This is the perfect launchpad for exploring the details further interactively with digital signage, 3D content, and technical specifications.
Events like tradeshows can also leverage this immersive digital storytelling by using a portable immersive storytelling solution such as the PopIX.
Using digital storytelling at the office
Customers can really get a handle on your offer using immersive digital storytelling at marketing events, but many companies also incorporate storytelling into their Experience Centers. These can include Immersive Experiences, combined with other digital storytelling tools like digital signage and interactive signage.
Many businesses have now realized that their investment in digital storytelling hardware can also be re-employed for generating internal value. Training and onboarding using digital storytelling has been demonstrated as being highly effective and timesaving.
Digital storytelling in the classroom
The education sector has been an ‘early adopter’ of digital storytelling. Many schools and universities offer courses on how to create and use digital stories. Moreover, digital storytelling is used by the education sector for many of the same goals as private industry. Recruitment, onboarding, and training are all areas where storytelling is used to have faster and better impacts in education. It has special value for communicating ‘soft values,’ such as respect, tolerance, and patience, by framing them within a relatable narrative.
Tips & Tools for Digital storytelling
General tips for digital storytelling
We’ve seen many ways you can use digital storytelling to elevate your brand experience. The next step is doing it, and doing it well. Here are some tips that will keep your digital storytelling on-track:
Tip #1 Customize stories for the audience
You can’t use the same story for different audiences and expect the same result. Each audience will have their own pain points and aspirations, and your stories must speak to these. Carefully select characters and situations for each target audience.
Tip #2 Set the mood
Emotion is the ruler of storyland – not facts. To this end, you should do everything to set the scene. Choose music that accompanies this perfectly, and creates the right mood for your story.
Tip #3 Keep it simple
Don’t create a complex story that will leave people puzzled. Use a clear structure and just a few points. A simple story is often more effective that one packed with many facets.
Tip #4 Make it interactive
Your stories will be more engaging if you can create ways for the audience to interact. ‘Gamification’ has been a big buzzword in recent years, because it does exactly this. Touch-capable screens and non-linear storytelling can make it more interactive.
Tip #5 Organize your digital assets
As you start to build a library of digital stories, you’ll need a way to organize and access your digital assets. This helps your company retain better control over its storytelling. Out-of-date assets can be removed, and customized stories can be created using a common library of shared assets such as music, 3D content, and other media.
Digital storytelling tools
There are some amazing digital storytelling tools that can help you tell your brand story. Storytelling has an unrivaled power to win hearts and minds, with captivating experiences that leverage emotion effectively. However, to make the most of your storytelling, you need to be able to use it in different situations, and in the best way for your brand.
The most important digital storytelling tool is the software used to deploy and manage each experience.
How do I start digital storytelling?
For businesses and organizations, the best way to start digital storytelling is with a professional storytelling platform like Hyro. This makes it easier for everyone in the organization to access and use digital stories at each opportunity. The Hyro software enables companies to create a library of digital assets that can be used to create every digital story in an ‘on brand’ way, with approved visuals, 3D content, music and other media.
How do I learn digital storytelling?
The best way to start learning digital storytelling is to do it. Using the 6 steps of digital storytelling and the 7 elements of digital storytelling above, you will gain a head-start. Start with a simple story, and go from there.
How do you create a digital story?
You need an organized structure to create a digital story. Digital stories are made from lots of digital media assets, so these need to go together perfectly to make it work. Your digital storytelling software is critical for this. In addition, you’ll need some standard software such as video editing software to create each video before it is added to the library.
What are the best storytelling strategies for each sector?
Each sector has its own idiosyncrasies. These translate to unique challenges – and storytelling can help you overcome them. Let’s look at three sectors, and how the specific challenges shape storytelling for each one.
Retail is under a lot of pressure. Consumers are rapidly changing their shopping habits, and supply chains are becoming both more complex and fragile. Both B2B and B2C retail companies must use storytelling that is agile, but also retains evergreen components. Branding is a core value with enduring qualities, and this should be leveraged heavily. Storytelling for the retail sector should be highly targeted, and focus on linking your products to customer identity and the retail experience.
Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCGs) are an important part of the consumer economy. Low margins are offset by high volumes and frequent stock turns, however the retailer perspective of risk is a strong factor. Overcoming doubts with storytelling is a secret weapon for the FMCG industry, and to do this you need to demonstrate how your products are linked to the deep rhythms of people’s lives.
It’s easy to focus on the features and capabilities of software, but this can fall short. To achieve impact, the software sector uses storytelling to demonstrate tangible effects and benefits. You should use stories for specific market segments: strategic values for C-suite, tangible benefits for managers, and more technical aspects for the IT department and users. Each story still needs to focus on the personal experience, and not the specs.
Industrial manufacturing sector
Remembering that people buy the light, and not the bulb, storytelling for the manufacturing sector must leave behind an obsession with specifications, and look to the situation instead. Make the real world benefits clear to customers by showing them familiar challenges and how your products solve them. Storytelling is especially useful for this sector at demonstrating complex ideas and connections through the experience of the story.