How do you know if digital storytelling — that is, immersive, interactive content published to the web — is something your content team should pursue?
In this guide, we run through nine reasons why it could be time for you to try digital storytelling.
Getting your audience to click on your content isn’t easy. Whether it’s organic search, paid advertising, or referrals — you want to make sure that every click counts. The best way to do this is to optimise your content to ensure people stay on the page.
The challenge for content teams is that that word — ‘optimise’ — is slippery, and it changes over time. A decade ago, ‘optimised’ content might look like a responsive website with a nice header image. These days, though, standards have increased, and nearly every website you compete with is going to look more or less OK.
To keep readers from bouncing, you’re going to need to make your content stand out from the crowd. This is where digital storytelling can help.
Here’s a conundrum: why do companies invest enormous resources into building a slick brand identity, only to then publish sub-standard content?
When most people think about brand identity, they turn to an organisation’s visual identity, such as brand colours, logos, fonts, marketing copy, and the like. Far less attention is paid to the importance of the content your company is producing.
This is a mistake. The fact is, it makes no sense to invest in a visually powerful brand identity, only to publish a series of underwhelming and generic blog posts. This is particularly true if you promote these blog posts on social media, or optimise them for search.
For much of your audience, your content is the front door to your organisation. And as we all know, it can be really difficult to change an underwhelming — or just OK — first impression.
When starting out with content, most organisations think in terms of their blog. They set a goal of getting more traffic to their blog, then build out a content calendar and start publishing.
For most organisations, most of the time, this isn’t going to move the needle. Indeed, this sort of approach — which we like to call the hamster-wheel of content, a metaphor we’ll use a few times in this book — is one of the main reasons why content teams stagnate.
Instead of pouring your resources into a regular blog, it’s best to take a step back and take a broader view of the content requirements — and opportunities — across the entire organisation.
More often than not, your organisation will need more than just blog content to be successful. You might need to publish longform feature stories, in-depth guides, team profiles, thought leadership, impact reports, data-driven research, case studies, sales collateral, digital magazines, internal communications, pitch decks — and so much more.
Most likely, your generic blog CMS isn’t going to be able to handle this many different content types — or it will do some of them poorly. With the option to build digital stories alongside your more vanilla CMS content, you’ll be able to build out a better, more considered content strategy — and ultimately have more of an impact on the success of your organisation.
Futurists like to tell us that print is dead, but those working in content know that this is still far, far from the case. For many more traditional organisations, printed collateral — such as magazines — is still a fundamental output of the content team.
But the futurists weren’t entirely wrong. There are many reasons to move away from print. You’ve probably heard most of these before, but let’s run through some of the most important:
- The sheer cost of production and distribution;
- The omnipresence of mobile devices to read digital content;
- The expertise and experience of new staff, who are increasingly ‘digital natives’; and,
- The impact on the environment.
These are great reasons to move away from print. But prior to the rise of digital storytelling, these reasons paled in comparison to the one extremely good, difficult-to-argue-with reason to keep producing print assets:
The alternatives sucked.
A decade ago, those alternatives were limited to flip-style online magazines, which are hugely unpleasant to read, or linking to a highly-produced PDF. But even highly-produced PDFs are still, well, PDFs, with all that that entails, and they can’t compete with the experience of print.
Digital storytelling platforms allow content teams to move away from print assets, while avoiding the first-generation digital implementations — like flip magazines and PDFs — that just didn’t work.
For content professionals, publishing feels like an achievement. And it’s true: taking an idea from its initial brief, through the drafting and editing process to distribution, is something to feel proud of. It’s hard work, and not everyone can do it.
But the content profession can be cruel, and unfortunately there’s no guarantee that hard work will lead to success. Content teams that focus solely on perfecting the publishing process — and scaling it, so that they publish more content than their competition — are rarely the most successful.
As content becomes more competitive, it’s critical to be strategic in your outputs. Builders talk about the need to ‘measure twice, cut once’ — and the same is true in content. With limited resources, it’s smarter to put more time into research and preparation, and less into the hamster-wheel of content production.
Typically, this will result in a greater variety of outputs, as we’ve mentioned above. But it will also lead to you paying more attention to the quality of each piece of content you publish. This may lead to you publishing fewer pieces. But, done well, it will give each piece a greater chance of getting results.
For most organisations, most of the time, the press release is dead. The typical communications process of the 1980s — built around cultivating a rolodex* of media relationships, and churning out press releases to get free media — simply doesn’t exist anymore.
With the decades-long — decades, plural — decline in traditional media, there simply aren’t enough journalists to fill out that metaphorical rolodex. Journalists today are busier than ever, and it’s much harder to get stories published in major outlets.
This is difficult for those working in corporate PR. But it’s also an opportunity for those working in content. While your corporate blog probably doesn’t have the same built-in audience as the Wall Street Journal, it’s entirely possible for you to produce content that rivals the best stories produced by the best media outlets in the world. Coupled with highly targeted paid ads, you can get your content in front of precisely your chosen audience, and get results that are just as impactful to your organisation as any piece in free media.
For your owned media strategy to work, though, you need your content to look and feel as good as the best mainstream media outlets. And that’s exactly what companies like RELX have done. Using digital storytelling platform Shorthand, RELX saw a threefold increase in the number of reads and a 50% increase in dwell time.
Every content team wants to publish stunning content. But the reason that most content on the web is just OK is that stunning content is usually expensive to produce.
The best content on the web has historically been produced by those with the biggest budgets — and this is no coincidence. The gold standard for product launch pages? Apple. And interactive feature stories? The New York Times.
The good news is that this is no longer the case. Digital storytelling platforms make it possible for anyone to develop stunning content, without relying on expensive developers for bespoke development and ongoing maintenance.
This has proven a game-changer for all manner of content teams, from those at non-profits and museums to large companies like RELX, a FTSE-15 corporation. It’s a fact that is remarkably consistent across all content teams, no matter how big or well funded: We all prefer to work without developers.
There are many reasons why an organisation might want to charge for content, and many potential business models for making it work. But across them all, there is one basic truth: Customers will only pay for content that they think has value.
How do you create the perception of value? Obviously, you need to pay attention to your research, writing, and editorial process. Without polished, engaging, and error-free writing, you have little chance of building a reputation for quality.
But the biggest opportunity to signal quality on the web is the visual design of your stories. This is the most immediate sign to the reader that your content is ‘special’ and worth paying for.
This is where digital storytelling can help. The techniques of digital storytelling — and particularly those of ‘scrollytelling’ — have been intentionally developed to capture and keep the attention of your readers, making your content stand out from that very large crowd.
Content teams don’t publish in a vacuum. Every year, more organisations are investing in content to generate leads, grow their reputation, increase revenue, and — ultimately — advance their mission.
This leads to a very crowded marketplace of content. As more organisations create content, search terms become more competitive and ad campaigns more expensive. It also means that your audience’s attention is more fragmented.
In a crowded content marketplace, the only proven way to get ahead is to create better content than your competition. This focus on quality needs to run all the way through the content production process, from ideation and research, to writing, editing, QA, and distribution.
These competitive pressures also apply to the visual appearance of your stories. While many content teams still publish on relatively generic CMS blogs, using stock photography, others have made the leap to digital storytelling. This allows them to make the most of fast internet speeds and modern browsers to deliver truly immersive reading experiences.
In this section of the Definitive guide to digital storytelling, we outlined who digital storytelling is for. In the next section, we run through some of the reasons why digital storytelling has become so popular.