Storytelling in the Digital Age

Rob Lyons (with camera) and Dr. Yvette Lu filming House Call with Dr. Yvette Lu. | Photo courtesy of Ryan Catherwood

As society turns increasingly to online sources for news and entertainment, storytelling becomes more and more about creating digital content.

Fortunately for local artists, Vancouver is a hub for digital creativity. From producers to social media specialists, here are some messages from the local talent.

Pay attention to your audience and to social media

When you’re making a film, it’s really important to think of your audience early on,” says Dr. Yvette Lu, actor, filmmaker and family physician. “Build your audience when you’re making your film by starting social media accounts, posting behind-the-scenes pictures, so that when your film comes out, you already have a following.”

Lu is host and co-producer of House Call with Dr. Yvette Lu, a series of short online films about caregivers across Canada. The series is nominated for two categories, Best Reality and Best of BC, at the 2018 Vancouver Web Festival taking place this month. Founded in 2013, the festival has attracted digital submissions from over 24 countries this year. The 3-day event includes screenings, panel discussions, workshops and more.

For those who rarely spend time on social media, venturing beyond Facebook, let alone facing an online audience, can seem daunting. One way to gain a foothold is by attending a workshop. Stephanie Michelle Scott, social media specialist of Wildfire Effect Consulting, and Holly Carinci, founder & CEO of HollyWords Publicity Group, are co-leading a workshop entitled ‘Social Media, How To Build An Audience For Your Personal Brand’ at the Vancouver Web Festival.

Scott explains that good stories appeal to a wide range of people but, more importantly, they are highly relevant to a niche group. Therefore, it pays to spend time on one’s social media presence.

“Getting [the stories] in front of that niche group is ‘internet gold’,” says Scott. “When you hear about a ‘viral’ video or a friend says, ‘did you see that social media post?’ This is what has happened. Most people have to work at finding brand advocates, but there are tactics that can help.”

Social media is just as important for established actors and digital storytellers.

“Casting directors, producers, directors – they ALL look at the actors’ socials when they’re considering bringing them in for key roles,” says Carinci.

Differences in social media profiles can be the deciding factor for which of two shortlisted actors wins a starring role.

Find your message and create a community

Going from concept to distribution can also be intimidating. What advice do the experts have?

Holly Carinci. | Photo courtesy of Holly Carinci.

“The one piece of advice I’d give to digital storytellers is to first invest their time into really understanding the message themes they want to be associated with,” says Scott. “The goal, the tone, the digital marketing plan, audience impression and the audience values you will attract are all results of your messages.”

Coming up with a clear message for digital storytelling is a combination of passion and hard work. Lu is an enthusiastic advocate for raising awareness of the important roles that caregivers play. She notes that there are over eight million Canadians, about 28 percent of the population, who are unpaid caregivers. Replacing family caregivers with paid caregivers would cost the economy an estimated $25 billion a year.

“It’s hard and it really is a job even though caregivers are not paid,” says Lu. “Between 20 to 40 percent of them report depression. They also experience social isolation and financial stress.”

Lu has three goals for House Call: building a community for caregivers, promoting practical solutions for caregiver self-care and empowering caregivers by connecting them to resources. The videos are but one part of a digital ecosystem that she hopes to create for caregivers.

“The website that House Call is hosted on, called the Stories of Caregivers site, contains a board called the Inspiration Board,” says Lu. “Caregivers and anyone associated with caregivers can go there and post their own story about caregiving. What we’re hoping is that this would help build a community where people would help each other and mutually support each other.”

Building a digital community is key to long term success. Carinci encourages her clients to experiment with social media postings that are aligned with their message. Consistent social media posts allow one to find their ‘superfans’ and their target audience. It also generates feedback and lead to essential insights.

“It does take work, but one of my greatest joys is helping clients find ways to make social media a part of what they do, not add to their workload, and watch them genuinely enjoy the process,” says Carinci. “Because it’s social it should be fun.”

Do your research and make a plan

Whether in topic research or in budgeting, successful digital storytelling requires a degree of planning. Lu likes to be prepared before interviewing her subjects.

Stephanie Michelle Scott. | Photo courtesy of Stephanie Michelle Scott

“If I was interviewing someone who is taking care of somebody with multiple sclerosis, I make sure I know what MS is, what the disease course is and what are the kinds of things that somebody taking care of MS needs to do,” she says.

When it comes to budgeting, Scott believes that it is important to have a well-designed plan.

“When planning your budget, concentrate on what would be the most efficient path, not the least expensive one,” she advises. “Identify your shortfalls and find the best people to fill them. But look around, great campaigns have been done on shoestring budgets because their memorable content connected to their audience in a genuine way.”

For information on the Vancouver Web Festival, visit www.vancouverwebfest.com.

For information on House Call with Dr. Yvette Lu, visit www.storiesforcaregivers.com.

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