Friday, December 16, 2011

Transmedia Project Level Design Tasks - Consumer Types & User Gratifications

Knowing the audience demographics and psychographics is not enough when designing a transmedia project. You also need to understand how your audience "consumes" your transmedia narrative and what they want out of it (user gratifications) should be identified early in your project.

Content Consumer Type
The type of content consumer your audience is will influence how you structure your transmedia narrative. For example, if you find that the majority of your audience consists of single story consumers that are only going to stick you for one story you may want to rethink the whole transmedia approach.

A good story well told may keep single media consumers coming back if you provide them with a series of live action videos but you risk losing them if one episode of your transmedia narrative is video and the next is a comic book and the third is a live event. Perhaps the best strategy is to find one medium that works for most of that audience for the core of the narrative and have a limited number of extensions win other media.

It is the audience that consists of transmedia consumers that you are looking for. These are the consumers who embrace stories told across many different media. These are the ideal transmedia consumers. However, the concept of transmedia narratives is so new that it will take time for the mass audience to become use to this form of storytelling. The best strategy is to exceed this audience’s expectations and have them serve as evangelists for the transmedia project.

User Gratifications
Users have a set of needs and expectations when they make the decision to use a transmedia narrative. They decide to use that transmedia narrative because they are seeking something to satisfy those needs and expectations (known as gratifications sought). A user seeking a short break from a hectic lifestyle, for example, will look to the transmedia narrative for an escape from the real world. Knowing this single piece of information about the user will help the author structure the transmedia narrative so it is fictional and entertaining rather than non-fictional and informative.

User gratifications for most media use fall into six broad categories:
  • Information seeking
  • Aesthetic experience
  • Monetary compensation
  • Entertainment
  • Personal identity
  • Social integration and interaction
Consciously or unconsciously an author will know early in the process of defining the concept of the transmedia narrative that the project will do for the audience? Will it entertain? Inform? Help them with their social life? User gratifications are the needs and expectations a user has of a medium. The author needs to determine the primary gratification the transmedia project will address as that decision will strongly influence the overall structure and content of the project.

While users often seek more than one gratification, it is important that the author of the transmedia narrative pick a primary gratification that the narrative will address and keep any others as secondary. Attempting to satisfy two equally dominant gratifications is very likely to result in mixed priorities with neither of the gratifications being adequately satisfied. A more effective approach is to select a primary and a secondary gratification. An example of this approach is The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, a political satire that uses a television news format. The primary gratification The Daily Show satisfies is entertainment through comedy with the secondary gratification being political information. If there is a conflict between these two gratifications, comedy wins every time and information takes the backseat.

What the user seeks and the author intends to provide may not always be what the user actually gets (gratifications obtained) from the transmedia narrative. The creator of the transmedia narrative should plan to survey users to determine whether they obtained the gratifications they were seeking.

A gap between gratifications sought and gratifications obtained needs to be addressed so that users have a positive experience with the transmedia narrative. Any gap is likely to result in disappoint and dissatisfaction. Finding out why there is a gap is vitally important to correcting problems with the transmedia narrative.

Audience Media Usage

Knowing what media your audience uses will shape structure of your transmedia narrative. If your primary audience avoids social networks, for example, publishing a significant portion of your narrative on Facebook means that you’ve lost a large portion of your audience.

User Segments

After audience characteristics (e.g. demographics, psychographics, user gratifications sought, etc.) have been identified, user segments and audience profiles can be developed. User segmentation involves dividing the potential user base into groups in which the individuals have similar ages, genders, interests, media use, and other user characteristics. Using segmentation makes it easier to target specific groups within the overall audience for a transmedia project.

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