Storytelling with social media

Design and VFX shop Postal — the sister shop of production studio Humble — embraced social media storytelling about two years ago. Since then they have been finding different ways to engage audiences using apps that allow for a more targeted user experience.

Postal’s executive creative director, Sam Stephens, was kind enough to answer some questions for us about this new way of working and the specific challenges this genre brings.

SamStephens-colorcroppedWhat do you like about creating content for social media, compared to more traditional 30-second spots?
When we first really started getting involved with social media projects a couple years ago, there was actually some initial skepticism around whether this type of work was just “throwaway” content — but we were pleasantly surprised to find that that couldn’t be further from the truth.

This realm of “micro-storytelling” is a whole new avenue with its own rules, and it’s been really fun and interesting to experiment and innovate. Even though the content is only an average of 10 seconds, you still have to figure out how to effectively tell a story with a clear arc of beginning, middle and end. You still need an escalation and a payoff. And it still needs to look professional, even if you’re shooting on your phone. So I like all these creative challenges.

Another thing is that social media really is how people are consuming their news and their ad content more and more — pulling up their apps on the bus or waiting in line for coffee. So it’s fun to be working on these projects that feel a little more personal and a little more tailored.

What are some of the technical and practical challenges that come with social media content creation?
Well, the most obvious challenge is the time limit — Vine is well known for its six-second limit, but regardless of platform we think it’s best to keep content under 20 seconds. Brands don’t want to be too invasive or demanding of their followers. But an equal challenge that’s not as apparent is sound — or lack thereof. A lot of people check their apps in public places or at work, so they have the sound turned off — so we have to make sure that anything we creatLowes-Snapchat-Still007e works just as effectively with no sound.

Another consideration is that each platform has its own unique user interface and backend. For instance, on Snapchat, you can tap the screen to advance through a Snapchat Story. We recently helped launch a Snapchat channel for Lowe’s, and we leveraged that unique tapping feature to create a series of stories called “In A Snap,” where each tap cleverly causes a reaction that moves viewers through the different steps of a DIY project.

However, there were a few challenges: we had to shoot entirely on our phones, and since Snapchat doesn’t allow for any editing or overlaying of graphics, everything had to be rigged practically… any visible wires had to look charming rather than sloppy, and if there were any mistakes we had to start the whole shoot over. But it paid off and ended up being a really fun and well received project (it even picked up a few Cannes Lions) because it uses the inherent quirks and features of that specific platform. The level of interactivity makes it really special.

Success in social media storytelling is about more than just making a shorter version of a broadcast spot and plastering it across all your social media platforms – you have to think about what types of stories will work on each platform.

How did Postal first get started with social media storytelling, and what are some other lessons you’ve learned?
Postal first partnered with BBDO in 2014 on the “Fix in Six” Vine campaign for Lowe’s, which we’ve been a part of ever since. We deliver a new round of Vines every few months. That campaign is always fun because we get to do stop-motion animation, and deliver practical tips to consumers. Stop motion is great for these because we can include the actual physical tool or product being referenced, and shoppers can then easily recognize it on the shelf.

The challenge on these is always, how do we take an extremely brief, utilitarian tip and turn it into a compelling story? Over time we’ve learned that the further we push into absurdity, the more successful and sharable these are. Everyone loves the Yeti!

PaneraCan you talk about a recent job?
Our most recent project was a series of cel-animated videos for Panera, promoting its Rapid Pick Up service on Facebook and Twitter. There are four videos total. Each one is based on real Tweets or Facebook posts from customers about why they use Rapid Pick Up. We expanded those tidbits to create a 20-second story for each.

Facebook and Twitter don’t have as many visual quirks or restrictions as other platforms, so we had a lot of creative freedom. We opted to use a unique visual style for each video, ranging from mixed media to heavily stylized using a Panera to-go bag as the background for all four to serve as the common thread. The stories have really resonated, already racking up over 3.2 million Facebook views.

As we’ve become more fluent in micro-storytelling, we decided to push ourselves even further through a company passion project called Postal Stamps. This is a series of our own seven-to-ten-second narratives, leveraging different CG and animation styles. It’s actually more challenging in some ways to come up with a pure narrative that isn’t tied back to a product or brand. It’s exciting. It’s almost like being back in film school and just tapping into those basic creative instincts. The first Postal Stamp video recently launched and we hope to continue this project for a long time.

What’s your favorite social media platform right now?
Snapchat is probably the most intriguing one. It’s much more private, your content is fleeting (even sponsored content isn’t up there for much more than 24 hours), and it only just launched an API for advertisers in June. So it feels a little like the Wild West, which is really exciting to me. Snapchat presents a lot of creative challenges that are fun to dive into.

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