Transmedia is the scholarly term for fancy, widespead storytelling. It refers to the way that many platforms can tell a single story. It involves the “convergence” of digital mediums in tandem, where producers of media meet media consumers and overlap. Producers can be tweeters (?), Instagrammers, bloggers, and Buzzfeed collaborators all the way to creatives in marketing agencies, Silicon Valley, and Hollywood. Intermediality results when distinct medias interact and speak on the same ideas, either intentionally or organically. The campaigns to advertise Star Wars: The Force Awakens and the online discussion about Harambe’s plight went viral on the internet, both falling into the category of transmedia.
Viral campaigns almost always involve the audience for which the original message was intended. In the case of Harambe, very few media outlets posted about the incident initially, but the volume of media produced in response to the conversation surrounding the events of Harambe’s death far exceeded it. Social media, protests, flowers and cards at the Cincinnati Zoo, and all of the memes, videos, forums, costumes (and articles protesting costumes), texts, and tweets generated can be characterized as transmedia. The New York Times attempted to explain some of the phenomenon of recirculated content: “As more people become more familiar with more of these memes, you get this cross-pollination,” Professor Milner said. “Which is maybe why we’re seeing less stand-alone memes and more of this mixture of this kind of melting pot that we’ve created.”
It’s important to note that the Cincinnati Zoo didn’t generate this buzz on their own; in fact, they pleaded for the attention to end. The trolling eliminated the Zoo’s voice from the conversation and turned it into a distant, detached authority on the event. Had the Zoo engaged the public in their dialogue, perhaps through education on zoo safety and conservation, the momentum may have been productive for their institution and for zoos everywhere. A campaign soliciting Cincinattians to submit favorite memories of seeing Harambe at their family zoo visit or encouraging productive advocacy could have really leveraged the attention instead of steering it into darker, mocking territories.
“One marketing agency promoting an increase in social media engagement suggests, “Your communications and actions must build off of all of the other ways that the customer is raising a hand to engage.” Hands seem to be raising in all kinds of arenas and now it’s the business’ job to call on them and listen. Customers may be their secret marketing weapon, an unsolicited megaphone for brand awareness and advocacy.