Storytelling tools – how digital storytelling works
Storytelling tools are a valuable aid for online marketers since stories are memorable and can conjure up emotions. Stories have been told for thousands of years. Whether in myths, novels, or in everyday life: stories are omnipresent and generate feelings, and the reader can sometimes identify with them. Good stories are therefore also in demand in marketing: the most effective way to sell products is through emotional bonding. It is therefore not surprising that digital storytelling has long since become the focus of new online marketing strategies. The problem is that not every marketer is a born storyteller, but fortunately there are storytelling tools to help.
Digital storytelling is also a hot topic for content designers, since their job is becoming more and more challenging. The amount of available content is constantly growing, so users aren’t able to read or watch all of it and therefore choose what interests them. So how can you stand out from the sea of content? How can you make your content even more attractive? One answer is: through successful digital storytelling. This is where storytelling tools come in.
These programs help to tell digital stories in a captivating way and to make them as appealing as possible. The selection of storytelling tools is as varied as the content itself: whether for telling stories in timelines, pictures to click on, or through impressive images – there is something for everyone. We provide you with an overview of the different storytelling tools available and for whom they are most suitable. Once you’ve found the right tool, the digital storytelling can begin.
Components of storytelling tools: text and multimedia
What is important for good storytelling and how can online tools help? We will firstly clarify what forms of storytelling there are before introducing you to a series of storytelling tools.
Building blocks for good stories
First of all, storytelling is about effective topics and a successful structure. There are a number of helpful rules to achieve the correct dramatic composition of a story. If you pay attention to only a few elements of classic storytelling, it is easier to communicate your message more effectively – without any obvious advertising language.
The three-act structure according to Aristotle, which consists of exposition, conflict, and resolution, is still the basic structure of many successful movies – and can also be applied to storytelling online. Another widely used scheme is the hero’s journey according to Joseph Campbell. In 12 stations, the hero or heroine is lead by a status quo through a series of challenges and encounters in order to overcome a central conflict. If you read the founding stories of large companies, you will find astonishing parallels – and possibly tell your own story in a different way.
This form of multimedia storytelling involves much more than just writing a text: it’s a keyword that makes storytelling successful on the internet. Digital media opens up completely new possibilities for storytelling: in a lively combination of 360° images, maps, interactive timelines, and dynamic infographics, users can completely immerse themselves in the story’s visuals.
Initially, journalists from the BBC or the New York Times used storytelling tools to create convincing multimedia reports. But meanwhile, affordable storytelling tools have been made available that allow freelance journalists, smaller companies, and content designers to create impressive visual storytelling – without the need for in-depth technical knowledge or huge financial resources.
Storytelling tools usually offer the possibility to choose from different design templates that effectively present the multimedia content. The integrated media and design are the difference between the different applications. Depending on the occasion, story writers can choose the right tool for their own multimedia story.
Standard elements belonging to a storytelling tools
When comparing storytelling tools, it can be noted that most of them work according to very similar principles.
Storytelling tools can integrate these types of media content:
- Images and slideshows
- Social media embedding
- YouTube or Vimeo embedding
A storytelling tool includes these components:
- Drag and drop: Most storytelling tools work according to the drag-and-drop principle: content is simply dragged to its desired location using the mouse.
- CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) and custom CSS: Many storytelling tools work with templates that a storyteller can use for their layout. Some tools give users more creative freedom, allowing them to edit layouts or create their own. However, this sometimes requires more technical knowledge.
- Preview: Most storytelling tools have a preview function so that you can check how the story looks during the process and how it will appear to users.
- Team work: Many tools are not only suitable for individual use, but can also be used by several people at the same time: several people work on the same project from different accounts.
These are the different software formats of storytelling tools:
- Desktop version: A storytelling tool for desktop is downloaded to the computer as usual and used like a conventional computer program. Stories can be created offline.
- Cloud version: The cloud version of a storytelling tool requires you to log into the online tool with your account in order to create the story. On the one hand, this allows you to access the project from any computer; on the other hand, you can only work with the tool if there is a working internet connection.
The most important storytelling tools – an overview
Storytelling tools have a wide range of applications: journalists fill their reports with 360° images or interactive infographics; bloggers embed content from social media. In online marketing, companies can tell their founding stories more easily, edit their websites in multimedia format, or animate their social media presence by regularly posting short multimedia stories.
What are the different storytelling tools and what are they used for? We compare the most important storytelling tools and look at their respective characteristics. Depending on what kind of projects you want to prepare using digital storytelling, you can choose the tool accordingly.
Storify is one of the most popular storytelling tools. It comes into its own regarding social media stories: Storify enables you to integrate content from various social media into your digital story. It searches social platforms such as Twitter, Google+, Flickr, and SoundCloud for the topics you want to search for – and then integrates the appropriate content conveniently into your digital story. Storify’s success began with documenting events live – now it’s a popular blogging platform for all kinds of real-time stories.
The storytelling tool impresses with its simple and intuitive use. Multimedia content can be moved and re-arranged using the drag-and-drop feature. The finished story will then be published on a website, blog, or directly on Storify.com.
Storify also helps the user build a dramatically successful digital story: The tool offers a structure of headlines, text, and media content, which organizes the story in an effective way. The text between media files is limited to 300 characters. It may sound like a limitation, but it’s the point of a digital story. After all, multimedia stories attract readers because of their brevity and conciseness. The text itself can be formatted so the story can still have an individual look.
- Integrates different social media and features: Twitter, Facebook, Google+, App.net, YouTube, Flickr, Instagram, Chute, SoundCloud, Disqus, StockTwits, Tumblr, and RSS
- Modules for live blogging are especially good
- Free basic version
- For fee-based applications: price available on request
Especially suitable for:
- Accompanying events in real-time
- Bloggers and journalists
Shorthand is one of the most used platforms for so-called scrollytelling. This tool gives the content a special visual drama. It is used, for example, in high-quality reports such as those from the BBC or in emotional campaigns by NGOs.
One of this storytelling tool’s trademarks are the impressive landing pages on which the stories are told. The reader then scrolls through the chapters, which are presented on individually-designed pages. In order to arrange the multimedia content, the classic drag-and-drop feature is used. Different media – photos, slideshows, videos, maps, infographics – can be arranged dynamically. There is a menu at the top of the page, which can be used to access the individual chapters, meaning that the reader can still control the user experience.
Shorthand allows you to register for free and create projects – you will then be billed for each published story or as an annual subscription. Shorthand has an individual cost model, just like many other storytelling tools: offers are made to potential customers on request. Flexible cost models like these can sometimes be advantageous, but they also create a lack of transparency in a storytelling tool.
- High-quality and contemporary look of the story
- Many modules and design options to choose from
- You can’t do much with the tool if you don’t have image rights
- Comparatively high, non-transparent prices
Especially suitable for:
- Stories with impressive visual material
- Professional projects with a higher budget
Keeeb is a small but excellent tool for digital storytelling, which is particularly suitable for the planning phase. With this tool, stories can develop completely organically from the complied research material.
Keeeb is primarily designed to organize bookmarks in the browser. There are two things that stand out: the tool not only saves entire pages, but also links individual text passages, images, or headlines. The tool’s user interface also boasts a special feature: the contents are stored in a visual collection and can be organized and edited there.
These two features make it the optimal research tool for digital stories, since the first drafts are already created during the research process. By virtually arranging and editing the research material, the digital story ends up developing itself. The creative process that can be kick started by this tool is especially valuable in the planning phase of storytelling.
- An associative tool to develop ideas for good stories and their visualization
- Not only suitable as a storytelling tool, but also for organizing personal web content
- Can only be used for planning purposes
Especially suitable for:
- Early project phases
- Brainstorming and visualization designs
With TimelineJS, content is displayed in digital timelines. The timeline is located in the lower half of the screen, and further details (texts, images, and video material) about individual events are presented in large information windows. You can click through the windows on each of the individual events – just like a slideshow. This storytelling tool therefore has a very special approach to data visualization: preparing data in timelines.
However, the timelines offer more variety than you might think: In addition to images, videos, and text; audio files, locations, social media content, and links can also be integrated into the stories. This turns the chronological layout of events into a more varied experience – your company’s story, for example, has a high recognition value with TimelineJS. Timelines can also be continually expanded, giving website visitors the chance to participate in the development of current projects. There is relatively very little effort involved in this because the clear options of the tool make it easy to use. With this tool, you can begin storytelling without needing to familiarize yourself with it for a long time beforehand.
- Story has a higher recognition value
- Tool is simple to use
- Open source
- Limited possible uses: only one form of data visualization
Especially suitable for:
- Chronological preparation of events
- For journalistic content (reports, historical presentations), but also for companies (company story, development of projects)
Thinglink offers a slightly different take on digital storytelling: With this storytelling tool, you create a single visual interface where the user can click through individual image elements and then obtain specific information about them. The information pops up in a small window and contains additional data such as text, images, videos, audio, or links. The features are similar to those of an advent calendar where doors are opened individually and make the visitors more curious.
A big advantage of this storytelling tool is in its intuitive operation. You insert image elements by placing them in the desired position and then uploading the additional multimedia content in the window. You can then drag and drop the elements until they are exactly where you want them. Thinglink also incorporates virtual reality: the tool is able to integrate 360° images into the digital story.
A click image provides detailed information about specific images. An example is this photo of Arctic organisms. By clicking on the circles, you can find out more information about the organisms. This makes Thinglink particularly suitable for describing places and objects. Through interactive, non-linear storytelling, the tool provides an interesting alternative to the classic continuous text to linear scrollytelling like that of Shorthand.
- Intuitive operation
- Interactive, non-linear presentation of information
- 360° images possible
- Arouses curiosity
- Free basic version only available for a short period of time, afterwards it’s fee-based
- Click image can be inflexible and one-sided
Especially suitable for:
- Describing places and objects (click images)
Many stories unfold on the basic of geographic locations – this is the starting point of the next storytelling tool: StoryMapJS relies on the geographic narrative of stories using the visual diversity of maps, city maps, and historical maps. Individual locations are linked with path markings and detailed information about individual stations is provided. The reader clicks through the pixels on the map and then receives the multimedia information. For example, a fictional map from the TV series Game of Thrones can become an entertaining digital story.
Just like TimelineJS, StoryMapJS is a tool from the Knight Lab Foundation from Northwestern University and is also available as open source. There is a wide variety of map templates for creating stories. In addition, you can upload your own pictures or create your own maps. This works with the Gigapixel feature from StoryMapJS, which significantly expands the tool’s options. It’s not only maps that can be edited with Gigapixels, but also photographs and paintings. Similar to Thinglink, a kind of click image is created whose individual pixels contain further information.
- Versatile templates
- Different types of digital stories are possible: geographical storytelling as well as click images of photographs or paintings
- Open source
- Complicated operation
- Can only be used with a Google account
Especially suitable for:
- Digital stories that take place in many different places
- Digital stories that can take a lot of time and should have a high-quality appearance
- Click images
Storytelling-Tools und ihre Features im tabellarischen Vergleich
|Core function||Teamarbeit||Desktop or cloud version||Free version|
|Storify||Integrating many social media services||✔||Desktop and cloud version||Free basic version|
|Shorthand||Scrollytelling||✔||Cloud version||Pay when story is published|
|Keeeb||Visual sorting of research material||Ergebnisse können im Team geteilt werden||Cloud version||✔|
|TimelineJS||Creating interactive timelines||✘||Cloud version||✔|
|Thinglink||Click images and interactive 360° views||✔||Desktop version and Cloud version||Free basic version for short period, then fee-based|
|StoryMapJS||Interactive geographical stories||✘||Cloud version||✔|