Storytelling and Engagement for Social Action

Cover from a print issue of Cosmopolitan magazine.

The magazine business is in the midst of a period of transition. Sales are slumping as readers — particularly younger readers — move from print to digital media. Cosmopolitan is looking for new strategies for engaging digital readers; storytelling is at the heart of those new strategies.

This is not the same old magazine writing Cosmo has done for decades. Think Progress describes how Cosmopolitan.com has moved from its traditional approach to covering women’s rights issues.

Lori Fradkin, who was hired as the new features editor at the end of last year, has been working on building up a team of writers who can tell “powerful stories” about the impacts of legislative attacks on women’s rights. Rather than publishing straight reports on new abortion restrictions, Cosmo is primarily attempting to find a way to tell personal stories their readers can connect with.

“The reception has been incredible — it’s been enormously gratifying to see such high engagement with our audience around these issues,” Odell said. “One challenge of working on the internet, as all of we online editors know, is getting people to care about hard news as opposed to what Kim Kardashian wore an hour ago. Of course we’re happy to keep readers filled in on what Kim Kardashian is wearing, but we do see stronger social engagement and traffic on stories about women who get harassed at abortion clinics by protesters.”

The use of personal stories rather than more traditional straight reports is an example of using adding context and experience to help increase the level of engagement. (See my post  Moving from Data to Wisdom with Transmedia Storytelling for more detail about the importance of context and experience.)

Think Progress suggests that if Cosmopolitan is successful other media outlets will take note.

If Cosmo continues to take more of an explicitly feminist approach on issues like abortion, will other magazines follow? If that content really does end up engaging readers better than celebrity news, as Odell suggests, it’s a real possibility that could end up influencing pop culture as a whole.

While it is still early in the transition, it appears that transmedia storytelling could find a significant role in the mainstream digital magazine market.

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