The Power of Agency in Interactive Content: How to Create Stories in Which Your User is The Protagonist?

The Power of Agency in Interactive Content: How to Create Stories in Which Your User is The Protagonist?

    Media interactivity has been around for a while now. Since the mid-2000s, the Internet has been paving the way for it to become the most important and widely accessed media.

    Today, in 2020, the Internet’s hegemony in society’s discussions and, by extension, in the types of content people consume is undeniable.

    Because of the Internet’s architecture — a communication network that is fundamentally horizontal and decentralized — interactivity is one of its remarkable characteristics.

    We can summarize interactivity as the exchange of messages and actions between two sources, both of which receive and send answers.

    However, interactivity is one of those terms whose meaning is so broad, used to describe so many things, that it has lost its appeal over time. 

    In fact, everything can be interactive, even watching television and changing channels at the commercial time.

    But is everything interactive in the same way?

    To answer this question, first, we need to ask ourselves what is more relevant for content to be truly interactive.

    Among several answers, we will present one in this article: agency.

    Don’t you know what it’s all about? Are you interested in learning about its role in building interactive content that generates a good user experience? Continue with us!

    What is agency?

    Right from the start, it is important to make a distinction of terms. For students of sociology, philosophy, and communication, agency is one of the central ideas in the thinking of French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari.

    This agency (agencement, in French) has to do with how various social elements interact and exchange with each other on a recurring basis.

    Although it is a very interesting concept, the only relationship between it and the agency we speak of in this article is the name.

    In addition, both are appropriations of the general idea of agency, which means an action or intervention to produce a particular effect.

    Agency is a concept used by several media studies, with great prominence to the author and researcher Janet Murray in the book “Hamlet on the Holodeck”.

    While you are here, take some time, if you wish, to listen to Murray herself talking a little bit about agency in the following video:

    Agency, in the scholar’s conception, refers to the user’s ability to perform significant actions on the content they interact with.

    In other words, agency is the power that the user feels when immersed in their experience with the media; it is the notion that their choices really translate into changes in the narrative and that being there performing actions will generate expected and consistent results.

    Agency, as well as two other concepts approached by the author — immersion and transformation — are outstanding features of interactive narratives.

    For users who come into contact with interactive content, having agency means having a significant and unique experience since the user takes control of their own path through the content.

    In other words, for interactive content to really generate engagement, it must be produced with all possible actions of the user in mind, being programmed to generate satisfactory results for each decision of those who interact with it.

    When does the content agency take place?

    The best example of media stuffed with agency is the video game. Think about any game you have played in recent times and try to remember how each decision you make impacted how the entire narrative unfolded.

    The choice of a skill, dress, a phase, a route, etc.: everything, in the end, contributes to each gaming session being unique.

    And that’s what you need for your interactive content: to be unique for everyone who interacts with them.

    The agency belongs to the user, but it is the content creator who gives the tools for the user to take action. And that’s exactly when the agency happens: when a visitor actively acts on your content and receives a satisfactory response from the system.

    For example, if you are creating an interactive infographic, a small quiz in the middle of the information can generate customized content for each given response.

    At the same time, a “drag and drop” experience can change the infographic design and generate a unique moment. These moments will ensure that your brand stays in the audience’s memory.

    There are countless possibilities to make agency happen in your interactive content, but two things are common to all: 

    • the user is at the center of the experience;  
    • all the content revolves around their choice.

    This way, you make sure that moments of agency will happen.

    How can agency improve your content?

    And there comes the question. Why is agency important for your content?

    Well, mainly because if you don’t understand that the visitor who interacts with your content wants to feel in total control of their experience, you may be wasting marketing efforts.

    Interactivity without agency is like playing a game of marked cards or, to bring it closer to Digital Marketing, is to delude the consumer of your content with clicks and actions that will make no difference in the results presented. And a deluded visitor is a lost lead.

    Thus, understanding that it is necessary to generate the feeling of agency is to build all your content based on the user’s points of interaction. 

    Also, it is to care about how each decision will impact the sequence of information they will receive.

    It is thinking about probabilities and possibilities related to your buyer persona’s pains, desires, and behaviors.

    That’s what Dell had in mind when it created its online consultant for B2B solutions. Using the Ion platform, the company created an automated consulting experience.

    With several points of interaction, the user informs their business’s specific pains, and the consultant responds with a series of products and solutions for their specific needs.

    dell interactive piece

    Thus, both a small business owner and a large corporation CEO will have specific (and customized) results for their demands.

    What are the best tips for interactive content related to agency?

    Now that we’ve talked about what agency is and how important it is to content, it’s time to give some tips on creating this kind of material, putting the user in the center of the experience.

    Shall we?

    1. Choose points of interaction with your buyer persona in mind

    We have already talked about this above, but it is worth highlighting it: it is more effective to generate agency if the user’s decisions connect with your persona’s reality. 

    In this way, the decisions will be more realistic and present a greater capacity to engage your audience.

    For example, if your target audience is people searching for professional training and your content is an interactive ebook, it is worth creating interactive content focusing on employment, income, professional growth, etc.

    Look at this interactive quiz from Robbins Research, designed to help readers better understand their real needs as people. Simple, effective, and full of agency.

    Source

    2. Empower the user

    Centralize the experience on who you want to impact. Give your visitors complete control over the narrative that unfolds from their decisions. 

    After all, that’s what interactive content is all about: making choices and checking the outcome.

    So avoid imposing paths or requiring the user to interact with a given element. 

    For you, putting your visitor on a pre-determined path may sound interesting, but it can take away all the agency and engagement elements needed to delight the user. 

    3. Make the content sound like a conversation

    There is nothing better to humanize your interactive content than establishing a dialogue with those interacting with them. Conversations are excellent for creating a more real and friendly bond with your prospects.

    And a conversation is, in essence, interactive. Someone inquires something, to the point that the interlocutor answers, generating a reply, a rejoinder, and so on. 

    But how to simulate a conversation within the content?

    Using the first person singular and creating quizzes with answers that comment on the user’s decision are two good tips that make your content look like a conversation.

    This San Francisco Chronicle infographic is a great example of making your content sound like a conversation. 

    At the end of the piece, the reader reaches the ideal destination for their adventure, according to their chosen answers. 

    Source

    4. Deliver functionality

    There is no point in having great content if the user finds it difficult to click on the right elements or the loading time is too long. 

    The magic is lost immediately if the interactive part is not satisfactory.

    Think of your interactive content as a car. It may be beautiful, but if the steering is hard, the clutch gets stuck, and the brake doesn’t work, it would be better if it were just a less attractive but functional model.

    Similarly, the mechanics of interactive content must be working well, with all gears in place. So, always test your content several times before publishing.

    5. Invest in gamification

    We already talked about games at the beginning of this article. And it wasn’t by chance.

    Games have very interesting mechanisms to generate agency in players: rewards, rankings, skills development, non-linear narrative, unlocking areas, among many others.

    That’s why it’s always a good idea to apply game-design elements to your interactive content. A small challenge to your audience can generate an interesting engagement rate.

    If you offer a content with several possible ends, this can make the user interact with your content more than once to see all the possible outcomes.

    This quiz from 23andMe, made to celebrate DNA Day, delivers a result for your answers, giving you a specific score and name according to your performance.

    Source

    Now that you understand how important agency is for your interactive content, it’s time to dig deeper into the subject and increase your revenues.

    Ready to improve your Content Marketing strategy? Discover Ion, a platform that allows you to create incredible interactive experiences without any programming skills!

    Request an Ion demo
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