Q&A: How Storybooth Empowers Youth Through Community

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Storybooth is dedicated to giving a voice to today's youth.

The social media website collects user-submitted stories from children (with parental permission) and transforms them into short animated videos. Some capture the trials and errors of being a kid, like first kisses, or embarrassing moments in the schoolyard. Others, however, take a real look at big-picture issues, like depression, discrimination, and dealing with illness.

Storybooth's following has skyrocketed since its 2016 launch. Their YouTube channel has garnered nearly 1.5 million followers, and has become a ‘safe space' for young voices to weigh in on more than 100 short video stories.

We sat down with Josh Sinel, co-executive producer, and Paul Beck, CMO, to learn about how Storybooth tackles difficult discussions, and the things that matter most to younger generations.

DMN: What was most important to you when creating the Storybooth model?

Sinel: We wanted to make sure that it [Storybooth] presented itself to everybody. We really worked to make sure that kids who may not have a voice on other platforms are getting one here.

DMN: How does diversity play a role in the work you do now?

Sinel: So many of the issues that come across our desks and get submitted here are around that very concept of fitting in, and of living in a diverse world where there's still a lot of prejudice. And I think what we see in these stories really becomes a reflection of what's going on in the world. So many revolve around how you understand the vast diversity in this country, while also feeling strong, and empowered, and part of something. That disconnect is something we hear in so many of these stories; kids trying to find their way, while keeping ties to their individuality and their ethnicity.

Some of the conversations that we've seen go on underneath these videos are very encouraging. What we've seen is an enormous amount of connection and support, and people sharing their own experiences. This generation has a much tighter sense of community. And when you think about social media, it's easy to talk about how dangerous it is. We're trying to show the flip side, where digital media can be a great vehicle for positive change.

Beck: We're also giving voice through our channel, and through our community. So if you go on YouTube, and click on the tab that says “community,” you'll see a series of questions. We're using them [the questions] to engage and hear their voices on every aspect of what we're doing.

DMN: Storybooth has tackled some very sensitive topics, like #MeToo, and the Parkland shooting tragedy. What was that like for you, to tell those types of stories?

Sinel: It was really about [these kids saying] ‘I gotta go share this story somehow, I need to get it off my chest.' And that's really what was going on. Storybooth became a safe place to go and talk about something that was so devastating. Within 24 hours, we had eight or 10 stories from Parkland students, and stories from people who lived nearby, or went to the middle school there.

We're not ever going to be afraid to tackle the topics that young people are talking about. It's up to them. [With Parkland], we weren't starting the conversation – we were joining it. This is what young people need to be hearing about and talking about. And if we can lend to the conversation, we're absolutely going to do it.

DMN: You also work in partnership with brands who want to support the causes behind the stories you tell. What have you seen from the brands you work with?

Beck: So for us, it's those types of brands who have certain sets of values, and who are authentic. It's brands that can carry those things, and who aren't afraid to bring an emotional idea. And [we've seen] our audience love the brands that do that.

Sinel: One of the things Paul and I talk about a lot is the shifting paradigm that we're seeing with audience and brand. It's very different than it was for us [growing up], where a brand would stand in front of you and present the product or service.

Today's audience is so much more sensitive to blatant commercialism. What they really want to see or hear from a brand is ‘we care about what you care about.' It's a very different paradigm to what marketers are used to doing around their messaging. And I think it speaks to the community, but it also speaks to how brands are going to have to position themselves if they want to get through to Gen Z. And that really gives us an opportunity to really continue to highlight these larger concepts of diversity.

Welcome to Diversity Week 2018, a week at DMN where we explore everything related to diversity and inclusion.

See all of the pieces here.  

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