Fanfan2 is an Orange initiative, a multiplatform project dreamed up by the author Alexandre Jardin based on the adventures of Alexandre, the hero of his book “Fanfan, 15 ans après”. Fanfan2 places the reader at the heart of a participatory, multi-screen approach, with the aim of extending fiction beyond the realms of the printed book using a website, social media (Facebook and Twitter) and iPhone and iPad applications.
The case study provides an overview of the experiment, which ended in May 2011. Stéphane Adamiak, Transmedia Projects and Partnerships Manager within Orange’s Content Management team, explains some of the lessons learned from this project and talks to us about the subjects of digital writing and interaction with readers.
- Fanfan2 Case study
Fifteen years after they first met, the hero of the novel, Alexandre, sets himself the challenge of surprising his wife, Fanfan, everyday. Faced with the scale of this, Alexandre decides to ask readers to help him re-enthral his love!
Initially, this project was ambitious because of its positioning: the original Fanfan community is largely an adult, female readership; what’s more those who read novels appear to be quite remote from the digital world. Now the Fanfan2 adventure is over, have these assumptions been confirmed?
Stéphane Adamiak: Broadly, yes. However, we witnessed the community getting younger over time. The proportion of 15-25 year olds increased little-by-little, without becoming the most active members. Ultimately, Fanfan2 is not a book but actually the digital extension of a literary work. Although the majority of readers remain attached to the physical book, the question of adopting Fanfan2 is different. Those who are reluctant to adopt digital habits didn’t pay any attention to it, but those who already use social networks were curious and grasped the opportunity!
The collaborative aspect of the work is driven by social media. Readers are invited to respond and to create parts of the story with the author/character. After almost seven months of interaction with the public, how would you rate the level of involvement?
SA: Seven months is actually a real marathon in terms of attention and involvement, but we were surprised by the loyalty of the Fanfan2 community. A hard core of readers was rapidly formed, participating or responding every day and, more widely, this community shrank very little over the months. With Fanfan2, it’s clear that involvement went far beyond simply liking/following (which is frequently limited to a passing interest).
The other surprise was the effort made by participants in terms of their responses and contributions. Users were not satisfied with a single line comment such as “LOL”, they took the time to really enrich the stream of interactions with the characters (without wishing to stay on the right side of them, quite the contrary!). This quickly created a kind of standard and those who joined in the adventure along the way followed this example.
In October 2010, Alexandre Jardin said he was fascinated by the possibility of creating a real time narration and being in permanent contact with readers. How did the FanFan2 community enjoy the experience offered by the author?
SA: Writing in real time in the form of tweeted messages or Facebook statuses leaves a lot of scope for the reader’s imagination, with the latter trying to anticipate and extrapolate whilst waiting for the next episode. After taking the time to grasp the potential and limitations of this writing “in a stream”, Alexandre took great pleasure in playing with the ellipses, the intervals between the main character’s idealistic plans and his carrying them out. It was not unusual for readers to be on the edge of their seats waiting for a report on the “situation on the ground” and sharing their opinions or predictions with others, and even moaning when the character took a long time to tell them what had happened.
On a number of occasions, we were also surprised that the characters were attacked, as if they were really “Facebook” type friends. Alexandre Crusoé, the protagonist, received a ticking off more than once, but it was ultimately only readers who enjoyed playing a role – that of the confidante of a fictional character. Obtaining this result was one of our aims, but it happened far more quickly than we expected.
Happy Fannie, Orange’s teams and Alexandre Jardin needed to work together on this project. How did you divide the duties and know-how?
SA: On the part of Orange, we first took the time to work with Alexandre Jardin on the general concept, adapting his writing to social media and the scheme’s schedule, as well as tailoring it to the brand image. We then linked up with 6Degrees (which brings together a number of companies and studios, including, specifically, Oahu for development, and Unity for design) in order to develop the concept into a website and applications. At this stage, Happy Fannie was already involved in exploratory meetings, but it was at the launch at the end of October that the team, led by Sandrine Girbal, played a central role by moderating the community and monitoring the smooth progress of the story in cooperation with Alexandre Jardin. From that point, we all got together for weekly editorial meetings to discuss the latest news and developments in relation to the project.
This new form of narration allowed readers of Fanfan2 to be immersed in the intimacy of Fanfan and Alexandre in real time. The latter implicitly needed the help of the community every day. Which media most encouraged participation?
SA: The protagonist’s requests were more than just implicit! The real time style of the narration led us to highlight the smartphone aspect, but this media lends itself poorly to writing, which was at the heart of the project (limitations in terms of the interface, context, available time, etc.). Ultimately, it was therefore Facebook that became the hub as it was most widely used by the readership in question and was most suited to the anticipated interaction.
Fanfan2 was created as a project that could be developed as it progressed. What was your strategy for maintaining the loyalty of your community and interest in the experiment for the entire duration of the project?
SA: The establishment of a dedicated team, constantly listening to and in a close relationship with the author, was the key. It’s thanks to this daily attention that we were able to “take the temperature” of the community and respond rapidly to expectations or anticipate lulls in intensity. Anticipation rightly, but in the longer term, was also our concern. For example, beyond the impetus of the first few weeks, we needed to steer through the minefield of Christmas (leading to an inevitable decrease in public attention and a much smaller team, naturally). In the last few months too, we needed to keep the flame alight by making changes to the format or rhythm to avoid falling into a routine, which could have adversely affected both the public and the team.
On the other hand, our initial plan anticipated the establishment of new modes of interaction with the world of Alexandre Jardin. We could have moved towards applications that aimed to make the atmosphere of Fanfan2 into a social game, which would have made use of geolocation, for example. However, in contact with the community, we came to understand that our audience was made up of readers, who were fans of stories, and whose daily lives were already sufficiently full not to need additional challenges. Benefitting from the time to escape via a serial or soap opera, or a space for sharing and discussion was enough and going further would have divided the community. Instead of sticking with our initial vision, we changed, choosing to give more space and influence to participants’ contributions in relation to the writing, based on a fun, less formal, approach.
Beyond our initial strategy, Fanfan2 was therefore mainly managed “just in time”, responsively and as closely as possible to its public. Obviously, this type of flexibility is far easier to achieve with literary content than with video, for example. Nevertheless, once again, without a dedicated author and a committed editorial team, it would not have been possible to continue for such a long time.
What lessons can be learned from working alongside a “traditional” author?
SA: Alexandre Jardin did not turn out to be traditional in this case. Apart from the aforementioned writing, which clearly remains the domain of the author, it was also a question of collective working methods, a convergence of community management and web development. And even though publishing is a collaborative effort, “traditional” writing has not accustomed authors to this type of interaction. The upstream phase turned out to be the key for this kind of project, in order to guarantee coherence with the reference work and the feasibility of the approach.
There is no generic formula for projects which are so heavily based on encounters/interactions: an author, designers specialising in new media, community managers and, naturally, the public! An adventure packed with lessons, which opens up new prospects for literary works.