NEW YORK — Forget technology — it’s still all about people participation.

That was the key takeaway from the different presentations at Wednesday’s Engage: The NYC Digital Storytelling Conference, held here at The Standard Hotel.

This story first appeared in the April 15, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The focus of the program was about how companies can use digital for their brand positioning, but the criticism that came up repeatedly was that firms are too focused on the technology surrounding digital when they should be focusing on engaging their audience in a dialogue.

Mike Monello, cofounder and chief creative officer at marketing agency Campfire NYC that specializes in participatory storytelling, told attendees, “The best stories aren’t locked down to a media format.”

He explained that as storytelling moved from the oral tradition to books and other mediums, what was lost was participation. “The Internet brings participation back…That’s huge,” he said.

One mistake some firms are making is using traditional media to fit the digital format. Instead, companies should think more about creating a communal experience. Firms need to “fan the communities that exist because people want to communicate with each other. It’s less about the digital story than we think,” he said. When you bring communities together, you’re deepening the reaction to the brand, he advised.

Monello also spoke about needing different layers of experience to address the three major audience participants: Skimmers are the broadest group, and are the least engaged; dippers are interested and may participate in the discussion, and divers, though the smallest group, are the most active participants and through their activity generate the interest in the other groups to create the overall “buzz” for the brand.

Another key Monello zeroed in on is the concept of story giving versus storytelling, or creating a story to tell that in turn creates an experience that enables the participants to become the storytellers. “Telling implies a linear narrative. It’s the old way of thinking. Story giving can apply to any digital format,” he concluded.

Adam Berger, the creative strategist at Facebook, said, “Storytelling as a medium we don’t think will change that much. When and how you tell the story will change.”

Berger works with outside advertising agencies to develop brand campaigns for companies to build their relationships with others on Facebook. He’s noticed some repeated misconceptions about digital.

“Brand marketers focus on technology, when it should be about people. [We need to] align ourselves with people, what people are saying and doing,” Berger said, adding that the people stories should be “deep, rich and engaging.”

What’s changing is the “canvas,” which now entails primarily feeds, or Web news updates on topics tailored to the specific needs of each consumer.

“People are consuming content through feeds,” he said, telling the audience that the focus is on how to design the canvas to include these feeds. Berger emphasized that digital marketers need to remember it’s about “people over pixels.” When the medium is the feed, one needs to think about how and why people would share their thoughts. In that vein, “sharing is talking, and the way one talks online is different.”

Berger gave as an example the updated “Dallas” series now on TNT about the Ewing family at Southfork. Marketers had to find a way to create interest in the show for a demographic that was around age 10 when the show last aired on prime-time TV more than 20 years ago. Berger, who worked with TNT on the strategy, said that story arcs were applied to the feed so that upon opening it in the morning, one would learn something new about the family and that was how they drew in the new audience.

Another branding project involved the Oreo cookie. On Facebook, the images vary depending on what’s in the news. To celebrate gay pride, the rainbow flag became multicolored layers sandwiched between two Oreo cookie halves. When Shin Shin the panda gave birth in a Tokyo zoo last July, the Oreo Facebook page had as its Oreo Moment: “We think a great name would be Oreo.”

Of the changing images on the Oreo Facebook page, Berger said: “It’s timely and relevant every day.”

Jory Benerofe, vice president of branding at preppy apparel retailer Vineyard Vines, spoke about e-commerce and social media and said his firm’s branding is centered on creating a state of mind, which pulls in the emotional attachment to the brand. As a brand that markets apparel one might wear on vacation, the premise behind the branding was to have consumers conjure up memories of where they were whenever they wear a Vineyard Vines product.

One key approach is to let consumers share their story on the company site. “That’s a central piece on how we tell our story,” Benerofe said.