As the parents of two adolescents, Greenwich-based digital entrepreneurs Josh and Marcy Sinel have a personal and professional perspective on the way today’s tweens and teens engage in social media.
“We kept seeing this curated perfection out there, and what we thought was missing was a space where kids felt comfortable being real and honest with each other,” says Marcy. Last year the couple sought to fill that void when they launched Storybooth, an award-winning digital platform that takes real-life anecdotes anonymously recorded by teens and pairs them with original, professional animation. The shorts of about three minutes appear on storybooth.com, where kids can watch, comment and share the videos across social media. And what if the responses are negative? “Storybooth monitors the comments daily and deletes hateful and abusive comments. We don’t delete all negative comments, as many times kids will jump in and respond, which empowers our community to have a voice,” says Josh.
The Sinels, who partnered with Greenwich-based investor Chuck Royce on the project, conceived of the platform as a safe place for kids to stop hiding behind all those stylized, flawless Instagram posts. “The animation provides some anonymity and allows them to speak more openly and authentically about what’s really going on,” says Josh.
Storybooth’s animated shorts range from tales of first kisses to embarrassing field trip adventures (think missing underwear) to the lingering scars inflicted by bullies. Since its launch last year, the site has received 47,000 submissions (they post about four new shorts per month) and recently hit 100 million views on YouTube.
The Story of Storybooth
Kid Tested and (Mostly) Approved
Parents to Chloe, fifteen, and Jack, twelve, the Sinels have relied on their kids as creative sounding boards. An “embarrassing field trip story” told by Chloe, a prolific YouTuber, was Storybooth’s first animated feature. “They have wonderful ideas but are also our harshest critics,” Marcy says.
There Are Some Ground Rules
Parents must give teens younger than eighteen permission to record their stories.
What’s Bugging Teens These Days
“The top story we get from kids is about bullying,” says Marcy. “The other interesting thing we’re hearing right now is a lot about what’s going on in the world in relation to race and intolerance. Kids aren’t necessarily talking about the politics in an adult way, but they are mirroring what they are seeing. We’ve heard stories from kids about experiences with racism and also overcoming it.”
They’ve Heard Troubling Revelations
“Whether it’s a suicidal threat or an eating disorder, we see red flags. When we do, we refer them to a crisis text line because we know kids who are in trouble are not prone to jump on the phone,” says Marcy. “And one of the amazing things we’ve seen as we’ve watched this community grow is that kids are trying to heal each other,” Josh says. “The majority of the comments we get are of the kids being supportive of one another.”
Things Are Not Always So Heavy, Though
“We don’t want to just post the sad, heartbreaking, make-you-cry stories,” says Josh. “We want kids to laugh with one another. So there are a lot of pet stories and first kisses and embarrassing moments that are just funny, too.”
Calling Teen Influencers
“We’ve spent zero dollars on marketing, but kids are finding us,” says Josh. “Our main way of connecting has been in finding the YouTubers out there with followings and getting them to tell us their stories. Then we share the content. It ends up being a win-win because they put it on their sites, too.”
Is a Winner
Storybooth employs a team of Boston-based animators and directors to bring teens’ stories to life. The storybooth team has been recognized for its creative and innovative approach with coveted Webby and Shorty awards.
“We have some scripted content we’re exploring and some opportunities for spin-offs,” says Josh. “Also, we feel like storybooth should be international and that’s something we’re exploring,” Marcy says.