Jun 19, 2018

How to Use Social Media for Storytelling

by Digital Marketing Institute

When we think about the stories that we read as children or even young adults, they had certain characteristics: a beginning, middle, and end; a denouement, climax or conflict; and usually there was some sort of moral lesson. Great ads can also convey a similarly rich message, albeit usually in a bit of a different style.

The wonderful thing to remember about advertising is that a story isn’t just about words – a great story teaches us something about the world and ourselves. And great advertising tells a good story.

Today, we’re seeing more and more innovative uses of storytelling incorporated into brand building because people are more exposed to the world. More and more, people want to get behind a brand that has a meaningful mission, rather than just buying something because it’s “cool.”

So, what’s the best way to tell a story in today’s ever-crowded digital landscape? Read on for a few pointers.

Develop a (Long) Story Arc

A story is essentially a sequence of events with some key elements. With social media, you have plenty of options to tell stories in new ways that cross the boundaries of traditional storytelling and traditional advertising. While you may be restricted in certain ways (for instance, length), you also have a number of tools at your fingertips.

So, before you develop your social content and as a part of your advertising strategy, it’s important to look ahead at your end goals and work backward from there. What is your business goal looking like one year or five years from now? Where would you like to be in terms of preferred or target audience? What is your growth plan demographically and even globally?

Every single clip, blog, video or image needs to be a mini-story in itself, but what about taking your audience and customers on a journey that lasts even longer than that? When you think about the fact that each piece of content and each ad contributes to your brand and business story, you have the potential to “hook” people over the long term.

To this end, you can think of your “story arc” – the beginning, middle, and end – not only with regards to each piece of content but also in connection with the longer-term goals and possibilities of your unique offerings.  

Show, Don’t Tell

The concept of storytelling is, in many cases, a little bit of a misnomer because it implies that you’re supposed to talk. Really when it comes to any kind of advertising, whether it’s social media-based or not, it’s much better if you show our story rather than telling it. What does this mean?

In the realm of social media, this might be as simple as creating a compelling video, info-graphic, or even using a stunning visual in combination with a catchy title to really get across your message (or at least the gist of it) in a matter of seconds. After all, you only have a few seconds to get your message across, so why not make it as clear and visually inviting as possible?  

Write Like a Writer

Do you have experience writing copy? Fiction? Non-fiction? The truth is that while of course a bit of experience helps, you don’t really need to be an expert in any genre to nail your storyline on social media. What will grab attention, though, is creativity, boldness, and the type of message that cuts to the chase – or at least gives a hint of the amazing things to come.

Depending on your audience, sometimes this will incorporate more of a story which includes some typical narrative elements. Think of the hero’s journey, for instance: it typically incorporates an unexpected hero (the protagonist) who finds themselves in a situation where they must do something life-changing (save the world from destruction). If you are able to invite your audience in using the same tools that fiction writers do, you probably will get them engaged from the get-go.

Influencers and Other Partners

Some of the most innovative social advertising we’re seeing today tends to combine two or three elements: a celebrity or influencer, a genuine cause, and a product.

A perfect example of this is how water.org partnered with Stella Artois as their spokesperson for the organizations’ clean water campaign to connect the brand and the cause in a memorable way. This is a sort of triple-whammy where audiences get in an effort to also promote the company’s focus on providing clean drinking water to underprivileged communities.  

Connect With Your Current Followers

Social media platforms offer plenty of built-in tools that allow you to understand the types of posts that invite the most engagement and to this end, the popularity of your brand story and other information you share on your pages should be quite obvious.

Simply refer to your insights and try that same thing over and over again. Was that one post, longer blog or poem something that resonated in the past? Or perhaps it was a humorous visual that got a lot of shares? You can go back into your insights to get a sense of what is hitting your audience and build a new story from there.

Consider using dynamic interfaces like Facebook Live or even animated videos to help explain your mission and message in a fresh way. People who’ve followed you for a while are likely to get bored seeing the same old things in their social feeds, so it’s important that you spice it up at every chance you get.

Make It Meaningful (to the World)

So maybe you’ve conducted extremely thorough audience research, and you’ve gotten to know your current customers well enough.

If you’re developing a brand story or campaign, the key element behind reaching people is that you have to find what makes your product meaningful to the audience. What matters to them, not just in the short run but also the long run?

For instance, an airline offering discounts on one-way flights may not want to just focus on how it’s less expensive, but on tailoring the ads towards digital nomads who may actually be taking advantage of such flights as a part of their ongoing lifestyle choice of staying “on the road.”

Once you figure out what is deeply meaningful to your audience, you can then develop a story-line – a brand story-line as well as a set of story-line snippets – to illustrate a need with an underlying emotional base.  

Use Tools that Allow You to Get Up Close and Personal

There are plenty of social tools that can help you convey emotion, authenticity, and immediacy in a short period of time. The main social media tools that come to mind are Instagram StoriesSnapchat Stories, and even TikTok. Each of them are for producing real-time videos that last only for a short period of time.

This type of ephemeral marketing is ever-popular especially with the millennial and younger demographic mostly because it’s a snippet of real life. People crave authenticity more and more in the digital world, so offering a real glimpse into someone’s personal world can sometimes feel like a breath of fresh air.

Another thing that these tools can do when used well is evoke a strong emotion in a short period of time.The Blair Witch Project remains a prime example of this. As one of the first truly effective social media marketing campaigns (at a time when the internet was barely a thing), its creators used “realistic” clips to market the movie to the audience in such a way that made it look like a real story. The way that they used a first-person camera to show snippets of the movie immediately evoked both fear and curiosity in its viewers, encouraging them to hop online and investigate as to whether it was a true story or not.

The best part of about these tools (as well as Facebook Stories and Facebook Live) is that you don’t really need to create anything special, or even use a lot of text or words. Simply letting someone see a real-live person talking or doing something in real-time is more than enough. And it’s a perfect opportunity to demonstrate your product or service in a real-life context.

Final Thoughts

Consumers have much more choice than ever when it comes to purchasing power, and this is a good thing for them, but sometimes a bad thing for marketers because there’s plenty of competition. The good news is that there are still only a small number of companies that are really able to use social media in such a way that they tell a story that truly connects.

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