Storytelling & social media - what we can learn from the core features of a story

 Once upon a time, digital marketing was dominated by those who could shout the loudest. Nowadays, it's a very different story.

Creating a unique online presence in order to stand out is more important than ever. However, developing this presence is no longer simply a case of posting regularly and promoting your services. Instead, your content needs to tell a story.

"Successful storytelling builds brand equity, and businesses with high brand equity don't need to draw as much attention to themselves and their achievements as those that are still establishing their value to the customer." -Gary Vaynerchuk

Storytelling on social media doesn't mean that you should come up with an elaborate fairy-tale which mirrors the journey of your company and staff, but there are certain ideas that we can take from the core features of a classic story and apply to our social media strategy.

Goals

Every character in a story has both short term and long term goals which need to be achieved in order for the plot to progress. A story's protagonist may have the long term goal (excuse the cliché) of rescuing a damsel in distress, so travelling to the damsel's whereabouts, defeating whatever is guarding her and returning her to safety would all be archetypal short term obstacles to overcome.

This is no different for your business. Think about what exactly you want to achieve on social media in the long term and work backwards to identify what short term goals will help you to accomplish this. If your primary goal is to become a 'go-to' person in your industry, your first priority may be to build your authority by growing your following and posting content which demonstrates your knowledge and expertise. It's all about breaking down your ultimate goal to outline the steps that will contribute to achieving it.

Character Development

Successful authors develop characters that their readers connect with. The way the author presents a character informs our perception of them - we feel a certain way about them and become invested in their story. Every business should aim to replicate this attachment in their social media activity. A crucial aspect of telling your story online is creating a brand personality that your audience will relate to and engage with.

The first step is to clearly define your target audience. In stories and marketing, different qualities appeal to different people, so constructing an effective personality without knowing who you're targeting is near to impossible. Start by creating buyer personas,  constructed using data, observations and even interviews with current and potential clients. 

Clearly defining the characteristics of your buyer personas should give you a better idea of what message will appeal to them. Consider the following questions to begin to build an online identity that your audience will relate to.

How would you like your audience to perceive you? Think about what you want them to remember about your brand after seeing your content. We remember the character of The Cat in the Hat because he's fun-loving, spontaneous and eccentric, just as we remember Nike as a brand for their motivational mantra and sense of adventure.

What tone / voice will appeal to them? Many brands mistake professionalism for formality when sharing content online, but a formal tone isn't always the way to go when it comes to resonating with your target customers. The best dialogue in fictional stories is often incredibly realistic - we relate to it because we can imagine how the conversation would play out in real life,

What content will they find engaging and useful? To quote author and political advisor Charles Leadbeater, "you are what you share". The content you share creates an online representation of your business and will communicate the personality that you've developed. More on this a little later...

Exposition

In stories, exposition provides the reader with background information about the setting, characters, plot and historical context to enhance their understanding of the storyline. For example, in Harry Potter (spoiler alert), J.K. Rowling shares the exposition of Harry's past; the death of his parents, surviving Voldemort's curse and being raised by his aunt and uncle. None of these specific events or situations are described in great detail - the first book begins years afterwards - but the reader knowing that each occurred is vital to our understanding of the rest of the series.

In a digital marketing strategy, we see communicating the basics of your business as the mirror to fictional exposition. To help your audience to appreciate the significance of the content you share, they should be aware of information such as what your business does, where you're based, your contact information and even what others think of your business. Although your content is likely to make sense without this information, ensuring your business' background information is easily accessible will allow your customers to 'connect the dots' and associate your content with your brand. On most platforms, you'll be able to present this information via profile information sections such as the title of the page, category of your business and a bio or description.

Action

Action is the element of a story that makes us keep reading. Whether it's a daring sword-fight, a unexpected twist or a magical mishap, it is action that adds excitement to the narrative, giving it depth and substance. In social media management, it is content that resembles action.

As mentioned earlier, the content you share is essential in effectively conveying the brand personality that you've created. It should be relevant to your industry and message while remaining true to your brand identity and goals. Ask yourself what will keep your audience coming back for more - why should they like your page and stay part of the action?

Example: If you own a restaurant and have established a fun and welcoming online personality to appeal to your target audience, sharing serious commentaries on the latest food hygiene standards probably isn't going to cut it. Instead, you'll want to help your audience to get a feel for your restaurant, enticing them with vibrant photos of food and effectively conveying the atmosphere, most likely through images of the interior / staff, customer reviews and even video.

The best advice we can give when creating content is that you should always aim to be educational and engaging rather than promotional. The best content is focused on adding value to the customer. Take inspiration from the infamous storytelling technique of 'show don't tell' - don't tell your audience why you're the best, show them. Don't just describe what you do, show them in an engaging way. Your audience will respond much better to this form of communication than to off-putting promotional jargon.

The final thing to remember in terms of content is that every story has a climax - something that the plot is building up to throughout the narrative - and your social media strategy should be no different. Think back to your short and long-term goals. What is your content building up to? What do you want your following to do? Always think about the purpose of your content and optimise each post or campaign accordingly. Include call-to-actions and give your audience a reason to do what you want them to do.

Resolution

Unlike a story, your social media strategy won't, or shouldn't, have a definite ending, but there will be times when you'll have to stop and evaluate the success of your activity so far. Think about each campaign or period as a chapter - you have to understand and evaluate what happened in the last chapter in order to progress.

Whatever your social media goals may be, you'll also need to work how to know when you've achieved them. In the fairytale scenario, the ultimate goal is achieved when the damsel is returned to safety. When outlining your social media aims, ensure that you have clear KPIs (key performance indicators) in place so that you know when you've reached your goal. This could be anything from the number of likes on your page to the amount of conversions achieved directly through social media.

"Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today." - Robert McKee

By taking inspiration from these core story features, you can step into the shoes of an author and take your readers on a journey from awareness to advocacy. If you have any questions or need help to tell your story online, get in touch!

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