STOP SHOUTING! A guide to storytelling for social media

Stop shouting - tell stories

Storytelling. It’s a big talking point among marketers and it has been for some time. Yet our social media timelines are still full of shouty messages that have as much to do with storytelling as a wet day in Margate has with glamour.

We need to go back to basics and re-discover what a story really is - and what it’s not - and its purpose in in the commercial world, especially in the context of social media.

For a start, it’s not advertising. Many businesses are so desperate to make an impact that they either post straight adverts, or they bend and twist copy to make their ad ‘look’ like a story. The latter attempts are dressed up as ‘narratives’ and everyone sees right through them.

The Pub Test

They key is to remember that social media is supposed to be, well, social. So apply the pub test: how well would your communications strategy go down in the pub? Are you butting into conversations? Tapping people on the shoulder and blurting out how great your product or service is? After five minutes people will start ignoring you; fifteen and you’ll be asked to leave.

Lets say you happen to know a lot of people in our pub will buy from you, but you don’t know which ones. You could use a bit of research and pick on people who fit your demographic, but you’ll still be annoying them.

Read on to discover what you should do...

Listen first, talk later

Most of us are intelligent enough to know it's best to just listen. By all means introduce yourself, but then listen. What are the conversations about? What is everyone interested in? Then think…and wait. Think about the problems they’re talking about. Could you solve them with your product or service? Could you solve them anyway, without your product or service? Social media is a place to be generous. You’ll make friends that way, and people like to buy from people they like. You don’t need to just post content about your business

Your content is not a commodity

And then there’s the “content” problem. There are so many businesses these days who either churn it out or buy it in by the yard to “repurpose”. I don’t even like the word “content”; it sounds like a commodity. And to many business that’s exactly what it is. To the sorry targets of all this worthless white noise, it’s just junk on their timeline to be skipped past.

Stories, as opposed to adverts, are potentially very effective. Stories speak to us on a primal level. Adverts do not. As humans we’ve been telling stories for 40,000 years. Adverts have been around for a century or two. Stories are in our DNA. In fact, you could argue that stories are what make us human.

Social Media is not new!

There’s a great deal to learn by taking a trip back in time to the classical period and looking at the Greek oral tradition of storytelling. Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey developed over time as they were retold again and again and refined according to audience reaction. Audience response was as important to storytellers in the 8th century BC as it is today.

If you really want to understand storytelling, it might be an idea to look again to ancient Greece and read Aristotle’s Poetics – still regarded today as the original and best manual on how to tell a story.

It’s not about you – it’s about them

John Steinbeck

Clearly, storytelling is not new. And storytelling to convey a message is not new either (the Bible for example!). So why do businesses find it so difficult to connect and engage on social media?

As businesses we’re often not effective at storytelling because we’re too obsessed with our brand, we don’t listen to our audience, and despite the fact that telling a story should be second nature, we end up creating advertisements instead.

So what should we be doing in addition to listening? Before you start posting content you should ask: Is it relevant and useful? Does it entertain or inform? Is it authentic?

Above all, keep it real! Do not attempt to dress up a sales message as a “story” – your audience is not stupid and social media is a vicious place when you get caught out. Be genuine in your attempt to help, inform and interest your audience and deliver stories that are good enough to share – that’s the true power of storytelling and social media.

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