The 7 Rules of Social Storytelling

September 17th, 2014   •   no comments   

7 Is of Brand Social Storytelling
Courtesy of Tom Fishburne

How can your company or brand create a good story – one that will attract and enchant your audience?

What can you do to improve how you write, produce or shoot your content such that you can hit both the intellectual and emotional nerve centres of your audiences?

Storytelling revisited

There are several ways to author such a story. Personally, I believe that there are five vital steps that any storyteller should take note of:

  1. Identify universal themes that resonate with people.
  2. Develop a plot with believable characters and messages;
  3. Incorporate heroic archetypes into your narrative;
  4. Focus on positive elements and outcomes; and
  5. Share your stories on multiple media platforms.

As the saying goes: “if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”. Thus, you need to carefully consider how best to deliver your story once you’ve got it all worked out.

In the social age, getting people’s attention isn’t as simple as just splashing a huge advertisement. Pushing out numerous blog posts, or spamming everybody you know on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram may also not be the solution.

Indeed, nobody likes to be rudely and unceremoniously interrupted by marketing messages.

How then should we tell our tale?

7 ‘I’s of social storytelling

Enter the 7 “I”s of social storytelling. Straddling multiple facets of content production, they cover key characteristics that every business storyteller needs to know to roll out a compelling and impactful story.

1. Infinite

Unlike Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, stories of this day and age do not have a neat beginning nor ending.

Creators of the most successful franchises such as Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Marvel Superheroes know that the only way to keep the money mill rolling is to leave the story unfinished. They are also masterful in adding on numerous prequels, sequels, and sub-plots that help to grow the storytelling universe.

Similarly, keep your customer enthralled for the long haul. Always end with a teaser and provide a clue to the next “episode”. Make it easy for your fans to continue along the (hopefully) never-ending journey with you.

2. Interactive

Your business or brand story should never just be your own. In fact, the most successful social storytellers often find ways to involve their audiences in their storylines.

Find ways to enlarge your story arc. Encompass your customer communities. Give them heroic roles. Make it their story too.

To make your story interactive, find ways to incorporate game mechanics into your business. By doing so, your customers can can also contribute “chapters” to your corporate or product brand chronicle.

A great example here is LEGO. The huge Danish toy giant has worked actively with LEGO user communities around the world, making them feel like they are a part of the brand’s “brick” story.

3. Improv

Unlike epic tales from days yonder like The Illiad, stories these days are being spun on the fly. Just watch episodes of Lost or The Simpsons to understand what I mean.

Extemporaneous storytelling is the order of the day. Often, plot lines, characters, and developments change as the story meanders towards an indeterminate end.

In a similar fashion, find ways to gauge your reader, viewer or listener’s interest. Study how popular various chapters of your tale are. This could be anything from a blog post, video, photo, event or a product launch.

If interest appears to be waning, find ways to identify why, quickly adapt, and introduce new twists to your plot.

4. Intrigue

The most fascinating and engaging stories are those that beguile and bewitch us. Enchantment happens when the ordinary becomes extraordinary. Such magic will happen under the hands of a master storyteller.

The greatest challenge in this digital age is capturing our customer’s attention. With numerous channels and games to distract them on their mobile devices, the only way you can grab their eyeballs is to pique their curiosity.

Instead of selling and marketing your wares at every opportunity, use your platforms to ask questions that strike a chord with your audiences.

Tease and tantalise them. Employ provocative images and thought provoking copy which triggers their brain juices every step of the way. Use the art of subtlety.

5. Immediate

In an “always-on” world connected 24/7 by the social mobile web, nobody is going to give you 10 minutes (or even 60 seconds) to slowly unfurl your boring tale. After all, our attention spans are shorter than that of a goldfish!

While you needn’t give away your  punch line in the first few seconds of your YouTube video, you do need to “wow” them enough to want to continue their journey with you.

Some of the “shock and awe” techniques you could employ include using creative headlines, awe-inspiring photographs or catchy ditties that immediately differentiate your brand from the rest.

6. Immersive

In the age of 3D films, i-MAX theatres and 4D theme park rides, stories have become increasingly multi-sensory and immersive.

Using a mixture of teaser trailers, full length trailers, sneak interviews, photo gallery, sound bites, script peeks, games and so on, entertainment companies are able to draw you deeper and deeper into their fantasy world.

Similarly, if you do own or manage a physical outlet, find ways to weave your storyline into every facet of your business. This includes not just the design and copy on your website, blog or press release, but other items like decor, customer service scripts, menu, product catalogue and so on.

You should also find a way to use sense marketing to trigger the buying behaviours of your target customers.

Every touch point needs to engage and immerse your audience in the same narrative.

7. Incentive

Last but certainly not least, a good story should yield positive psychological pay offs for its audiences.

This can either take the shape of tangible benefits like special deals or exclusive invitations to events, or intangible rewards like knowing how the company’s actions saves the planet.

A satisfactory outcome triggers the secretion of “feel good” hormones like serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and endorphins into the system. Over time, this helps to make your brand or product more “addictive” to your customers.

Are there other “I”s which you can think of in social storytelling? I’d love to hear your ideas.

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