The Key to Social Media is Storytelling

For a decade now, businesses and marketers have attempted to decipher the jumbled mess of social media and turn it into a true ROI generator. Hundreds of thousands of Ponce de Leóns have explored the social media countryside in search of the ultimate prize - tangible benefit from social media marketing.

Thankfully, it's not as mythical as the Fountain of Youth. Most are getting minor benefits from social media as long as they're sticking with it and applying some basic strategies. A few are getting real results from the branding and communication components of social media that are achievable by nearly anyone who tries hard enough and invests a little money into the endeavor.

For those who are really wanting to make a dramatic impact on their social media presence, the key is in storytelling. This is hard. That's not one of those feigned discouragements that marketers often use to dissuade businesses from trying to do it themselves. It truly is extremely difficult to take the mundane aspects of most businesses and turn them into something truly special that people are willing to passionately follow.

With social media storytelling, it's not about telling lies. It's definitely not about looking for the thunder in a bottle that some companies have been able to find through a combination of luck and some viral secret sauce that eludes the rest of humanity; how many tried to duplicate what Oreo did at the Super Bowl? Lastly, it's not about manufacturing buzz where it doesn't exist.

Storytelling requires finding those creative elements that are present in any business (regardless of how mundane the industry might seem) and forming them into a strategy that yields a path to success. It only takes one sentence to describe it but one could write a book on the actual strategy behind it. We'll try to keep it shorter here.

The story itself can be about nearly anything as long as it's relevant to the business in some way. It doesn't even have to be a direct attachment. It can be about customers. It can be about employees. It can be the journey that was taken to arrive at a particular product or service launch.

Think about it like making a movie. It isn't about the end result of the movie itself, but rather the Blue-Ray extras and behind the scenes shots. Taking us through the process can be as fun (or more fun) than watching the end result itself. As humans, we have a tendency to enjoy watching things as they unfold.

A pretty good (not great, but good) example of this was when Pepsi MAX worked with NBA star Kyrie Irving to put the Uncle Drew series together for YouTube. The reasons that it was good is because it was able to tell stories that were interesting enough to get millions of views, was sustainable for a few posts to make it a series, and gave the behind-the-scenes view that we love. The reason that it wasn't great is because it had very little to do with the product itself with only occasional views.

A much better example is a Thai Pantene commercial from a few years ago. It told a compelling story and had all of the right elements but it did not let the product get in the way. In fact, you'll have no idea it's a Pantene commercial until the end. One thing that most will definitely notice is that during the concert, the main character has absolutely incredible hair. When the Pantene logo is shown at the end with the tagline, "You can shine," it all comes together for the viewer.

These are both big productions that most businesses cannot duplicate, but that doesn't mean that you can't draw inspiration from their creativity. The key is to make it last. It doesn't have to revolve around a video, either. A friend, , did an excellent job of using social media to tell the story of her new job. She had a countdown of the top 5 reasons to be excited about her new job. It kept anticipation high, friends (and potential clients) guessing, and showed that even individuals have the ability to tell the right stories about their business.

To succeed at social media marketing, businesses and marketers must embrace the right strategies and couple them with incredible stories. This post itself is an example of this as we will be rolling out stories of our own very soon for our clients. Stay tuned!

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Comment by Brian Bennington on August 5, 2014 at 7:58pm

Hey J.D.,  I totally get this, but even your excellent endorsement of storytelling's importance falls far short of how essential it is to the human condition.  And, it's done nothing but evolve since it began with the earliest civilizations.  You need to look no farther than Ralph Paglia when he gets into the one of his often funny and always entertaining reminiscences of his life and family.  Personally, I love the "Most Interesting Man in the World" spots.  They've got everything.  Great location shots, hot babes, funny story line....  And, I don't even like beer!

When I interview my rep clients before I write their ongoing customer letters, I'm always looking for the "story."  And, from the comments they tell me they get from their customers, they like 'em too!  For me, there's nothing quite as rewarding as turning a rather insignificant event in a rep's personal life into something that's both relevant and entertaining, and do it in two or three sentences.  When I wrote my "Relationship Centered Marketing" website last year, I added a link, "First relationship centered business, then RCM" with the following "story":

In the beginning there was relationship centered business.

It was a blisteringly cold afternoon, accented by gray skys and a light but continuous snowfall from the previous night’s blizzard.  In a small clearing next to a dense wood, two animal-skin clad Neanderthals sat together in front of a crackling fire pit.  One opened a large pouch to show his wares; several pounds of salt.  Rather than the usual nod of approval from the other, he was greeted with a frown of rejection.  After a spirited exchange with much arm waving and grunting, the “salt man” gradually began to understand that his services were no longer needed.  A member of the other’s tribe was now doing salt collection.

“Relationship centered business…nearly impossible to overcome.”  

It was the ice age, and even then, relationship centered business was not only prevalent, it was powerful and nearly impossible to overcome.  While his salt was as good but no better than the “salt man’s,” the tribe member-collector’s “new business” was assured solely by his relationship with the tribe.

RCM: the most effective, least expensive way to relationship centered business. 

Ever since man has bartered goods and services, there has been relationship centered business.  And, because of it, relationship centered marketing exists to enhance it.  While RCM might not be as effective with a buyer who has a family member or close friend selling the same (or a competitive) product or service as you, that scenario is highly unlikely.  The vast majority of your buyers don’t have a “tribe member” you’ll have to compete with, so you can effectively employ your own RCM to personally communicate your friendship and the value you place on their friendship, systematically “bumping-up” and bettering all of your existing and potential customer relationships.

That's the third link on the 1st page when you Google either "relationship centered marketing" or "friendship centered marketing," and the 1st and 2nd links above that are also to my website.  I know it's not social media, but the premise is the same.  "If you 'tell' it, they will come!"


Comment by steven chessin on August 5, 2014 at 5:50pm

CBS did a clever promo for "Everybody Loves Raymond" using a surveillance camera - low-res - time-coded -  mobsters talking, "So ... what's up with Raymond?"  It was brilliant and cost nothing to produce. The story was that even the underworld watches the show.  

When it comes to story telling to sell a car salesmen tend to be talking window stickers without explaining meaningful benefits. I recently overheard a customer say that the price of the vintage Porsche he was looking at was "too expensive". The salesman said, "Yes, it is. And next year it will be 5% more "too expensive". Too bad you didn't buy one ten years ago."   


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