Social Media Storytelling 101 – How To Start If You’re Still New


The following is a guest post from Future Buzz community member David Murton. If you’d like to contribute thinking here, please read the guidelines.

Storytelling is a timeless way to personalize a company and build word of mouth. People love to hear stories and social media, due to its inherent nature of building upon narratives, is the ideal place to tell them.

Consumers naturally want to feel connected to the businesses they buy from and evolve from a transactional to a more emotional relationship.

Information has traveled by word of mouth since the beginning of time, and at its core the web amplifies this. Customers are already telling stories about your business, so telling your own story and building/shaping the existing narrative is critical to how you’re perceived.

How storytelling can help you in social media

It’s common knowledge that starting a sales web page with a story about your product or service is a great way to catch customers attention and show your product or service’s relevance to a real life situation. Companies often have trouble describing their service or product in simple, easy to understand terms. Telling a story not only describes the product and simplifies this challenge, it also helps bring the product or service to life.

But posting on social channels is a different animal. It involves a long term narrative that is ever-unfolding and closer to improvisation than a perfected script. And what most don’t understand is that it’s not even about your products or news here. Not really on most days. It’s the stuff in between, the glimpses into your company’s personality and character, their thought leadership and the trust that builds.

If you did nothing else in social media from a storytelling perspective, consider implementing these two examples:

  • Consistently publish images and text or even video of  real team members and their stories about their passion for your business.
  • Always share the personal side of your business, even going as far as mishaps and struggles (and how they were solved). The honesty is what counts here.

Different Types of Stories

Time Sensitive Stories

Many stories used for marketing are time sensitive. Contextualizing current events in your industry is a great way to connect with customers and help them look to you as a source. Also, giving your community exclusive content first (for example, releasing survey data, a new PDF or an infographic) will help them feel as if they are an insider to your brand and you’re creating media just for them (as you should be). If you do this consistently and focus opt in at the source to receive this content, you’ll condition the web to come to you.

Non-Time Sensitive Stories

Stories that are not time sensitive – aka evergreen stories – can be published and shared regardless of the time of year or current events. For example, you could create a list on 50 tips to solve a problem your company addresses (whether complementary or supplementary to actual products). If you sell kitchen ware, perhaps it is: 50 Creative Tales Of Kitchen Accessory Use From Our Biggest Fans. Ideally, this content would then attract inbound traffic and links, encouraging social shares for years to come. This type of content can easily be built upon and made modular if successful. I’m always surprised more brands don’t go to the effort of creating useful, unique content that provides inbound results agnostic of time.

How to write a compelling story

The best stories speak to an appropriate audience. They have believable, real characters, an intriguing setting and an interesting plot. In social media specifically, they break down the normal walls built between brands and customers or even different departments within an organization.

When writing a story in social channels, companies must think about the needs of the customer and speak to them – or even better – include them in the story. With wireless internet now available pretty much everywhere, it is an opportunity for all companies to get their customers creating high quality media in real-time.

Using humor, struggle, and/or romance add a human element to the story that customers can relate to. Using dynamic content formats such as video, pictures, and music adds entertainment and a degree of professionalism to a story. Stories being told on social channels should be short (but not necessarily always) be easily digestible, build upon a narrative and not sound like a commercial.

…and how not to

Stories should not start with cliches like Once Upon A Time. They should also not begin with a description of the weather, setting, or characters. The beginning of a story needs to catch the reader’s attention or they will stop reading – learn the art of the lede.

The middle of the story should not be too long or boring, rather it should be interesting, easily digestible  and keep the reader’s attention. The action should move quickly and not drag on or be too wordy. The middle of the story can be descriptive, but it’s best to describe the action and not the scenery. Focus on the problem and how your company and the customer worked together to solve it.

Finally, after you’ve written the story, be sure to proofread: spelling or grammar mistakes will detract from your story and hurt from the credibility of your business. Think we’re joking? Zappos uses Amazon Mechanical Turk to fix spelling and grammar errors in reviews, and it increases sales. There’s no specific data released , but Zappos claims that this resulted in “substantial” revenue increases, for a cost of a few hundred thousand dollars (across 5 million reviews).

So …what stories are you telling?

David Murton has been helping companies build and maintain their online relationships with customers since 2006. He is also a professional writer and blogger, with a particular interest in the open source Drupal platform. On a more personal note, David is an avid piano and accordion player, drawn especially to music of the classical and romantic periods.

image credit: Shutterstock