How brands can tell stories on social media

We love a good story. Over coffee, around the watercooler, at a BBQ, we love to share stories; ours or those we’ve heard. They enthral us, and often motivate us for change or action.

Storytelling is not a new concept for brands, but it’s become all the more important as companies and organisations flock to social media to disseminate their information.

So why are stories effective, and how can brands harness them?

Stories are innately social

As mentioned, people love to share their stories, and as such, the social element in stories is powerful. Hence why they fit so well on social media.

As we move away from the “broadcast” era, where the largest wallet and therefore audience, would win, now our audience itself is a key aspect as to how far our content makes it.

A well constructed story has a lot more effect on your audience than a general piece of content. This is because stories are naturally more memorable, persuasive, and emotive. The exact reason that they’re used as parable to help teach.

When brands harness stories correctly, they’re more likely to have their messages stick, and aid with a call to action.

The structure of stories

One of the reasons that the brain, and in turn people, love stories is that they have a familiar feel thanks to the natural narrative structure.

A University of Vermont research study looked at over 1,700 books, and found that there were six general story arcs which most stories fit into. The story arcs were plotted on a graph, displaying the good and bad fortune of the main character through the novel.  

From children’s classics to modern thrillers, the general structure of stories fit into the six arcs.

Brands can use these familiar arcs to help develop story-based content that resonates higher with their audience.

An incredible example of this is Western Sydney University’s 2016 video; Deng Adut - Refugee Lawyer. This video follows the “Man in a hole” story arc, where they tell the trials and eventual success of Deng Adut; WSU and its brand takes a back seat as they tell the harrowing story.

As a result, the piece received some 2.6 million views on YouTube, and nearly 7.5 thousand shares on Facebook.

Elements of a good story

Whilst we’re not making a Michael Bay blockbuster, we want to make sure our stories have all the elements they need to be successful. A Georgetown University study, identified five elements require for an effective story;

  • An Effective Character: Creating a single character who is the focal point is imperative. In bygone eras, brands used to position themselves as the hero, swooping in to help their struggling customers. Now, like the Western Sydney University content, effective story telling places your audience as the hero or main character, and the brand or organisation as the supporting character.
  • Trajectory: An experience, a journey, a discovery; the trajectory is what happens in your story. You want to ensure the trajectory or path of the story is compelling, so using one of the mentioned story arcs, allows the story itself be developed, and resonate with your audience.
  • Authenticity: Whether it’s a chat around a BBQ, or a story on Social Media, authentic stories are always better received. Authenticity really revolves around showing, not telling; you convey the trajectory of your character, not just discuss it. For brands and organisations, a big part of this is dropping the industry or internal jargon and leave those acronyms in the boardroom.   
  • Action orientated emotions: Emotion is important in stories, and helps with the “sharability” of content. You want to align the emotion your audience feels with the call to action, making your content more effective. Of course, key to this, is identifying what outcome you want of your content. No goal, no game.
  • A Hook: With the attention span of adults sitting around the 8 second mark, you want to be able to grab their attention quickly and effectively. Especially on social, we don’t want them changing the proverbial channel. Whether it’s written, imagery, or video, make sure you audience is hooked early.

Regardless of whether your proverbial water cooler will be Facebook, YouTube, or another social platform, think of how stories can help make your content become more effective.



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