Three Reasons Why Storytelling is the Key to Social Media Marketing Success


I recently wrote about how I rediscovered the importance of storytelling at TEDIndia. I have been thinking a lot about storytelling since then, especially the role of storytelling in social media marketing.

I have come to the conclusion that social media is most powerful when its used for creating, collecting and sharing stories. In fact, I now believe that storytelling is the key to social media marketing success. Here are three reasons why:

1. We love listening to stories.

We loved listening to stories as children and even though we have grown up, we still love listening to stories. We love the drama, the ups and downs, the plot twists, the ability of good stories to take us through an emotional roller-coaster. That’s why we loved fairy tales as children, that’s why we read novels and watch movies as adults, that’s why case studies are such a powerful part of business literature.

2. We learn from stories.

Stories have meaning embedded in them. The fairy tales we heard as children were, in fact, complex morality tales with layers upon layers of meaning. The stories we love the most shape us the most because we model our lives on the lives of the heroes and heroins in these stories. We learn from stories: about who we are, about how the world works, and about how business and marketing are changing. We become the stories we believe in, we become the stories that we share with others.

3. We love sharing stories.

Stories are meant to be shared. If we like a story, we share it with others, instinctively. Before writing was invented, human knowledge spread, and survived, because masters told stories to their disciples who shared them with others. But we don’t only share stories to transfer knowledge. We share stories to build relationships, build kinship, as individuals, as groups and as civilizations. We share stories to bond with friends, attract potential mates and rally together our friends against shared enemies. Sharing stories comes almost as naturally to us as remembering to breathe.

Given how central storytelling is to the human condition, it’s not a surprise that social media is most powerful when it is used for storytelling.

These stories can be about the organization and its brands, but they are more powerful when they are stories about the role these brands play in the lives of their consumers. The most powerful stories are about what these brands stand for, if they stand for a larger social object: a lifestyle, a cause, or a passion.

For instance, for an food and beverages company, these stories can be about individual brands and their campaigns at one level, about recipes, flavors and consumption occasions at another level, and about being a homemaker, growing up as a teenager, or living a healthy lifestyle at yet another level.

Social media can play an important role in creating opportunities for new positive stories, collecting stories being told elsewhere, sharing these stories on a high-engagement social platform, and spreading these stories through influencers and evangelists using existing social networks. TV and print are only good at packaging and broadcasting a single blockbuster story. Social media, on the other hand, lends itself naturally to the messiness of such multi-layered storytelling.

Finally, storytelling works best when its tied to specific business objectives. For the food and beverages company, these stories can serve multiple business objectives: usage and behavior research, engagement, trial and advocacy.

So, the next time you are thinking about using social media for marketing your brand, start by asking yourself about the stories you want to share about your brand, your users and the bigger social object that brings them together.

Here are some other resources you should look at for learning more about the intersection of social media marketing and storytelling:

Ed Schipul defines the modern storytelling narrative as it applies to social media.

Elizabeth Sosnow shares seven types of business stories.

Alan Levine shares 50 web 2.0 ways to tell a story (wiki).

PRBlog asks: what’s your story?

Gregg Morris has a great compilation of storytelling resources.

Kathy Hansen has compiled a free e-book where 40+ storytelling professional share their secrets.

– Finally, Reuben Steiger on Advertising Age asks if the internet has failed as a storytelling medium.

What are your favorite resources about social media and storytelling?

Photo Credit: @kodomut on Flickr via CC license.

Cross-posted at 2020 Social: Because Business is Social.

I am co-founder of social business strategy company 20:20 Social. In my previous avatars, I have held senior marketing roles at the Tata Group, taught social media at Georgetown University, and co-founded Vote Report India. Do read my bio and consider interviewing me for a story, inviting me to speak at an event, or asking me to help you with your social business strategy.

Related posts:

  1. Ideas Rediscovered at TEDIndia: The Importance of Storytelling
  2. Full House at Dave Evans’ Social Media Marketing Workshops in Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai
  3. Register for 20:20 Media’s Social Media Marketing Workshop in Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai

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