The 7 Rules of Social Storytelling

Courtesy of Tom Fishburne

How do you create a good story - one that will attract and enchant your audience?

Well, first you need to ensure that you write or produce a compelling story. There are several ways to author such a story:
  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.

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. In this day and age, nobody likes to be rudely and unceremoniously interrupted by marketing messages.

How then should we tell our tale?

Enter the 7 "I"s of social storytelling. While these are not comprehensive and foolproof, they cover key characteristics that every business needs to know to roll out an effective 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.

Keep your customer enchanted for the long haul. Always end with a teaser and 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. The most successful social storytellers know that the only way to continually engage your audience is to involve them. Find ways to enlarge your story arc. Encompass your customer communities. Make it their story too.

A good way to make your story interactive is to incorporate game mechanics into your business. By doing so, your customers can can also contribute "chapters" to your corporate or brand chronicle.

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.

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. While you shouldn'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 business from the rest.

6. Immersive

Here, it may be useful to emulate the tricks of Hollywood blockbusters. Using a mixture of teaser trailers, full length trailers, sneak interviews, photo gallery, sound bites, script peeks, games and so on, they are able to draw you deeper and deeper into their fantasy world.

Similarly, if you do run a physical outlet, find ways to weave your storyline into every facet of your business. This includes not just the copy on your website, blog or press release, but other items like decor, customer service scripts, menu, product catalogue and so on. Every touch point needs to immerse your audience in the same narrative.

7. Incentive

Last but certainly not least, a good story should yield psychological paybacks 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?

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