It was a dark and stormy night…
No, that’s not how were going to start, but, admittedly, it has become a bit of a cliché for how some stories begin. I still want to talk about stories and storytelling, but before I go any further, please take three short minutes and watch the video above.
I thought the video would make for an inspiring beginning. A clip from The Last Tycoon starring Robert De Niro, it is one of my favourite clips to illustrate imagination, moviemaking and storytelling.
As you saw, De Niro’s character had his guests enthralled with the story he was telling. It was a story that had no ending, yet the audience wanted to know the outcome. De Niro’s character left it with them to decide how it should end.
How many of us could have finished the story? How many of us could have started it? Why is storytelling so hard for some?
And if it is so hard for some, then why is storytelling something we hear so much about with respect to social media and content strategy?
The Telling of the Story
I participated on a panel entitled The Art of Storytelling at Podcamp earlier this year discussing which companies were doing it well (e.g. Audi and their super bowl commercial, Prom) and which were not doing it well (e.g. Lincoln’s Steer The Script driven by ideas from Jimmy and Twitter).
Most organizations know how to tell their story, but typically they tell it with a sales agenda or they focus on features rather than benefits. In the realm of social media, organizations and individuals need to tell stories that entertain, inform, uplift and even provoke.
Often, it helps if organizations or individuals only tell part of the story and let others carry it further. In some cases, enabling people to tell their own stories can have even more dramatic effects. Intel has recent examples of both.
Intel’s Visual Life program told the stories of others. Intel did not talk about what they made, “but what they made possible.”
They shared the story of Scott Schumann, a.k.a. The Sartorialist, who takes pictures of people on the streets of Milan, Paris and New York and shares them with thousands of people every day on his blog. And with the Museum of Me, Intel enabled individuals to create a virtual museum based on their Facebook profile, friends and timeline that you could then move through.
Intel enabled people to create their own stories in a very unique and experiential way.
In both cases, the Intel brand was carried along as many of the different stories were shared across a variety of social media channels. By enabling the stories of others, Intel’s story gets told too.
The Participation of Storytellers
Another example of a company enabling storytelling through user-generated content is GoPro.
Take a look at the videos posted by users on their website. There are plenty of extreme sports examples, but there are also others, like the father teaching his three-year-old son how to surf.
GoPro not only allows users to capture their stories but, in some ways, allows the viewer to be part of the story.
Intel and GoPro created or enabled the creation of engaging content.
Other companies like WestJet and their Winglet Wednesdays ask passengers to take pictures of the wingtip on the staple plane that WestJet uses and share them on Facebook.
This is a subtle way of WestJet getting passengers to show their affinity for their brand and tell some stories about where they are going or where they are coming from.
But storytelling and user-generated content doesn’t always have to be about videos or pictures.
Blogs were the first foray into storytelling, and their authors, the users, were the ones telling the stories in simple text. Not all the stories had heroes, villains or a cliff-hanger ending.
Over time, blogs and the concept of storytelling have woven their way into the means by which companies and individuals reach and engage audiences. The stories get read, discussed, debated and, ideally, shared because they strike a chord with the reader: they teach us something, we see ourselves to some degree in them, or see someone we know in them so we share them.
What does storytelling have to do with business and sales? A great deal actually.
Different Sides of the Story
Let me tell you essentially the same story two different ways to make my point.
#1 – Public Perception
A company should focus on good customer service and fixing problems in case someone is treated poorly, then the company will hopefully be able to avoid, or quickly deal with, the mistreated customer sharing their disappointment with friends.
#2 – Private Perception
Recently, I was at conference with 1500+ people in the audience. The MC shared a story with the audience about a retail experience he had had. He was recently married, but before the wedding his bride-to-be had ordered a pair of shoes for him online from one of the oldest and most established shoe retailers in Canada. He received a delivery, but unfortunately what he received was not what his fiancée had ordered.
The Groom was savvy about social media and chose to reach out to the retailer via the retailer’s branded Twitter account. Sadly, he had to resort to other means of reaching the retailer to fix the situation because they did not respond to his inquiry via Twitter for A MONTH. That’s right — A MONTH. Would returning a phone call a month later be acceptable? Most would agree that the answer to that question is “no.”
He shared his customer service experience with a room filled with 1500+ people and the retailer, mentioned by name, likely had no idea that they were the subjects of a disappointing customer experience.
Now, which version of the story resonated with you? Number two, right?
After all, we have a hero in the everyman sharing his experience, a villain in the retailer, and a story most of us can relate to. The story has more colour, more drama, and more to remember.
So how can organizations be more memorable with their storytelling if so many feel that they don’t have stories to tell, or can’t tell them very well? I often answer that question by sharing the story of Indium Corporation and how they addressed the issue of content and storytelling.
An Army of Storytellers
I had the good fortune to interview Rick Short from Indium Corporation. His efforts have been covered in books like Content Rules because of the amazing things that he and his colleagues have been able to achieve through blogging, content creation and storytelling.
In speaking with Rick, I learned that Indium Corporation has 70+ keyword-driven blogs written by 10+ staff engineers who write about solder paste and other related topics. You read that correctly — SOLDER PASTE.
The blogs reach a very specific audience and position the bloggers, and Indium Corporation more broadly, as thought leaders, and this translates into highly qualified leads who are engaged by the content and are easier to close. Rick’s motto is “Content to Contact to Cash.”
So if you or your organization do not think you have a story to tell or are afraid that you won’t tell it in an engaging way, remember Indium Corporation. If they can make solder paste an engaging and profitable topic to write stories about, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.
If you are still struggling with the idea of telling a story, then, if applicable, think about the time you first met your spouse or significant other and how you have told that story when asked. If you have had years of practice, then you have probably improved the story over time and your own natural inclination to tell the story with passion comes through.
Think about how often we share stories from our youth or how stories are told by groups of friends who shared an experience years ago at school, camping or “that time when….” What about the ever-popular, “You won’t believe what happened to me”?
We hear, witness and tell stories every day, from the mundane to the thought-provoking, and some of the sad and funny in between.
In order for us to up our storytelling game in support of our businesses, our marketing efforts, and ultimately our sales, we need to get out of our own way, find new angles and perspectives for talking about who we are and what we do, and more importantly, seek and celebrate the stories of those we have helped and impacted in some memorable way.
As always, I would love to hear your thoughts and comments, and if you have an idea of what the nickel is for I’m all ears.
A recognized senior social strategist, speaker, and blogger. He has held senior strategy roles with wireless, e-business, financial, and social CRM service providers, helping clients remain competitive by embracing social media and digital technologies.