Authenticity. Transparency. Thought leadership. Humanization. If you’ve ventured onto the social-media playing field, or even if you’ve just been a spectator, you’ve heard these words. Social-media proponents spit them out ad nauseam to explain the benefits of social media for brands, which includes everyone—Fortune 500 companies, small businesses, politicians, higher education and everything in between. Don’t get me wrong: I agree that they’re benefits. Something bigger, however, is available to all brands—your story.
The greatest advantage of embracing social-media tools is the ability of brands to tell their story across a variety of touch points. Utilizing tools like Twitter, Facebook, and a branded blog enables a brand to connect with its audience and pull the kimono back while telling individual chapters of its story to that audience.
The primary challenge is to figure out what, exactly, your brand’s story is. That’s no easy task and would take far more effort than a single blog post. In fact, we just put the Occupy Wall Street protesters through a Story Platform workshop (unbeknownst to them) to give them a unified story that they could embrace and scream from the mountaintops. It’s not perfect (real workshops demand the deep involvement of brand stakeholders and months of effort), but it is a good example of how a brand narrative is born.
Should you feel you have a good grasp of your story and the message you’re trying to share, you need to share it. But you’re not trying to share it all in one shot. No blog post, Facebook status, or 140-character tweet could ever contain it. You’re going to utilize these social-media tools (there are many; plus there are other methods for reaching audiences) to tell bits and pieces—chapters, if I may—of your story.
If you are still on the sidelines, let me show you how social media can help you tell your brand’s story:
Blogging emerged far earlier than Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or any of the social-media properties that now dominate the marketing headlines. When you put proper effort into your blog, it becomes far more important than any corporate brochure site you can put together; and as far as social-media storytelling is concerned, it’s one of the few places you can publish long-form content.
If you have a brand but don’t have a blog, you need to get one yesterday (and subscribe to SiteSketch). Use your blog to create relevant content that is either useful or entertaining or both. Let this content define who you are (as a person/author) and shape what your brand can offer your audience. Again, this is just one chapter, but it’s a long chapter, in which your audience can sit and stay for minutes instead of seconds (and a minute is very long in social-media time).
Since its inception, Twitter has gotten a lot of flack for its propensity as a platform for users to update followers with links to cat videos and descriptions (and pictures) of what they ate for breakfast. This caterpillar has emerged from its cocoon a butterfly, however, and proven that it has something to offer that Facebook and Google cannot (or at least have yet to) replicate. Twitter is a powerful tool for helping tell your brand’s story in quick and easy teaspoonfuls that can be shared one at a time with a single click of any device.
An obstacle to telling your brand’s story on Twitter is that it’s a one-to-one platform. That is, people don’t want to converse with a logo or a faceless brand. Whether you ask your employees to tweet on behalf of the brand, or your group-authored Twitter account has initials (like ^JT) after each tweet to specify which human it came from, it’s important to humanize your account. At Story, we have a corporate (@StoryWorldwide) and even a sub-brand (@PostAdvertising) account, but our individual employees tend to do the heavy lifting when it comes to telling our story, and it’s safe to say that 90 percent of all tweets are handcrafted and posted in real time (not automated).
You can use Twitter in a variety of ways. The most common is to tweet links to content that’s useful and relevant to your audience. But you must also utilize the channel to speak one-on-one with your followers. If your feed is filled with links, particularly those pointing back to your own properties, you’re doing it wrong. Make sure you’re replying as much as possible and sharing other people’s content 10 times as often as your own (easier said than done sometimes). Both these methods will help your audience move along on their journey within your story.
Rounding out the social-media trifecta (I’ll reiterate that these are three of many social-media tools, and that social media is itself just one part of marketing) is Facebook, particularly brand pages. Fitting somewhere between the long-form, generally one-way nature of blog posts and the 140-character, conversational nature of Twitter, Facebook’s personality derives from the number of platform users—more than most countries have citizens—and the fact that the average user visits many times a day. More critical than the numbers, though, is Facebook’s ability to let brands to enter the lives of their audiences (a.k.a. consumers, prospects, fans, etc.) and be treated like family.
Utilize Facebook as a place not just to deliver relevant information (which is important) but also to build a community. Ask questions and create conversations. Listen to feedback and adjust accordingly. Spread the content that users bring to you. But in the end, guarantee that the content and conversations all lead back to your brand’s story and mission. It’s another touch point along your audience’s journey.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to digital storytelling and one small subset of all the tools available to you in the social-media universe. Regardless of where you interact, make sure you’ve done the research necessary to unearth your brand’s story. What is it that defines your brand, and where does it fit in to the competitive landscape? How do your customers see your brand? How do your competitors see it? How do your employees see it? How do you yourself see it?
Also, should you look to hire any agency that claims to be able to tell brand stories, make sure you kick the tires. Storytelling has been quite the buzzword lately in the world of marketing and advertising. Many agencies and “social media gurus” are proclaiming that they’ve all of a sudden learned to craft and tell a brand story effectively; only a few, however, have been doing exactly this for more than a decade.
Have you tried to unearth your brand’s real story? How are you telling it? Let me know in the comments.