What’s with Storytelling in Social Media?

Posted on June 14, 2013

Stories are the foundation of childhood no matter where you were brought up. It’s one thing we all have in common; we all have a story to tell. And we love hearing stories; they build imagination, foster creativity, and allow us to escape and find comfort in their secrets, lessons, twists and turns.

Sure, you can read volumes of case studies and theories on story composition and structure. Just ask the talented folks at Pixar and Disney who have mastered storytelling and making every plot feel so familiar. There’s certainly an art to it. At the same time, is there anything complex about “The Little Engine that Could”? I mean really. A little blue train is tasked with a nearly impossible mission all the while repeating “I think I can” to itself. Brilliantly simple concept for the audience to grasp.

Storytelling is making its way into social media at a pretty fast clip, but not without some speed bumps. Marketers are being scolded for soliciting post likes with lines such as “Like this post if…” and rightfully so. They may perform well, but they’re lazy at best and clogging up our news feeds. The early days of social were quota-driven, and now that companies have captured their audience, they need to stop posting crap. Big brands and small businesses are guilty of begging audiences to engage with apathetic tactics. It’s sad, it’s annoying, and frankly the bullshit needs to stop.

It doesn’t matter if your company makes the bristles on a toothbrush or those tiny aglets on a shoelace. If you own a business, you’ve built a brand, and it wasn’t easy. Every brand has a story to tell, and getting your customers to tell it for you (without pulling teeth) should be the end goal for your social media presence.

Your fans have given you permission to fill their feeds with pictures, videos and witty or helpful messages. They want to share stories with you, but in a genuine fashion. They don’t want to be told what to do, what to say and when to say it. After all, social media isn’t your territory, it’s theirs. Please start acting like it’s a privilege to be there.


Storytelling may be one of the buzzwords of 2013, but it certainly isn’t a newcomer to the marketing world. Solid storytelling is told through experiences. I always point to Prudential’s Day One campaign as one of the best examples of storytelling. It’s powerful. It’s emotional. The product ties in beautifully and makes you want what they’re selling. It makes you want to adopt the brand since we can all relate to the experiences and stories being told. (Ok, most of us aren’t ready for retirement just yet, but you get the point.)

Storytelling in social media should revolve around a central concept. The simpler, the better. For Prudential, the idea was to tell firsthand accounts of the emotions attached to that very first day of retirement. In all the years of buildup to that first day no one ever thinks about how it might change them when it arrives. It’s an amazing thing; years of hard work and dedication, good times and bad, through struggles and sacrifices. Your life, up until that day one, all come to this pinnacle of a moment. And what do you feel in that moment? The first time you wake up and don’t have to get dressed and clock in. The day you saved up for, sacrificed for your entire adult life and never though would pay off. What do you do on this first day?



Linda Guthrie describes her day one: “Day one. First day of my retirement. First day I’ve never had to answer to anybody for anything. Except Deacon. Gotta give him his treats or he’d be unhappy.”



Droga 5, the agency behind Day One immerses you right into the thick of the moment the characters share their – “this is it” epiphany. “This is the day I’ve been working for all of my life.” And you come to know the characters well. They’re your neighbor, your kid’s third grade teacher, your parents. Day one is a day you never actually think deeply about until it’s in clear sight. But yet, it’s a monumental day of freedom and reward that not everyone gets to enjoy.

Prudential Day One Stories

The best stories are simple and familiar, emotional and in the end should drive some kind of predetermined action. Each one of your customers has a unique story to tell. How you helped them lose weight. How you helped them save money. How you gave them inspiration or made their day by going the extra mile for them.

My point? Business is about helping people. At least that’s one way to look at it. Get out of the mindset that your brand is an entity; people make up your brand, and because of that you have the power to make an impression that creates a relationship. Collectively, all these relationships, all these stories and perceptions make up your brand. Memorable experiences become stories, and stories last a lifetime. What you do with that, and how you convey it matters.

You’ve already done the hard work and established trust, don’t blow it by begging for likes on your Facebook Page. Social media can be a clusterfuck at times, but going back to the basics always works. On a platform where regular content dies in a matter of hours or even minutes, showing a little compassion can make all the difference.


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