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Social Media Storytelling: What is It And is It Necessary?

Connecting with consumers used to be easy… at least that how it seems to your average retail marketing team.

The formula was simple:

Come up with a catchy slogan or visual campaign. If necessary, then hire a creative team at an ad agency to handle the task. Advertise in the publication, on the radio station, or the television station of your choice.

Then, sit back and watch consumers respond to the creative representation of your brand.

For a number of reasons that would require articles of their own, times have changed, and the expectation of the average consumer has changed, too. Nowadays, the average consumer doesn’t care that much for disruptive advertising.

Today’s consumers want a stronger, more heartfelt reason to give their loyalty (and their money) to a brand.

Enter branded storytelling, and specifically, social media storytelling.

Why is Social Media Storytelling the New Thing?

Marketers have always understood that they need to go where their target audience is. And with mobile entertainment and shopping leading the way as the number-one source of media consumption, marketers would be foolish to ignore online platforms that are now the new neighborhood watering holes:

Social media platforms.

In the old days, people connected by gathering at a neighborhood pub. They’d have a few drinks, enjoy a little entertainment, and they’d trade stories. Today, the same dynamic plays out online.

Friends and strangers from all across the globe gather in select groups on a wide variety of social platforms. They’re entertained, they laugh, they cry, and in general, they share the important moments of life, all while trading stories. And the scenario isn’t limited to adults.

According to a story that ran in the Dallas Morning News, social media platforms will soon replace the local mall for teens who want to connect, be entertained, meet new people, trade stories, and go shopping.

This means that marketing teams must figure out how to create narratives that are worth attention. They’ve got to figure out how to position their brand story as the one that people want to believe in, and share.

Cameron Uganec of Hootsuite gave a speech where he said,

The game has changed. We no longer live in a broadcast era where marketers can simply buy people’s attention with a TV campaign. There are different rules now and we need to earn the attention of our audience.

We have a connected consumer revolution. The consumer is now in control of what they view, what they share, and how they view (on what screen). So there has been a major shift in terms of the relationship between consumers and marketers…

So as marketers how do we take advantage of these trends? One of the best ways we can do that is by combining the power of storytelling with social media. Stories are the way that humans make sense of the world.

Tactics that Don’t Qualify as Social Storytelling

The problem that most marketing teams face with social storytelling is in the tactics they use.

Not only are they using the wrong tactics, they’re also using them either incorrectly, or inappropriately.

For example, sending out blast notifications for sales promotions on social media platforms is not a form of social storytelling. Sales promotion blasts do nothing to create empathy or stir up the imagination of consumers.

Promotional blasts don’t provide any form of substantial education, they don’t inspire thought, and they don’t create an argument as to why social media followers should connect with brands for the long haul. And let’s face it:

Sales promotions that are blasted out on social media are usually boring. They’re ignored or deleted, and they prove to be a waste of time and resources for marketing teams.

Hashtags are another sticky area when it comes to social media storytelling fails.

Too many social media managers feel that they’re doing their brand a service by creating a cute or clever hashtag. They believe that a hashtag will attract new brand followers in droves.

The the problem is, the hashtag is like capturing a photo snap-shot: It captures a moment in time, but it doesn’t begin to tell the entire story.

On the other hand, if marketing teams are telling their brand’s story correctly, then the brand’s story should never be able to be summed up in a simple hashtag comprised of a word, or a short phrase. The story should expand and evolve as the company expands and evolves.

Alex Frias, co-founder and President of branding agency Track Marketing Group outlines why hashtags should be used as a tool (and not as a pillar) for social media storytelling:

Being on the agency side, clients are always looking to sum up their entire brand ethos using one hashtag. Unicorn hashtags — simple premises that the consumer can immediately understand and connect to the brand — are far and in-between.

Use hashtags as a way to corral and enhance your brand story along with the extended consumer chapters and plot twists. The hashtag should not be your brand story.

Today’s consumers crave authenticity and connection. Social media storytelling allows for this in a highly cost-efficient manner that reaches highly segmented audiences right in their emotional sweet-spot.

Terri is a content marketing storyteller and strategist. She teaches marketing and entrepreneurship through stories for marketers of all stripes. Her specialty is creating narrative and she writes essays and memoir in her spare time.

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