To Master Social Media, Tell Stories That Mesmerize
I dart around the Internet, mindlessly searching. I attach to things that are familiar, almost on autopilot. And then... a shiny, new idea or object catches my attention for a brief second. As a business owner, that’s the moment you need to generate and deepen, again and again, to connect with customers and win their trust and loyalty.
Great writers and business leaders create this environment of attraction through storytelling, the human brain’s most primitive and powerful form of communication. How do they do it? And how can you tap into their secrets to make your online content and social media continuously sticky and memorable?
Draw the reader in with action and surprise.
Focus on the headline and first 10 words. Make it a game; make some new thing happen in six words or less. Use quirky verbs, surprising examples, uncanny twists. Seth Godin is the master of this. “Short order cooks rarely make things happen,” one recent headline proclaimed, with the subhead “How far does your agenda extend?” Or take Mr. Money Mustache, who almost always begins with a story: “It was a beautiful evening, and I was enjoying one of my giant homebrews on a deck chair I’d placed in the middle of the street…” You keep reading to make sure he doesn’t get run over!
There is a shift toward long-form content on sites like Medium and LinkedIn. Content marketers have coined the phrase “10x content” for social content that delivers radically new ways of thinking and solving problems. But even the best content is entirely lost without a way to reel your reader in, so focus there first.
Show how things changed in a palpable moment.
Once you have your readers’ attention, you keep them engaged with simple, human stories -- a story in which something happens and the protagonist is transformed. Bernie Sanders’ campaign has mastered the fundamental dynamics of storytelling. His marketing team highlights individuals who embody the campaign’s promise. Take Sanders’ “America Beyond” YouTube video: a young boy grows up so poor he uses buckets of snow to flush the toilet. He does poorly in high school. When he later lands at college, he doubles down and discovers he’s a great student. He becomes a teacher so every student will understand his or her potential. If your business isn’t building momentum on social media, you’re moving backwards. Who are your core customers? What are their stories? How does your product or service change their lives for the better?
Use specific details to deliver your message.
On the Internet we’re overwhelmed with visual detail: perfectly cropped and filtered photos, sunsets and selfies, and products galore. In a sea of visual stimulation, authentic stories are increasingly valuable. Every sentence matters. When you work with an implicit story structure, the readers experience your message through their own memories.
It’s a bit counterintuitive, but the more specific you are, the more powerfully your story will resonate with other people. Starbucks conjures a whole world of experience through a single detail, and you’re invited to participate in that experience with your purchase: “Savor the complexities of our single-origin Sulawesi from Indonesia. Available in stores and online for a limited time only.” You can also use details to paint a picture of the future. Arizona State University asks a simple question-- ”What if we could detect diseases before symptoms even appear?” -- to draw visitors into their commitment to medical research.
Your brand is the accretion of these fleeting but memorable moments, when your company speaks to customers through the stories of our shared human experience. To succeed in social media, you need to maintain a cliché-free zone. Real people don’t respond to marketing lingo. Young people arrive suspicious, and will click out the instant they sniff anything inauthentic. As the world spins faster, and your customers’ attention is harder and harder to maintain, storytelling draws your customers into your vision and sustains their connection with your products and your brand.
Carol Barash started Story2 to create a future where everyone, from every background, can tell their stories and pursue their boldest dreams. She has been counseling students on college admissions and working in EdTech for more than 20 years. Barash has taught at Princeton, the University of Michigan and Rutgers University, and served on the Douglass College admissions committee. She graduated summa cum laude from Yale University, received full scholarships and completed her MA at the University of Virginia and her PhD at Princeton University. Barash is the author of Write Out Loud (McGraw-Hill, 2013).