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How to Unleash Your Brand's Potential With Social Media Storytelling Learn how to tell stories on social media that will engage your audience and help you meet your marketing communication goals.

By Keith A. Quesenberry

entrepreneur daily

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In recent Entrepreneur articles, I've been talking about the power of brand storytelling through a three Rs approach and by considering your brand's social identity. It may be easy to imagine how to tell a brand story in traditional media like TV ads or even print ads, but what about social media? Social media is an important part of most marketing communication strategies today. The average percent of marketing budgets spent on social media has increased from just 3.5% in 2009 to over 15% in 2021.

Consider social media's differences

Traditional forms of digital marketing communication consist of well-crafted visual and verbal messages. That is a part of social media content, but it also involves listening and creating custom messages in response to consumers. Real-time discussions, scheduled brand posts, curated related third-party content, shared consumer-generated content and paid influencer content combine into a social media plan. While marketers can't control all the brand messages, they can manage the conversation through storytelling. How?

Related: 5 Reasons Brand Storytelling Is Critical to Your Marketing Strategy

Search social communities for story insights

Confirm that the brand is active on the social media platforms where current customers and prospective customers are most active. To tell the right stories, you must be in the right places. Once you identify the most active brand community platforms, study the content and interactions that occur on them. Each social platform is unique and comes with different expectations from users and brands.

The most engaging and effective content on Facebook or LinkedIn is different from Instagram, TikTok and YouTube. Social media listening can help you understand the differences by collecting data from brand social mentions and other relevant conversations. Also, research social platform algorithms to learn what each emphasizes in determining what content appears in a person's social media feed.

Social media can tell stories in multiple ways

Research conducted by my colleague Michael K. Coolsen and I found that YouTube brand advertising videos that told a complete story received more shares and views than ones with less or no story development. Shares and views increased as stories developed with the greatest improvement in engagement with four and five-act stories following the five-act story structure known as Freytag's Pyramid.

However, much of social media takes different forms such as 240-character tweets, 15-second TikTok videos or Instagram and Pinterest photos. Even on YouTube, the popular 6-second YouTube bumper ads can present a challenge to tell a complete story. For these social media platforms, think of each post as a small part of the larger story.

Plan the plot for a bigger brand story that leverages all five acts expressed in social media on a daily or weekly basis over a longer time. Schedule on a content calendar to ensure the right story is told in the right order to the right audience. YouTube bumper ads can also be scheduled so that individual users view them in a specific order over time.

No matter the form or time, a series of social posts can take you on an emotional roller coaster where tension is created and then released, producing emotions that your audience will want to share with others. Below are suggestions on how to tell a story on social media in each act of Freytag's Pyramid.

  • Act 1 — Introduction: Show your brand's history, people and mission or vision. Or describe the background of your typical customer as the protagonist in a story.

  • Act 2 — Rising action: Simply posting the same promotion or benefit won't draw or keep interest. Build up tension through obstacles leading to a big action, reveal or turning point.

  • Act 3 — Climax: Depict the brand or customer reaching a defining moment and discovering a solution or conquering a challenge with your product or service.

  • Act 4 — Falling action: If your story depicts an obstacle overcome, show the outcomes for the brand or consumer. If your story is about an opportunity seized, illustrate the benefits.

  • Act 5 — Resolution: Display the brand or customer winning in a final victory. Give a glimpse of the ultimate brand and customer goal or the "happily ever after."

Related: Win More Business by Copying Nike's Storytelling Playbook

Each of the five storytelling acts can be told through a combination of brand-created posts, shared third-party content, reposted consumer-generated content and paid influencer content. Remember to leverage the power of both verbal and visual communication to fully illustrate each act's message and meaning.

The way you release your brand stories into the world through social media matters. Be more strategic by researching social media platform differences, searching social media communities for story insights and considering the larger plot in your brand stories as told through a five-act story framework.

Keith A. Quesenberry

Associate Professor of Marketing

Keith A. Quesenberry is an associate professor at Messiah University. Author of Social Media Strategy: Marketing, Advertising and Public Relations in the Consumer Revolution and Brandstorytelling: Integrated Marketing Communications For The Digital Media Landscape.

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