How to Leverage the Power of Storytelling in Your Social Media Marketing

What keeps you coming back to your favorite books, TV series or movies? A good story. Publishers and producers know this and have become masters at using the power of story to draw big audiences.

Today, businesses are relying less on buying audiences with paid ads in traditional mass media and are turning to marketing on social media. However, to be successful we must approach this new media with a different mindset.

In advertising marketers interrupt the story people want to see with brand promotions that pay for it. Yet, in social media marketers must create the content people want to see. Brands must interest the audience themselves by telling a good brand story. But what makes a good story?

To research the power of story my colleague Michael Coolsen and I analyzed two years of Super Bowl commercials – the one time people choose to watch advertisements for the enjoyment of the ads themselves. We wanted to know which ads were the most liked, the ones that drew interest with buzz and votes to finish in the top of the advertising ratings polls.

We coded the commercials based on Freytag’s Pyramid, a theory, which breaks down story into five parts: introduction (exposition), rising action, climax, falling action and resolve (denouement). Shakespeare used this story formula to draw mass audience for his five act plays.

Keith Quesenberry postcontrolmarketing.com storytelling social media marketing

What we found was the ads that tell a complete story (all five acts) were the most popular and the ads at the bottom of the consumer ratings polls told less of a story (less than five acts). Having all five parts creates a dramatic arc or plot – the formula for being interesting. This is the same story formula you can apply to social media.

Social media depends on producing frequent, consistent, quality content. Brand managers used to producing yearly advertising campaigns with a series of 3 to 6 ads, are often left wondering what to post daily or weekly on their social networks. Establishing a bigger brand story can give you the content base you need. Then each social post or response can be a mini-chapter or character quote, expressing and advancing the overall story.

Social Media Marketing In Five Acts:

Act 1: Introduction. Also called the Exposition, this provides the background details, setting, previous events, character, etc. People buy brands for products and service, but also for the back story. Are you sharing your company’s history, people and mission or vision through your social media content?

Act 2: Rising Action. This is a series of related incidents or events that build toward a point of greatest interest – the climax. Be careful of flat posts that simply contain the same information over and over in different ways. Think from a much bigger perspective of creating social media posts that build upon each other towards a big action, reveal or turning point that fans and followers can look forward to, check in on and keeping coming back to see.

Act 3: Climax. This is the turning point, which changes the main character’s fate. There are two ways to think about this act for marketing. First identify the main character of your social media effort. Are your posts focused on telling the brand story or are they focused on telling your customer’s story. In social media you want to present the brand or customer reaching a turning point of finding a solution or overcoming a challenge by drawing upon brand, product or service strengths.

Act 4: Falling Action. During the falling action, the consequences of the turning point are revealed in greater detail. In social media express those results. If an obstacle was overcome, what are the results for the brand or consumer? If an opportunity was seized, detail the many benefits and outcomes that point toward a final victory.

Act 5: Resolution. Here all the events lead to an ending scene of the drama or narrative. Conflicts are resolved for the characters which creates a release of tension and anxiety. Here social media content should show the brand or customer winning. Provide a look at the ultimate goal of the brand and its customers. What is your happily ever after?

Howard Gossage, a famous copywriter from the 1960s said people don’t read advertising, they read what they like. This thought applies more so now in our digital world. In social media give your audience what they like. People like stories. Are you leveraging all five acts of storytelling in your social media content?

This post originally appeared on Social Media Today.

Longer Content Performs Better Despite Shorter Attention Spans.

Social Media Marketing
Goldfish now have a longer attention span than we do. Humans: 8 sec. Goldfish: 9 sec.

This time of year everyone is focused on the NCAA Basketball tournament as we all try to pick the winners and losers of the brackets. But those of us who work in social media are always trying to pick the winners and losers of our content. With more and more investment in social media comes greater expectation of ROI and still only half of corporate executives are convinced of social media’s value.

What is the Magic Formula to Become a Social Media Champion?

This is where the madness comes in – What we have been told may not actually be true. The average attention span has dropped from 12 seconds in the year 2000 to just 8 seconds by 2013 – that is shorter than the attention span of a goldfish! Nicholas Carr’s book “The Shallows” explains this with research that says the Internet has actually changed the physical structure of our brains reducing our ability to focus.

So when digital marketing experts tell us to create shorter content – around 200 words – this makes a lot of sense. Short Attention Span = Short Content. Yet this strategy is not necessarily the best. You have to go deeper and look at other factors. If your goal is to have people read all your words then this many be true, but if you value other goals like shares and views, you should give longer content more consideration.

Why Add Words that People Won’t Read?

  1. Increased shares
  2. Added link backs
  3. More search views

Apparently it doesn’t really matter if people read all of your copy, if you care about getting more people to see it. Madness. Quick Sprout confirms this. They performed an analysis on their blog and found that posts with more than 1,500 words received 68% more tweets and 22% more Facebook likes than articles with fewer than 1,500 words. They also cite a popular online journal that performed a similar analysis and found the results reported in the chart below.

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Longer copy gets more social media shares across networks. Via Quick Sprout at http://bit.ly/1ggIPic

In addition to more social shares, Moz research has found that longer content generates more link backs and more link backs help with SEO (search engine optimization). The link backs further improve search results, which increases views along with the social shares.

Finally, longer content also improves organic search. According to serpIQ, the average content length for Web pages that rank in the top 10 results on Google is at least 2,000 words. The higher the ranking, the more words – more people are choosing and liking longer content.

Social Media Marketing
Top 10 Google search results with page word length. Via Quick Sprout at http://bit.ly/1bQL13C

Longer Means More Traffic, but Don’t Expect Them to Read Most of It.

Despite all this, positive research for longer content, other statistics from Neilson Norman Group tell us that people only read 20%-30% of that content. They also found that 79% of people scan pages they come across and only 16% read word-by-word. Here it seems that our short attention spans win out. On a 1,500 word post that means most people are only reading 300 of those words.

We are attracted to longer copy, but our goldfish brains don’t allow us to read all the words. We also like to share longer copy to perhaps try and make people think we have read the entire article and prove we can sill focus. Our attention spans are shorter, but we don’t want other people to know it! Madness.

This reminds me of when I worked on the advertising account for an ice cream brand. What we discovered was that in the ice cream business customers are always attracted to the new flavors, but at the end of the day most sales came from plain old chocolate and vanilla. New flavors attract attention, but most people buy chocolate and vanilla anyway. In a similar strategy, write longer content to attract attention even if your reader only consumes one fifth of it anyway.

Longer content makes the article look more substantial to attract attention and make it worthy of being shared. Longer content also allows more room for keywords and search optimization. It doesn’t matter if most people won’t read all of it. Madness? Perhaps, but how many upsets will happen in the basketball tournament this year? One thing we can learn from the NCAA championship is that you must always plan for the unexpected.

What have you found in your experience? Have you tried longer content?

photo credit: fish splash via photopin (license)

Social Media Response Experiment: Honda, Under Armour & Saucony.

The other day I was listening to the Social Pros Podcast with Jay Baer of Convince and Convert and Jeffrey Rohrs of Salesforce Marketing Cloud. They were interviewing Julie Hopkins of Gartner Research and were talking about her blog post “I am Loyalist, Read My Tweet. Please?”

She is an avid runner and took the time to take a picture of her Saucony’s to Tweet to the brand and their campaign hashtag. But she never received a response. This prompted me to conduct my own experiment, which I collected the results and shared them with my Social Media Marketing course. Social Media Marketing ExperimentAs you can see above I tweeted to three brand’s Twitter handles and campaign hashtags with what I thought was positive brand messages. It was also relevant to the cold weather many are experiencing and talking about in the country.

Of the three brands Honda and Under Armour responded. Honda even asked a follow up question to keep the engagement going. To this day Saucony has not responded. My experience was no different than Julie Hopkins. Is Saucony not listening or have they decided not to invest in the resources to make individual responses?

Saucony actually has a Find Your Strong  website that aggregates all Twitter posts to the brand. Smart strategy to collect consumer generated brand content, but does this equal the level of engagement as a response in Twitter?

Social Media MarketingI love Saucony and have been wearing their running shoes for years. I don’t know if the no response will make me switch to another brand, but it did put a ding in my image of the company. At the very least I will be less likely to talk so highly of them to other runners.

What do you think? Are our expectations of brands too high? Is it unrealistic to expect an individual response from a big brand? According to one study 

Do you think response or no response in social media will impact brand performance?