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. Add intrigue to social media following a five act formula. Click To Tweet

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.

Here is a template to follow on integrating storytelling into your social media:

Free social media strategy story template

What Makes A Super Bowl Ad Super? Five Act Dramatic Form.

When I was an advertising copywriter I had an intuition about what type of ads worked and which did not, but mainly I and many of my colleagues stumbled into them. Sometime we would have a hit and other times we missed the mark. This pressure to perform becomes intense this time of year as over 111 million people tune into to watch a Super Bowl match between the top NFL teams, but also to watch the TV ads.

There are even advertising polls and show dedicated to which are the “best” ads. Being one of the best pays off in additional attention, views and buzz. The more buzz you get for the TV ad before and after the big game the more you are getting for the 4.5 million investment. It makes those 30 seconds go a lot further.

So what makes one ad more likable to finish in the top ten of USA Today Ad Meter versus the bottom ten? When I became a professor at Johns Hopkins University my research colleague Michael Coolsen from Shippensburg University and I asked ourselves that very question. Then we conducted a two-year analysis of 108 Super Bowl commercials to find the answer. Is it humor or emotion? Sex appeal or cute animals? What is the secret ingredient to helping ensure a Super Bowl commercial is liked and talked about?

Remember studying five-act Shakespearian Plays in high school? There was a reason Shakespeare was so popular and why he used to tell a story in five acts. It is a powerful formula that has drawn people’s attention for hundreds of years. Starting with Aristotle’s Poetics in 335 B.C., dramatic theory was first developed. Aristotle consider plot, having a beginning, middle and end, to be the most important element in drama – even more important than character. Much later, in 1863, German novelist and playwright Gustav Freytag developed his theory of dramatic structure advancing Aristotle’s to include a more precise five-act structure as seen below.

Freytag's Pyramid

We coded the over 100 Super Bowl ads in a two-year span for the number of acts developed in the commercial. Then we compared that number with the ratings number those commercials received in the top consumer Advertising Super Bowl Polls. After analysis we found a correlation between number of acts and higher ratings. In other words, the more acts in a commercial (a more complete story with a plot) the higher the ratings or likability. The results of the study were published in The Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice in the Fall of 2014. What about all those other factors like sex appeal, humor, emotion or animals? They didn’t matter. We found these variables all over. They appeared at the top and bottom of the polls with no discernible pattern.

Does story and likability sell? Likable ads are more likely to be viewed and shared multiple times increasing viral buzz and generating greater awareness. Other research has proven that online buzz increases ad recall, recognition and emotional response. The latest research claims a direct connection. Advertisers can buy consumer attention for those 30 seconds during the game, but when advertising hits social media, it is all about likability. People are drawn to and give their attention to story. Beyond Super Bowl ads where else have you seen story have an impact?