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

Budweiser Wins Super Bowl of Advertising Again. What Does Bud Get That Others Don’t?

As I pointed out in a previous Super Bowl post, my research found that the more complete story a Super Bowl commercial tells (in Five Acts) the higher the commercial performed in Super Bowl Ad Ratings Polls. We found that other factors like sex appeal, humor, emotion or animals didn’t matter. They appeared at the top and bottom of the polls with no discernible pattern. In Super Bowl XLIX the research held up again. Take a look at USA Today’s Ad Meter’s results, do some quick Five Act coding and you will see for yourself.

Budweiser Wins Super Bowl of Advertising Again. What Does Bud Get That Others Don't? Click To Tweet

This year Budweiser again takes home the prize. They finished number one in the 2015 USA Today Ad Meter and other consumer Super Bowl Ad rating polls with “Lost Dog.” This was a sequel to last year’s top spot “Puppy Love.” View the spot below to see how it is a full Five Act story. But is it the dog that makes them a winner? Take a look at the top 10 spots in the poll. None of the other most likable commercials feature animals, but they all do tell complete Five Act stories.

Story may be more likable, but does it sell? Many who view and like the Bud spots say that is great, but this does it sell? According to a 2014 Beer Industry Report, Bud and Bud Light control 34% of domestic beer sales – more than any competitor. The closest is Coors Light with 10% and Miller Lite and High Life for another 10%. And despite increased growth, all the craft beers combined (Sam Adams, Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, Shiner, etc.) still only account for 8% of all domestic beer sales – 1/4 of Bud and Bud Light sales.

Who Fumbled in the Super Bowl of Advertising? Many did, but Carnival really missed the boat. They had a great complete Five Act commercial that they released before the game called “Get Away,” but for some reason choose to run another spot called “To The Sea” during the game. The spot they ran did not have story development. Instead it featured a JFK speech voice over with typical cruise ship imagery. I believe “Get Away” would have been a top 10 spot, but instead they finish at the bottom of the poll at 44. What do you think of the two spots?

Is there dramatic form? “Get Away” is a great complete story of a woman getting away from everyday life responsibilities and hassles. This has great action movie like drama drawing you in as she runs from the mob of life to the cruise ship at the end of the road. Will she make it? Yes and all is resolved as she swims in the ship pool with her family. A great relatable story in Five Acts. On the other hand, “To The Sea” is shots of a cruise ship with the JFK speech. There is really no character introduction, complication, rise in action, climax, falling action or resolve. This has Zero Acts. One Act if you consider JFK as a character in the story.

In a Blomberg article the creators of the Carnival spot said they wanted to reach people who never cruised. Which spot do you think does a better job?