A corporation by definition is a group that is authorized to act as a single entity, seen as a single person by the law and treated as such by society. So, if we think about the fact that everyone, including the law, is viewing brands as individuals, it’s easy to understand that who they are is just as important as what they do.
IBM, Walmart, Starbucks, Aerie, and other powerhouses across industries understand that the key to brand loyalty is a compelling story that frames their brand as an image in which people can find a connection. When people have brand loyalty it’s because they form a relationship with a brand. Like any relationship we would form with another person, we look for ways to connect with them. We care about how they got to where they are, their interests and what they are passionate about. We look for a common connection.
A brand story is important in telling people why they should care about your company. Why when we have millions of other choices of similar products, services, and employers, we should choose you.
Today we will be focusing on the role visual storytelling plays in telling a multidimensional brand story across social media. While visual content can include videos and infographics we will be diving into the importance of photos.
If you are interested in a general Step-by-Step Guide to Telling a Brand Story, stay tuned for a new article on that topic next week.
Building a story across social media directly relates to the idea of transmedia storytelling, a concept that can be used in content marketing. It’s the concept of weaving your brand story across multiple media platforms in order to tell a more complete story. This method of digital storytelling allows your audiences across your social networks to interact with all of the integrated pieces that make up your overarching story. When using it to tell a visual story, the high-quality photos you choose need to create a visual narrative that back up your overarching one.
Transmedia storytelling is useful to marketers because it helps develop your brand personality as a full character. You want to be able to show different sides of your brand on different social media channels, much like a human would. While any single piece of visual content and each of your social platforms should be able to stand alone, together they add a multidimensional aspect to your brand story. By using different medias to tell your story you can and should cater content to your different audiences across your different socials and play to the typical strengths of the different medias.
Despite the use of different posts and different channels, all the messages should work together to form one cohesive story. Your overall story told across the whole of your social media channels should simultaneously be non-redundant and non-contradictory. This means that while you are posting different content to each site, none of the elements should send opposing messages.
Your individual posts on each social media channel come together to tell a story across one social, and all of your socials come together to tell one overarching story. All three of those elements come together to tell your brand story.
The overall brand story should be the part of your brand identity that connects with people. What is the “shared purpose” that you and your consumers can work towards together. The brand narratives of successful businesses that utilize brand storytelling are:
IBM: Building a smarter planet
Starbucks: Serving people not coffee
Aerie: Love the real you
Your overall brand story should demonstrate a couple things about your brand. It should show the company vision, communicate its strategy, and embody the culture. Every brand narrative is a little different, yours should be authentic and make sense with the history of your company.
Once you identify your intended overarching story, stay true to it through your visual storytelling on social media.
Social media marketing is an important aspect of sharing your digital story. Since the audience on each social media channel within a brand is slightly different, you need to cater the specific aspect of your story you want to share on each particular social media site. When it comes to photos there are certain trends of types that do well on some social media channels but do poorly on others.
It’s also important to remember that every photo you post is an opportunity to expand on your brand story. Brands, like people, should be multidimensional. While everything should come together to back up your brand narrative, you can tell different aspects of your brand story on different socials.
Instagram is a great place to tell the world what you are passionate about visually. When you look at the Instagram of Coca-Cola for example, a lot of what you see is people together as a community happily sharing a drink. This demonstrates the aspect of Coca-Cola’s brand story which is that they are passionate about bringing people together. You don't necessarily need to know the tagline “share a coke” to see from their Instagram that this is what they care about.
Similarly, if you check out IBM’s Instagram you see a lot of buildings and a lot of tech related images. Clearly those go together pretty obviously to match up with their passion for building a smarter planet.
Across all your socials your “profile pic” will remain consistent and be very brand specific, usually your logo. This is because you want people to be able to immediately recognize your social handle.
However, on Facebook in addition to your profile picture you can also have a cover photo, which allows some room for creativity. While a brand profile picture will rarely change, your cover photo can be changed up as often as you please to demonstrate who you are now and where you have been.
Twitter is awesome because you can retweet user-generated content and post original tweets with images. Retweeting photos that happy customers post is a great way to engage with your followers and show the kind of communication you strive for.
Aerie’s overarching brand narrative is “love the real you” and a big part of their message is about woman empowerment and building each other up. The photos that they tweet, and retweet tell a very clear story about the kind of brand that they are.
Pinterest is all about sharing your interests visually. Brand Pinterest boards show what things interest your company and what they want to share with the world, all organized in a visual way.
The Starbucks Pinterest boards are all about the people side of coffee. From a “How-To” board featuring things like “How to Become a Morning Person”, to a DIY board filled with crafts you can do with empty coffee cans, to drink recipes you can make at home.
While many of these posts feature Starbucks products, their Pinterest board shows that they are interested in more than just selling coffee.
This is where you can tell your audience why you are passionate about what you do professionally. You can share visual news here like photos of collaborations, panels, or professional events. The photos that get shared on LinkedIn should show the people within your organization living up to company values and working towards your collective goal.
IBM’s LinkedIn, for example, shows real examples their employees working to implement new technology and solve world problems.
This is the most casual of the social media channels. It is great for “behind the scenes” photos of the office or company events. Influencer “take overs” are also a good way to utilize photos on snapchat. Let a brand influencer take over your snapchat story for the day to engage with your customers.
The key to what to post to social media is understanding the different audiences you have on each of your social channels. There are some very general commonalities of the types of information you should share via visual storytelling on your different socials. However, the science behind what is most engaging goes much deeper.
Each industry has very different spans of audiences and each brand itself has different segments of audiences on different social channels. The best way to know for sure you are posting what is best for your audience is by analyzing the audience data for you, your competitors, and your industry.
If we learned anything from National Geographic's photos of the year it’s that even a single photo can tell a powerful story. This is why choosing the correct high-quality images is important. Each individual piece of content adds important information and social media channels that allow more than one photo to be posted at once can often tell a compelling narrative.
Twitter and Instagram both allow you to share multiple photos at once, but in a different way.
For Instagram, a multi-photo post must be viewed in a specific order, meaning you can use it to show a narrative or sequence of events. When you share multiple photos at once on Twitter, it shows up at a collage of the multiple photos in your audience’s photo stream. This means that a single post can share a story, but it isn't a forced narrative.
Aerie used Instagram to tell a narrative about their #AerieReal campaign. Within a single post they could tell a more complete story about a brand event including the speakers, event activities and the collaborative spirit.