The art of storytelling is a vital part of creating compelling content. As content creators our main goal is to engage our target audience and get them interested in what we are sharing. We are storytellers.
The history of storytelling goes back thousands of years to oral storytelling and cave paintings. But a lot has changed. In today’s world, telling a story that will stand out amongst the thousands of other pieces of content available on the internet and mobile apps is not an easy feat.
We have entered a new era of advertising. No longer is the most effective marketing techniques intrusive advertising. Consumers are able to fast forward through ads, or simply swipe down past content they don't want to see. Since an audience isn't being forced to watch or read anything anymore, it means that to truly engage an audience we need to be able to create something the demographic wants to see. Telling a story as a means of marketing is no longer a creative choice, it’s a necessity.
A content creator’s role is to be a storyteller. While in the digital age many of the tools we use are catered towards our digital mediums, there are still traditional storytelling techniques that should be respected in order to tell great stories. Storytelling techniques like framing, plot, character development, and narrative all have their place within content creation.
The frame that you write your story with can really change the feeling of a story. What does the narration give away? From whose point of view is the story being told? How the text conveys the narrative can really change how the story is understood by the audience. Most content pieces are told through a subjective frame-work, meaning our brand story is told through a character’s point of view.
Some other popular frames could be a multiple POV frame such as crafting your story with user-generated content, an omnipresent 3rd person narration, crafting a legend using master plot, or character types.
Masterplot is a helpful tool in creating an engaging plot line. Masterplots are specific plot lines that have historically been repeated in different ways because they hold a cultural significance.
Most would agree that there are about 20 significant masterplots that show up when you analyze great narrative works of the past and today. Masterplots such as rivalry, underdog, adventure, and the hero's journey are especially helpful in the content creation process.
A good story needs good characters. In content creation the protagonist of your story is your brand persona. When it comes to crafting a character, there are a few tools you can use to guide your content. You can either utilize a character type or you can use techniques to make a character feel more human and real.
Character types are the masterplot equivalent to character. They are characters that historically we see reappear in writing and therefore form an emotional attachment. They are engrained in our culture and hold cultural significance. Some examples of character types are “the hero” or “the mentor”. If you want your character to seem less symbolic and more like a real human, check out our article on 6 Ways to Make Your Protagonist Feel More Human.
Longhand written stories like blog posts are a great form of content. But the often-underestimated side of storytelling through content is the visual side. This is especially true when it comes to social media. An image really can tell 1,000 words so using them in the stories you want to tell through content is a good choice.
Photos are an extremely powerful visual storytelling tool. In terms of storytelling, photos can relay aspects of narrative, character, and setting. They can capture an authentic moment and highlight the emotions of a moment. A photo draws attention to fewer specific details of a story when compared to other forms of visual storytelling.
The raw image itself is only half the story. A lot of how the story comes together is in the editing or production afterwards. Photos can be changed to tell a more compelling story after the shot is taken. A useful photo editing tool is Adobe Lightroom. By morphing or bringing out certain aspects of a photo, you can change the story you are telling, and ultimately have more control over how you want to tell your story.
Video storytelling ranges from full length movies, to YouTube vlogs, to the short video clips that are shared on social media, and even GIFs.
Animated gifs can add humor into any piece of content and are a great way to fuse text and video in a cohesive and non-disruptive way. Animated gifs add an accent point or a little humor to make a piece of writing seamless. The perfect GIF can be the missing puzzle piece to your story.
Video storytelling can be extremely effective, and historically has been very successful. Videos are known to be very engaging to audiences and tell stories in very concrete ways. They have less space for interpretation when compared to photos since you are crafting the story scene-by-scene via story boards.
Video production uses storyboards before taking a video that sketch out the narrative you hope to convey in a video and the key scenes. Video editing software like Windows Movie Maker make it easy to turn the raw video footage into your intended story.
Data and visuals go together beautifully. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, very technical ideas or numerical information are sometimes the best suited to being put as an image. Visuals can make complex ideas easier to grasp. Infographics and data visualization simplify data into relevant images that de-code what the raw data is saying.
Other ways to turn concrete information into visuals is using timelines, maps or comparison photos. Knight lab is a tool created by Northwestern University that makes the creation of some of these things easier.
Social Media Storytelling
Social media is a huge part of digital storytelling and transmedia storytelling plays particularly well with social media. Transmedia storytelling has to do with sharing different aspects of your story across multiple formats. Since different social media platforms cater to different mediums and audiences posting intentional content to your different social media channels can really help with brand storytelling.
The most obvious way to use social media in your content marketing process is by sharing blog posts to your socials. Twitter and LinkedIn are especially useful in this sense. Visual social medias are also very well suited to visual storytelling through posts.
Facebook and Instagram live are unique ways to tell stories in real time and in a personal way. Live content allows your audience to engage with you in real time. They can ask questions or leave comments that you can see as you are posting which allows you to engage in a conversation with your audience. This type of content is very casual but can be very effective because your audience can directly engage with you.
Another way to post temporary content is through Snapchat and Instagram stories. Snapchat and Instagram stories last 24 hours and allow you to deliver authentic and personable content while reaching more people.
Content marketers don’t only need to focus on their own content, but also the content created or shared by others. The way content marketers do this is through content curation and collaborative storytelling.
Content curation is the process of sharing content that isn't self-created. Instead of creating the content yourself, you create a narrative through the other content you share that aligns with your story. This can come in the form of retweets, reposts, or sharing others blog posts or other content.
Collaborative storytelling is similar in the sense that it’s not self-generated content, but different in that collaborative storytellers know they will be a part of your story. Collaborative storytelling fits into social media marketing plans by allowing your audience to participate in your story and in a way become storytellers themselves. It can be in the form of your audience sharing your content to friends, posting to a common hashtag, using a branded filter, or the use of influencer marketing. User generated content is also a big part of collaborative storytelling.
Technology can be a great tool for storytelling. Immersive storytelling allows your audience to experience your story as though they were living it. Technology like virtual reality and augmented reality can help make this idea happen. Augmented reality allows you to blend reality with computer generated images. AR is also the technology behind branded filters. As mentioned above, branded filters are a great way to get your audience involved in telling your story and being a part of collaborative storytelling. Augmented reality is a tool that can be paired with social media in order to tell more effective stories.
Virtual reality tells a story that can be independent of social media. A virtual reality story brings the audience into the shoes of a character creating a fully immersive story. Virtual reality is a powerful storytelling tool and has already been adapted by many large brands as content. Because of the fully immersive nature of virtual reality, it allows you to connect with audiences in a whole new way.
Technology can also be a useful tool in analyzing the data you receive from content. Software that analyzes your audience for core groups can be a helpful aid in moving your content creation process along. There is also software like Cortex which is specifically designed to aid in creative decisions. They do this by selecting content that would work well as curated content. They identify key creative attributes that work for content creators and should be included in posts across their social channels to make them more engaging and effective.