At the dawn of Web 2.0 a couple of years after the collapse of the Internet bubble, a new type of business emerged that enabled real people to share experiences, ratings, reviews, and recommendations for products and services with the world. In local, there was Yelp. In travel TripAdvisor. In legal, Avvo. In retail, Amazon. That's just to name a few.
These companies, and others like them, made it possible for consumers to make faster and more informed choices about where to go, what to buy, and whom to buy it from. One of the key aspects of these businesses was, and still remains, the discoverability of hundreds of millions of consumer stories, ratings, and reviews through search.
Before Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest, Google was already amplifying consumer word-of-mouth by retrieving and highly ranking user-generated media in organic search results.
As social media emerged, and Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest created massive platforms for sharing, the reach and impact of shared consumer stories grew exponentially. More and more relevant content came to them in the form of shared links in email, posts on message boards, Likes on Facebook, tweets on Twitter, pins on Pinterest, etc.
Today, billions of people around the world use Facebook and LinkedIn to connect, Twitter for breaking news and live events, and Pinterest to save and curate images. And what we do in each of these places is read, watch, and listen to the stories our friends, contacts, and influencers share with us. And many of us also share.
This reality combined with the fact that billions of us now carry with us media consumption and publishing devices (aka mobile phones), means we are continuously turned on, tuned in, and ready to share our story.
The stories we share the most are always personal on some level and usually contain some dimension of usefulness, sweetness, humor, inspiration, or surprise. Coming from someone we "know" through social media or in the real world, a story that has one of these dimensions to it will connect emotionally and leave a lasting impression. Exactly the effect advertisers spend hundreds of billions of dollars on each year to achieve in the form of commercials.
So what exists today is a massive platform for self-expression and sharing of stories that has no parallel in reach, immediacy, or impact in human history and yet brands haven't really taken advantage. Why? Because this platform is crowding out the reliable more and more of the reliable "top down" media channels advertisers relied upon for the better part of 100 years. The marketing paradigm has shifted and brands must adapt.
Only the Storytellers Will Survive
When Andy Grove, former Intel CEO, penned his best-selling business book "Only the Paranoid Survive: How to Exploit the Crisis Points That Challenge Every Company," it was a call to action for CEOs and entrepreneurs to expect, prepare for, and succeed in response to massive change.
The marketing world is at just such a moment. The trends described above are rapidly eroding the effectiveness of the majority of the investments brands are making in traditional advertising and marketing programs.
In and of itself this disruption is not necessarily a bad thing provided there are available and obvious alternatives. The problem for marketers is that these alternatives require a mindset and capabilities that are fundamentally new, different, and in some cases in conflict with the "old way" of doing things.
- The top down, broadcast advertising model is a relic of the past. The paid media that works best today is targeted at specific users who look and act in ways that make them strong candidates for the products or services that a brand has to offer. Targeting is better today than it ever has been before.
- There are still only 24 hours in the day and consumers have far more choices of how they will invest those hours. Time shifting of media consumption is now mainstream with a few notable exceptions, namely live events. Likewise, cord-cutting is becoming increasing common, which further accelerates the time shifting trend. Content publishers no longer control how and when their audience will consumer their content or the ads they bundle with it.
- The content that finds its way through the complicated maze of devices, social connections, and search algorithms to an individual consumer is only as good as the story it tells. To find the right person and grab and hold their attention long enough to leave a lasting impression, the story has to be good. Otherwise, the brand's "creative" is just static noise that will get tuned out.
How to Be an Effective Storyteller
Telling stories isn't hard. In fact, it can be simple in many cases. Below are a few tried and true tips to getting your stories found (e.g. in Google search results), friended (e.g. a Facebook like), followed (e.g. followed on Twitter), and forwarded (e.g. shared).
- Keys to Engaging Storytelling:
- Authenticity and Transparency
- Create and Expand Opportunities For Your Target to Share Stories
- Find, Curate, and Amplify Content That's Already Been Published
- Keys to Getting Found:
- Make your content "SEO-Friendly" and follow best-practices for SEO.
- Encourage linking to your content from other sites.
- Measure the organic traffic your content is getting from search engines. To the extent you can understand the keywords people are using to find your content, do so.
- Track the traffic from organic search all the way through to conversions and revenue on your site. Understand which content and stories are the ones that are driving the greatest engagement, conversions, and revenue.
- Keys to Getting Friended and Followed:
- Make commenting, liking, and following part of the story you're telling. Present counters next to these actions as a way to reinforce the idea that yours is a story worth reading/watching/listening to.
- Recognize and reward the people that Like, Tweet, Pin, or Follow Your Content. Doesn't have to be big but it should be unique to this audience.
- Keys to Getting Forwarded:
- Make sharing a part of the story. The story gets bigger and better the more people with whom it's shared.
- More than 90 percent of the sharing that happens does so through email, SMS, IRC, and other "private" channels. Neglect these sharers at your peril. They should be treated in a manner that is equivalent to your audiences on the major social sites.
- Recognize and reward your influencers, the people who are actively referring their friends and followers to your content. There are many ways to do this, but the best are to do so with the development of a long-term, loyal relationship with the influencer in mind. The people are a brand's most valuable audience segment and should be treated as such.
Storytelling has been an art for millennia. Only in the last 10 years or so has it evolved into the instantaneous and global form in which it exists today.