There are numerous motivations driving companies to reach out to our social media agency for help. We haven’t collected any formal data on their various pain points, but I can state with confidence that well north of 50% of these companies have products or services in niche industries that are not normally associated with strong business storytelling. Our initial conversation with a company is usually with the CEO or a member of their senior management that has contacted us to inquire about our social media management services. We could literally write a novel about the variety of struggles brands have when it comes to keeping up with their daily social posting, let alone keeping up with their competition on social. Regardless if they communicate that their pain points center around having a lack of social media expertise within the walls of their organization or a lack of creative support for their content marketing efforts, we try to get to the true root of the issue by first asking them to explain their present business story strategy. Some start by talking about their company history, some their product lines, and some their sales and revenue goals. While all of this information is extremely relevant for developing their overall business strategy, it’s not exactly the business story we have in mind.
In order to get on the same page creatively, we ask these companies to explain,
Once again, their answers are quite varied, but the most common business agendas include increasing lead generation and raising overall brand awareness. These shouldn’t be the ONLY reasons for brands being on social media, but both are great reasons nonetheless. Our next question is naturally,
This is where the answers or lack thereof unfortunately become more consistent. Most senior leadership teams have been quite uninvolved in the social efforts of their current marketing team, internal or outsourced. All they know is that “someone” has been tasked with posting to their social channels which consist mostly of catalog product shots, commercials, sales promotions and the occasional press release. While all of these forms of content are fine to spread throughout the social channels of a brand, they simply shouldn’t represent the entire story of a brand. In most cases, these posts are barely scratching the essence of their business story, missing the great opportunity that social presents. For companies that have up to this point settled for social streams that are merely pushing traditional ads, we have to ask the hypothetical question,
This question almost always sparks a few chuckles and usually an executive jokingly stating that their movie would surely be a box-office disaster or universally panned by critics. For most of these execs, you probably couldn’t get them to see their own company movie even if you paid them. In all seriousness, so many companies have been sold a social strategy that is absent of a business story strategy. In our opinion, a social media strategy cannot exist without first establishing a business story strategy. Although none of our clients should ever expect an Academy Award anytime soon, the framework for your business story should still stand up to conventional Hollywood storytelling strategy. Let’s address some of the basics.
Choosing the Best Genre for Your Business Story
Most movies can be categorized by their style or subject matter. The most popular genres include drama, comedy, action and romance. There are of course dozens of other genres and sub-genres that exist, but most moviegoers associate with one of these four mainstream genre choices. Whether you’re telling a story on the big screen or a brand story on social media, it’s important to select the genre that will best speak to your intended audience. For quite some time now, social media has heightened the senses of consumers for good business storytelling. This newfound storytelling savvy has placed more pressure on brands to produce more intelligent and creative content marketing. For starters, companies must carefully select the right brand genre to attract, engage and build loyalty from their base of consumers. Here are some examples of genre being effectively used by brands on social:
Looking for some excitement? Red Bull has never been a stranger to producing content aimed at generating adrenaline.
Laughs and giggles is not the appropriate branding for many companies, but when executed correctly, this approach can be a very effective genre for business storytelling. PopChips is a brand that understands the value of not taking itself too seriously. Using a blend of pop culture references with employees and customers having fun with their product, this brand is taking a fun, light-hearted approach with their brand storytelling.
French footwear designer, Christian Louboutin, understands very well the value of continually communicating the love story between his consumer and his brand. He has been quoted in the past as having a professional goal to make a woman look as sexy and beautiful as he can. With his signature red-soled stiletto heels, the Christian Louboutin brand does a fabulous job using social media to capture the essence of this ongoing love affair.
For many companies, social media is used primarily to show the lighter side of the brand. This light-hearted comedic approach to social can be attributed in large part to the early perceptions that online marketing was reserved for “viral videos and memes.” While far from the actual reality of marketing brands on social, it is understandable why many brands gravitate towards the genre of comedy and not more serious fare.
With that being said, comedy is not recommended or appropriate for many brands. For instance, how inappropriate would it be for a branch of the military to make light of their service to our country? Obviously a comedic approach with social marketing would not only turnoff present active members of the military and their families, but would damage the militaries’ reputation to potential recruits and severely weaken the confidence Americans have in the protection they provide. The U.S. Air Force produces very dramatic but inspiring content for their social media channels. A prime example of this dramatic content are their well-developed and executed videos which communicate their strong values for achieving excellence, inspiring the past, present and future members of the United States Air Force.
Is There a Compelling Story Arc for Your Brand?
Back when I worked in Hollywood story development, I remember having a desk piled with aspiring screenplays that I would eventually try to read and determine whether the project was worthy of further development. From the quality of dialogue and plot to the depth of the characters on the page, there existed certain key criteria by which a story was judged. In my opinion, one of the most important concepts that was surprisingly missing in so many scripts was accomplishing a compelling story and character arc. What exactly is the story arc? Simply put, it’s the unfolding of the story’s plot and development of the characters over the course of the story. A good story arc or character arc can be determined by comparing the main character at the beginning of the story to that same character at the end of the story. If the character you were introduced to in the first ten minutes of a story was physically and/or emotionally unrecognizable to the character in the final ten minutes, the “arc of change” was potentially a successful one. This is over-simplifying the complexity of good character development, but the concept of story arc is what I’m trying to highlight in general.
The concept of story arc applies exactly the same to brand storytelling on social media as it does to the world of feature film storytelling on theater screens. When people visit the social media streams for any business, they should be able to experience the journey of the brand from the development of their products and services to the evolution of customer involvement. If a prospective customer was to scroll down your Facebook stream history, would they be exposed to the exact same story today that was being shared three, two, or even a year ago? Hopefully not. Companies change – they move, add new employee faces, change their product lines, and introduce new campaigns. Brands evolve. The content which entertains and engages consumers changes faster than the models of an iPhone.
Is your business story on social providing a compelling arc of change? If not, you have to question whether your brand is providing consumers much of a reason to continue following your story.
Providing a Story Hook for Your Consumers
In a previous blog post about creating branded content, I discussed the importance of establishing the through-line for your business story. The through-line acts like a type of glue which connects the “scenes of your story” together to form one, viable brand story. It is that main objective, theme or company goal which drives the action of the entire brand starting with the CEO and employees and flows down to the brand’s greatest advocates and evangelists. Think of the brand’s through-line as that question which gets raised in the first ten minutes of a movie, hooking the audience until the very end of the movie when the answer is finally revealed in the story’s climax. If your brand creates a successful through-line for its brand story, the audience of consumers will become hooked on finding out how the drama unfolds, curious as to whether the brand, its leadership, employees and fans achieve the mission they’ve placed in front of them.
Has your company established a good through-line for its brand? Has a story element been created which keeps your consumers coming back daily to visit your social streams for updates? Maybe it’s a philanthropic goal of the company. Maybe it’s a crowdsourcing campaign generating interest and conversations surrounding your brand. Whatever through-line your brand selects, make sure it piques their interest enough to warrant a daily check-in with your brand and hopefully compelling enough to share the story with their friends.
Lights, Camera, Wait…Where is Your CEO?
Not every company has a charismatic CEO like Virgin’s Sir Richard Branson or the Dallas Maverick’s Mark Cuban. They look the part. They speak well. In this age of perceived corporate transparency on social media, it can be extremely important to have a social CEO willing to leap out of their comfort zone and become the face and hero for the brand. If your brand has trouble getting your CEO involved in their social efforts, it is highly possible that your competition might be positioning their branded CEO and their brand story to engage YOUR current customers.
Unfortunately, not every CEO shares the same appreciation for the public spotlight as Mr. Branson and Cuban. In more cases than not, CEOs like to lead behind the scenes and not in front of the cameras. Therefore, what is a company to do? They need shine the spotlight on their supporting cast.
Developing Your Supporting Staff of Characters
C-Suites around the world have reservations about allowing social media into their workplaces. Will overall productivity decline? Will staff choose to neglect their daily responsibilities to waste valuable company time to leave comments on their friends’ Facebook posts or search for the latest controversy flooding their Twitter streams to retweet and share with their personal following? Quite honestly, there will be those employees who would abuse a company culture which encourages the open use of personal social media at the workplace. On the other hand, an employee advocacy program presented the correct way, and the brand benefits will far outweigh the challenges of a social workplace. A brand’s greatest business development assets lie within the walls of its own organization. There is no better way to increase consumer interactions with your brand on social then to empower your staff to help tell the story of the brand. In recent years, social media and smartphones have transformed the average person into amateur photographers, videographers and storytellers. When employees share company content on their personal streams or even better yet are allowed to create content for the brand’s social pages, the social reach and impact the brand can make is that much greater.
One of the greatest and most common mistakes a company can make are those which fail to involve their employees with their business story strategy. Far too many companies hoard these anonymous things called fans and followers on social but have no plan or idea what they’re doing with them. What is the point of hoarding fans and followers if they’re not engaging with the content being posted each and every day? Social media was built for people, not faceless companies trying to use social simply to market to them. Consumers need evidence that there are real people behind the scenes of a brand.
Is Your Business Story Worth the Price of Admission?
If your company has everyone pointing fingers at each other trying to spread the blame for its fledgling online presence, maybe everyone should look closer at the business story being presented on your social streams. Is there any value in the story representing the brand? If your answer is no or probably not, then your company should ask why any consumer should be expected to waste any of their valuable time with your brand on social. Time is money. Is your brand fully respecting its audience?
Latest posts by Richie Kawamoto (see all)
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- Business Storytelling on Social: Show, Don’t Tell - May 28, 2015
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