Where you tell your story is as important and the story you tell
Over the past several months I have worked with a number of individuals and agencies to create and tell stories that have real impact with target audiences. Creating the right story, one that resonates with the needs and desires of the audience rather than simply bludgeoning them with your messages and points of view is at the heart of what I do. Often, I am working with digital agencies that are using data to precisely define that audience in order to deliver a finely tuned piece of marketing information, and this is an approach that has proven very successful. Combining the data science of audience identification with the art of storytelling is a powerful tool.
But there is another element in the mix – finding the right channel to reach the audience, and here I think there is a need to consider more than the basic data or reach and engagement with a particular media channel. The formats that work in different channels can have a big impact on how you tell a story and even on what story you tell. The reach of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc can be a huge draw for the corporate communicator simply because of the large and easily segmented audiences they reach. But the formats that play well on these channels are not always the best to tell complex stories.
To take a topical (and controversial) example; Billy Vunipola’s recent ill-conceived entry into the furore around Israel Folau’s homophobic comments, shows the limitations of some channels of communications. By trying to distil a complex argument based on his own strongly held beliefs, into a short tweet, Vunipola ended up being offensive. I don’t know him, but I doubt that was the intent. Rather, the desire to react, and to try and say something meaningful in a short form, overtook the capacity to fully explain a belief.
Many corporate communications flounder in the same way. Trying to convey too much, or to explain complex issues using the shortest of content, simply because they drive engagement with a target audience, is a trap to avoid.
In fact, what is needed more often is the space to structure and expand a cohesive argument. This does not mean long articles – there is real skill in making a cogent argument in a few hundred words. But reducing everything to a few sentences only creates misunderstanding, offence and poor dialogue.
So where should brands and individuals look to tell their stories?
Owned platforms, including websites, blogs and your own presentations and speeches are often underestimated channels to reach your target audiences. Here you can control the message almost entirely, and give yourself the space to lay out the whole argument. Having a structure, creating narrative flow and drama are important to maximise the impact of content in these channels as they are elsewhere. Just because the platform is owned does not mean the content can be any less compelling, authoritative or honest.
Shared platforms, such as LinkedIn and Medium, are increasingly powerful at reaching targeted (especially professional) audiences with complex messages. Being part of the right groups, creating helpful #tags and leveraging network connections can all help your content to be seen, digested and understood by the right people. In the right circumstances Facebook can also be used in this way although content is only shared with ‘fans’ or ‘friends’ rather than a wider audience.
Earned media, coverage in newspapers, magazines and editorial websites delivered by telling your story in a convincing way to professional journalists, is still hugely powerful. Not only are you leveraging the reach of the publication to a defined audience, but you are benefiting from the brand and the implicit endorsement of an independent writer. Now, I need to be clear on this. I am not suggesting that an article or mention by any journalist or media outlet should be seen as an endorsement of your or your products – but what it does say is that your story, opinion or insight, has been regarded as being of interest and relevance to the media’s audience – and that does give it power.
Which is why it is still so important to create narratives and corporate stories that will capture the interest of media. Although readership of ‘traditional’ media continues to fall, and more and more people get news, opinion and information from social media – the power of a good piece of coverage to drive that social conversation is still unsurpassed.
So, my advice to create stories that have real relevance and are most likely to cut through with media. Creating stories that work for traditional media will ensure that you are not only telling great stories but are articulating them as comprehensive and complete arguments. Not only will this help secure media coverage that can then drive wider social sharing, but even if you use them on owned and shared channels alone, they will be more compelling and a better read.