Let’s face it: the typical social media feed is an absolute mess. Even if you don’t use any social media aggregation apps, you’re going to be inundated with more posts than you could ever meaningfully engage with.
Take Twitter for example: sign up, follow just a handful of big accounts, and you’ll have your screen rapidly flooded with likes, retweets, and responses. Not something that can build intrigue. Or is it?
What’s social media good for? Well, put simply, a glossy distraction — with the occasional piece of insight bleeding through. People mostly browse social media channels without any particular drives, just looking to be entertained, and most content is like shallow filler. Worth glancing at for a second, but nothing memorable.
Let’s suppose that you’re trying to market your business through social media. Given the aforementioned state of social media use, it’s clearly a tremendously difficult task. If you want to get anything more than a split-second of attention, you need to stand out — and if you want to keep that attention, you need to forge an alluring narrative.
What exactly do I mean by this? Allow me to explain. Here’s why every business investing in a social strategy needs to use tease, intrigue and start using storytelling to its advantage:
Narratives possess emotional power
Emotion influences us to an enormous extent, affecting our decisions far more than we tend to realise when we’re making them. The sales field has always known this: it lies at the core of the classic “sell benefits, not features” ethos. People might be interested in what a solution is, but they care about what it can do for them.
You may know how vital imagery is to social media success, with an image being recognised far more rapidly than text, and being far more likely to stand out — but it isn’t just any imagery that works in that role. Something bold will catch the eye, but it will only hold attention if it evokes emotion. It could inspire joy, or melancholy, or anger. Any emotion will do.
And there isn’t much that can bring out emotion more consistently than a story. This is because we relate situations to our own lives, and we’re more likely to care about something if we can empathise with someone. Imagine seeing an image of a starving family for a charity campaign: just seeing the image would have you imagining that family’s story, thinking about what the people must have endured.
When trying to promote your business on social media, you want people to care. You want them to be invested. And if you can tell a good story, whether real or fictional, you can spark strong emotion — though what you do with that emotion is up to you.
Cliffhangers reliably drive interest
Stories are naturally segmented. There’s a rhythm that almost every story structure will follow, where each part follow naturally from the one before it. Combine this with natural human curiosity, the desire to be drawn in through intrigue, and you have an explanation for the enduring power of cliffhangers.
Put simply, a cliffhanger is a story left in suspension at a critical juncture, done deliberately to leave anyone following the story feeling a strong desire to find out what happens next. They became part of popular culture through the TV industry: writers would structure each episode to end on a cliffhanger, build intrigue, so the viewer would tune in the next week to see the conclusion.
This is great for a social media story because you can turn every post into a cliffhanger, whether mild or major. You’ve no doubt seen many exaggerated examples of such efforts in the form of clickbait titles along the lines of “We Did [X], And You Won’t Believe What Happened” — you don’t want to get that dramatic, but you do want to add a little intrigue.
Stories highlight the nature of your brand
What drives the people of your business? What gets you out of bed in the morning, aside from the insistent blare of an alarm? We live in an era of brand saturation, where there are so many options for almost every type of purchase that people can look beyond things like cost and convenience and choose brands that they like.
And if you want people to like your brand, you need to let them know all about you — the values that define your company, and that define your people. That requires storytelling: both telling your story, and (after that) telling stories that best suit your purposes.
Here’s a very simple way to get started. First, loosely define the story arc of your business, thinking about how you got started and where you’re trying to go. Jericho Writers has a story structure template that can help with this — just fill in the distinct stages and you’ll have a solid foundation. Next, think about the next thing you’d like to achieve. Perhaps you’d like to reach a certain number of customers, or improve your product, or hire a certain number of people.
With a goal in mind, start telling people about it on social media. Tell them what you’re trying to accomplish, and request their support and suggestions. This will get them to root for you in some small way. One tip: if you set a deadline for reaching your goal, that will make every update a cliffhanger of sorts, because people will want to know how close you are to making it.
If you achieve your goal, you can celebrate, thank people for helping, and move on to your next goal. This will show your passion for what you do, plus your dedication to reach new heights. If you don’t achieve your goal, that’s still valuable: tell people about the mistakes you’ve made and the lessons you’ve learned, and resolve to reach that goal as soon as you can. We don’t dislike brands for making mistakes — we dislike them for failing to learn from them.
The power of storytelling and intrigue is a natural fit for social media, an environment that conducts heightened emotion, suits cliffhangers, and can reach very broad demographics. If you want to be heard above the noise of social media feeds, you need to work on your narratives, so get started ASAP.