Can Storytelling save Social Media?

Social media are improving all the time. But that doesn't mean social media for business is sure to succeed.

There is evidence that many companies haven't yet reaped expected rewards, a healthy return on their investment (ROI). Some companies have started to use social media - and given up.

I remember the day I first heard of blogs. Summer 2005, just before moving from UK to Ireland. I had to ring a friend to ask him where I could find more information & advice on how to set up a blog. I was curious. I set out to experiment with a blog -  to see if there was something I could use it for.

It was all new to me. Up until then, all I'd used was email & websites for business. This was well before the Facebook & Twitter revolution.

In Autumn 2005, I set up a blog. Gradually figured out I could use it to document  my experience of returning to Ireland after 30 years in UK. It could be a gift to my baby daughter.  As I blogged & linked with other bloggers, I realised there was huge potential in blogs.

Later I set up a blog for my business. I began to help others to do the same.  I took to Facebook & Twitter and became convinced blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter & Audioboo were great new opportunities for business. I bought into the view that we were living through a social revolution: I was convinced businesses would take to social media or suffer competitive disadvantage.

Indeed social media was exciting - but they were more than that. They were new clubs in the golfbag, increasingly part of the resources available for brand development. I even thought they spelled the decline of traditional advertising.

Technology was leaping ahead - so was the software. Social media was getting easier for non-technical business people to use. I was very optimistic for the future of social media in business.

But I think I was wrong. I didn't see what was going to limit the expansion of social media.

Recently, I've read that some big corporations are cutting back on their use of social media. They haven't succeeded with social media - and they're beginning to give up.

This trend isn't yet more than a trickle. Most companies are increasing their use of social media (unless they haven't started at all). The trickle may yet turn around but it's time for hard thinking about what's needed to succeed with social media for business.

What you need for business... Let's take it as understood that you won't succeed in business unless you produce goods & services that customers value, desire & can afford. There is no substitute for a good brand.

The technical skills required by social media users have are increasingly easy to learn. It is not difficult to learn WordPress & other software for blogging. Facebook has become more complex but a few hours is all it takes to learn all the commands. LinkedIn & Twitter can be picked up even quicker.

In other words, someone can learn all the technical skills needed for social media in less than two days.

Here the rub... the interpersonal side... the skills needed to engage with others via social media.

Social media requires social skills & qualities that are in short supply.

  • confidence to represent the business well
  • storytelling skills to present the business well
  • writing & speaking skills
  • listening & attending skills

These are qualities & skills that need to be learned & honed to different audiences.

Without these qualities & skills, an individual will not succeed on social media.

There is no formula, no standardised process that can substitute for developed storytelling skills.

Not only does the person need to know the company's products & services, but the person needs to be able to communicate the brand in an engaging way to customers & potential customers.

To make it more difficult, the communication is not a one-way process - it's not at all like traditional advertising skill.  The audience expects more. Customers are different now - they want more than the product or service - they want to be wanted, valued & respected.  They also want to be listened to.

Storytelling is a two way process

- a narative that grabs the attention of the audience & holds it

- opportunities for the audience to influence the story, to make it their own

This isn't simple - it requires preparation, information, delivery & a disposition to respond to whatever the audience says in return.

Engaging on social media is a challenge - success is wonderful but failure can do lasting damage to the brand.

As I was thinking this through, I realised that I had very little idea of where good storytelling is learned.  It's certainly not cultivated in the workplace half as much as outside, during family & recreational  time.

If this analysis is sound... the future of social media for business depends on factors outside the control of business.

The culture of business (which is the environment within which such qualities are valued, rewarded or ignored), and the individual qualities that are promoted, are vital.

Does the culture of your business cherish storytelling talent?

What opportunities are there for storytelling practice?

Is there training for storytelling?