One common trait of all writers — and this goes for journalists, marketers and novelists alike — is that they live by their ability to tell stories, to sell a narrative, to make their particular ordering of events and information compelling enough that others pay attention.
Stories are the lifeblood of good content. We all know that brands should use content to find ways to emotionally connect with followers and fans. This has become cliché; it is such often-quoted advice that it hardly registers anymore. The core of content marketing is the content, and the core of good content is a good story— simple, right? But in the emergent brand-publishing world, still getting its bearings, putting it into practice usually isn’t.
Most of us who work with words probably think of ourselves as good storytellers. That’s why we do what we do, right? But are we sure we all agree on what makes good storytelling good?
Storytelling is a two-way street. It works best, and really only, when it’s responsive, flexible and interactive.”
I am often reminded when I drive my 7-year-old to school that storytelling is more complicated than just imagining an exciting storyline and a workable theme. Every morning my daughter asks for the continuation of a story cycle about a group of clever kids and their adventures in a mystical world. I make it up as I go, but I am thankfully aided by a very perceptive and persuasive co-author. She won’t let me get more than a block or two before she begins chiming in on the story, critiquing the narrative and suggesting alternative developments.
The only way I can finish the story is by adapting, mixing in her additions with my ideas. I quickly found that collaborating with her on the story creation was way smarter than fighting her on it. It wasn’t my story, after all, I grudgingly realized; it was our story. This is true, I believe, of all stories, or at least for any story that seeks and cultivates an audience. Storytelling is a collaboration, in which listening and reacting is an indispensible part of the creative process.
Granted, I have a quicker feedback loop than most — the back car seat on the driver’s side — but that’s not that much faster than what is possible on social media. Maybe it’s useful to think of readers, or consumers, as the first-grader in the back seat – ignore them at your peril. They are telling the story along with you, editing it as they go, whether you like it or not. They are your collaborators.
Joan Didion famously wrote, “People tell stories in order to live.” Everyone is a storyteller just by virtue of living in the world — it’s how we get through our days. We all tell ourselves (and each other) stories constantly – our narratives may clash or align with one another – but they are the currency of life.
Your audience is far from passive; they are their own publishers on social media, storytellers in their own right, and they can amplify your brand’s story or they can disrupt it, hijack it and drown it out. The point is, storytelling is a two-way street. It works best, and really only, when it’s responsive, flexible and interactive. The audience is part of the process, and that’s good news for publishers of all kinds because it accomplishes the goal of the enterprise: to reach people, to make them more engaged, more informed, more active and more thoughtful.