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How Marketers and Brands Can Use Native Storytelling on Social Channels

Joe Cardillo

published on July 16, 2014 in Content Marketing


Creating great content isn’t worth much if you fail to reach the right audience.

It’s one of the reasons a modern marketer has to be well versed in things like landing pages, conversions, AdWords, analytics, SEO, and basic web development practices.

But there’s a deeper, more creative problem at play, too: it’s no longer possible to easily separate producing the content from how you distribute it. Native advertising, for example, has demonstrated the blurring of lines between telling a story and serving an ad.

One of the challenges is to avoid thinking of distribution as repackaging content that you already have.

Lee Odden noted recently:

“Many marketers that profess to be active storytellers are simply applying creative packaging to their marketing content.”

Marketers and brands may be excited about storytelling, but are they sharing those stories in formats / ways that fit natively into each medium? The reality is that most brands and marketers are still telling the same kind of story in the same way across different channels.

The infographic, for example, is an effective and highly popular visual format. But putting a standard narrow, blog styled infographic on SlideShare is counter-intuitive, and so is sharing a full infographic on Twitter, a medium designed for small, cohesive bites of information over time.

So what do the alternatives look like? For a start – Twitter, Vine, and Snapchat all provide examples of what storytelling could look like natively within a social channel.


Telling Stories Natively on Twitter

Twitter is famous for a 140 character limit that encourages minimalism – but its most dedicated users have been telling stories and sharing ideas natively within it since the beginning.

Can you tell which tweet(s) are natively telling a story in the medium?

Can you tell which tweet(s) are natively telling a story in the medium?

The typical Twitter stream of posts is still largely chronological, but that’s starting to change.

One example is Buffer, a popular social media management app that started a weekly conversation last month under the hashtag #BufferChat. Each week they pick a topic (culture, social media, creating content, etc…) and a series of 5 focused questions, and then it’s pretty much up to anyone listening in to interact from there. While it’s not a new tactic (Twitter chats have been around for a while) they are doing it extremely well, and in addition to spurring storytelling in medium, it’s also a good place to look for stories from customers, prospects, and fans.

Another interesting and more experimental example comes from the unabashedly opinionated venture capitalist and technologist, Marc Andreessen.

native storytelling twitter 2 marc andreessen tweetstorm

Andreesen’s (possibly) unfiltered series of tweets on on various topics spawned a type of conversation that is now being called a Tweetstorm. The catchy name aside, it’s an interesting example of storytelling within the medium and something media brands in particular are starting to pay attention to.

It’s not hard to imagine the same concept extended to images – and the term “Visual Tweet Storm” may not be too far off.


Telling Stories Natively on Vine

Now that some of the top brands are starting to leverage Vine, we’re getting an interesting look at what storytelling with video can look like in a new medium.

For the most part there’s still the same problem of discrete, packaged pieces of content – but there are signs that narratives are gaining traction, like with this USA Today Vine that accompanied a full story about a potential mission to Mars.

An important note: one thing that tends to drive the creation of discrete pieces of content instead of a free flowing, conversational approach to storytelling within a medium is the short term demand for return on investment (ROI). The ROI of a specific piece may be less evident as a standalone than measuring the return on a narrative series, and ultimately it takes time and strategy to answer questions like why your audience is consuming that content.


Telling Stories Natively on Snapchat

Snapchat has similar storytelling attributes to Twitter as mentioned above, and an even more stringent 31 character limit.

One of the most interesting features about Snapchat is its Snapchat Stories feature, which allows users to build and send a package or chain of content that’s visible for up to 24 hours.

Because the content is only available for a limited time, it’s an ideal channel for items that are timely and / or stories that may change over time. Rather than having to go back to update or delete content – which can present editorial / ethical concerns – the snaps simply go away after a short time.

(For the record, and in a nice example of native advertising via the Guardian, the “snaps” aren’t deleted, they are removed from the user view, and can still be pulled later).

If there’s any single message that resonates across social channels like Snapchat, Vine, and Instagram, it’s that storytelling natively means stopping the focus, ironically, on a single message.

Those brands that figure out how to quickly use and produce micro-content and apply it to natively telling stories in medium will find themselves able to effectively share content that audiences actually want.


Joe Cardillo is a former product/ops guy now doing content, growth, and analytics.

He digs journalism, design, data, rocanroll, culture, anything science-y, and thinking about how to become a better human. You can find him on Twitter, Google+, and Medium.