Five Perspectives on Storytelling in Social Media

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Much is being written these days about social-media storytelling. Here are five perspectives that have popped up on blogs recently:

  1. Social media extends the ways you can tell your story. Social media is easier to execute and more effective when you or your organization are oriented toward storytelling to begin with. Roger Burks and Mercy Corps, for example, already focus on storytelling. Thus, Burks writes, “Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube an extension of what we were already doing and saying. For Mercy Corps, that meant storytelling … So we used Facebook and Twitter to syndicate the stories and other content we published on our website — particularly the Mercy Corps Blog, a new feature we launched last May. We used YouTube to publish videos that supported and extended that content. In nearly all cases, we linked back to our website. Social media became another place to tell our story, to engage readers and attract new supporters.” Burks notes that Mercy Corps extended both its audience and donations while telling the stories of the earthquake in Haiti, in part through social media.
  2. socialmediastorytelling.jpg
  3. Effective social-media storytelling engages audiences and inspires action.
  4. In a piece that compares the relative storytelling success of various social-media campaigns, Dan Morrill notes:
    The better the story the more people that will engage with the subject and the better your social media efforts will be. Social media people must be excellent story tellers that can engage and get an audience participate in the story so that it becomes theirs. The major issues with that are getting people to [take] action.
    Morrill asserts that failed attempts at social media — abandoned blogs, Twitter accounts, and Facebook profiles, for instance — result when the story behind these efforts fails to engage audiences. I’m sure that’s often the case. It was for a client of mine who recently put his blog on hiatus. But I would suggest that a bigger reason for abandoning social media is simply that people are busy and overwhelmed, and maintaining these venues becomes tiresome. Most social media requires at least some commitment to writing, and I’ve found that the writing obligation fills many people with enormous angst.
  5. Social-media harnesses stories your audience is already telling. “Your fans are already out there in the world, sharing their stories every day, without any prompting from you,” writes Jesse Stanchak. Social campaigns simply put that drive to work.” Stanchak offers three guidelines for making the most of the stories audiences are already telling: 1) Catch them at the moment of excitement; 2) If your fans don’t have a soapbox, build one; and 3) Be ready to respond.
  6. Social media is an example of “quantum narrative.” So says Mike Bonifer, who in his piece, Quantum Narrative, suggests a dichotomy comparing “Newtonian Narrative” with Quantum Narrative. Quintessentially postmodern, quantum narrative “redefines storytelling by ripping up and recomposing the stuff stories have been made of since the first cave dweller showed her companions how to build a fire (and got thrown out of the cave not long after by another cave dweller who claimed the secret of fire for himself). … It has no beginning, middle or end. It has unlimited numbers of beginnings, middles and ends. It is generative instead of repetitive. It is participatory instead of authored. There’s no traditional storyteller-audience relationship; in the Quantum Narrative, everyone is responsible for creating the story. It does not foster consumption as much as it invites customization,” Bonifer writes (and I encourage you to read the rest of his fascinating characterization). In addition to social media as an example of quantum narrative, Bonifer sees glimmers of the phenomenon in
    transmedia, massive multiplayer games, distributed production models, theme parksalternate reality games, activist brands, smart badges, business in China, remixes and mashups, augmented reality, micro-loans and the video of your dance in the musical, Hair.
    By the way, I’ve previously cited this “quantum” characterization — in an entry on a piece by Frank Mills about “quantum storytelling.”
  7. Social Media provides a way to construct stories from the information-flow firehose. Peggy Nelson’s work would seem to epitomize the quantum narrative that Bonifer writes about. In a Q&A with Nelson by Andrea Pitzer, Nelson describes her work as “new media art with a focus on decentralized, episodic storytelling,” as well as “experimental storytelling” — storytelling for a world in which “people are so fractured and they only have 15 seconds to look at something anyway” and “every Twitter account is a character, every Twitter account is a performance.” (Check out Nelson’s Twitter projects, @AdeleHugo, and @enoch_soames.) In that world, we need a filter so we can drink from the firehose of information coming at us. “We still need someone to construct the stories out of all the information coming in,” Nelson says. New media, of which I’m guessing social media is a subset, may provide the way to construct these stories.

I close with Nelson’s inspiring words: “[T]here are so many just-barely explored opportunities to tell interesting stories in new ways.”

[Thanks to Thaler Pekar and Madelyn Blair for alerting me to some of these perspectives. Image credit: Erika Hargreaves.]


For a new form of story telling on Twitter see: micro-community of 17th century “voices” Twitter

Thanks so much for alerting me to this micro-community. I’ve posted several entries about Twitter storytelling and will certainly look at this one for the next time I do that. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

I’m really glad I stumbled upon this post (and this blog, for that matter), it really puts things in a nice perspective when it comes to social media storrytelling. I had observed that ‘harnesses stories your audience is already telling’, but the quantum narrative view is really something to remember.

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Kathy Hansen, PhD, is a leading proponent of deploying storytelling for career advancement. She is an author and instructor, in addition to being a career guru. More...


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