What is storytelling?

how do you tell a story for social media?

What is storytelling, and how do you tell a story for social media? “Story” is a much-used word today and just about everywhere, in marketing, branding, reality TV. We are in the age of story but what is” story” what is storytelling, and how do you implement it? What do marketers mean when they say you need to tell your story, or what’s the story behind your product, brand or service?
In this blog, I hope to answer these questions, and perhaps help you tell a story.

We think we all know what a story is, we do, but not everyone writes a best seller. And a story that comes from the imagination may seem logical. If you are the head of a biowaste company, what’s the story of your company? How do you begin to engage people if you offer accounting services? I hope this blog will help.

Where to start storytelling

As a simple start. Calling your shop” Sheen Bakery” is just a Bakery, whereas “Jane’s Fresh Bread, at Sheen” tells a story. It evokes a picture of Jane at 4am, standing over the proving oven, waiting for the dough for her malted loaf to be ready for some kneading before baking in the oven, and emerging warm and fresh with that wonderful aroma straight onto the shelf of her local shop. It’s engaging and tells a story in 5 words.

So let’s look at a practical example of storytelling, I am not going to use a novel as an example, but Asia’s Got Talent. It helps establish the narrative elements we use in video storytelling rather than written stories. The end goal of this piece is to apply storytelling to video.


Orphan Warrior Hero story structure

Before we do anything, let me first declare my belief in the “orphan-warrior-hero” journey. For me, this is the backbone of all story in any context. Establish your protagonists as orphans create empathy, send them on a journey where they become warriors. Finally, they arrive at the moment where they become heroes, even heroic failures. From Who Wants to Be a Millionaire to Dantes Inferno, all stories in every culture or context follow this pattern. I will share more on this in a later post.

The Narrative Arc

In the case of Asia’s Got Talent, the narrative arc is across the entire series, we start with some talented people, and we end with a winner, some fall by the wayside and some go on a journey. It’s that simple, a narrative arc is the beginning middle and end.

With that arc, we need “chapters” or a series of events that create a progression. In the case of AGT, we have the judges auditions, the semi-finals and the live final. Each chapter gives us a rising climax to the final big finish a series of twists and turns.

Episodic Arc

Then we have each episode with has its own arc. The narrative in an episode mainly ties to the golden buzzer, this doesn’t always happen at the end of an episode of course, but it’s the main backbone, even if the episode doesn’t actually have a golden buzzer, its absence is a talking point. Each chapter or segment is set around a performance, will they or won’t they get the yeses from the judges or of course the buzzer. In the Semis and the final, we have the public vote to drive the story.


But as in all stories we need characters. We have to fall in love with them, even love to hate them. We have hosts and judges and of course, the contestants. We have several options in making heroes of the contestants, the backstory; where do they come from what are their circumstances. The journey from street performer to star is compelling, as well as the undiscovered talent of a shop assistant. The tug of the heartstrings stories needs to be authentic, humble and told without cliche.

For the professional talent, hosts and judges, I always create a family. It’s like building a drama we look at their characters and personalities and create relationships that the audience will recognise. Which character is the Matriarch, the little brother etc? This is very important because it informalities all the constructed scenes and the talents reaction to everything. These relationships are so essential to get right as they have to be authentic and reflect the real personalities of the talent, we can’t have them act, sure they can perform, but they are not playing a character, so casting is also crucial.


Then comes the real fun, if you will, the “subplot”. What devices can we use to tie together our stories? What themes will the audience recognise that bring out great reality moments behind the scenes? Sneaky peeks into the characters of our famous judges and hosts. So we look at things like “sisters are doing it for themselves”, perhaps we have a set of performers who are actual sisters or groups of females. We can then make a segment about sisters, our female judge can talk about strong women, the male judges about their sisters or working with groups of girls etc. the narrative ties together. Or we can talk about ‘what scares you” so we can have contestants talking about their fear of the buzzer, performing in general. Hosts talking about how they started, judges if they ever get stage fright. We can also do comedy opening or behind the scenes thins where the hosts prank the judges.

All of this weaves a rich set of storylines in what seems like a simple talent show format. However, it is planned discussed and most importantly executed. This is one of the stand out elements to a big reality show, they don’t happen by accident.

Storytelling for Social Media Marketing

So how do we relate that into telling a story about your widgets? So you can get views and sell products or services online as the marketeers keep on saying the story is key?

Imagine your company is selling accuracy services. Can you tell your story and why you don’t find it boring at all? All storytelling needs to come from a place of honesty. Most people hate doing accounts, most people think accounting is dull. The natural conclusion is accountants are boring. But accountants do all the exciting things the rest of us do, mountain biking, kayaking. We actually love accountants because the service they offer means we don’t have to do something we don’t like doing. Tell that story. An accounting story full of people in suits and briefcases with info graphs etc. etc. It may shout of trust, it may say safe pair of hands, but it won’t stand out.

What if you are setting up a coffee shop” There are a lot of them, so tell your own story, what have you done to make your coffee personal and not the corporate coffee of those big brands? What journey did you go on, what do you love about coffee?

In your story, try to create the orphan warrior hero journey. When you stated that coffee shop, did people think you were crazy to compete with those corporations. What obstacles did you overcome and how did it feel when you made your first profile.

Applying these rules will enable you to create more compelling stories. The great thing is you know your story, dint write a script set out a structure, use bullet points if you cant commit it to memory. Put the notes as close the lens you are using and get recording. Happy vLogging!

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