Why We Need To Tell Better Stories

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Content is taking over the internet. Bloggers have been joined by Tweeters, Pinners, Instagrammers, podcasters and of course, video creators and remixers. Some estimate that the amount of content available in the digital realm is doubling in as little as nine months. Digital marketer Mark Schaefer has called this developing problem “content shock“.

It’s a real concern. Content is proliferating at a rate where no one can keep up with the constant flow of information. Standing out in this sea of content has been one of the major challenges of real-time social media marketing. With thousands of tweets being generated every minute during major media events, for example, how is a brand to grasp the attention of even their most loyal followers?

Many industry leaders have identified ‘findability’ as key to making sure your content reaches your readers, but many brands feel disadvantaged if they don’t have the economic power of a Coca-Cola or General Electric when it comes to content and platforms. For a long time, marketers have asserted that it’s simply a numbers game. Tweet more, post more, drill down the metrics and go again. But is that really the solution? Or part of the problem?

Content shock is a symptom of a greater problem: bad storytelling. It’s a product of an approach where we try to determine what the content should be before determining what problem we’re trying to solve. To communicate anything of value, it’s simply not enough to say that you need a blog post of exactly 1,542 words with a target keyword frequency of 4.7% published at 10:05 a.m. on a Wednesday.

To tell a great story, you have to figure out what you actually want to say, and why you need to say it.

We Need To Tell Better Stories

Here’s the thing: the secrets of blogging are not so secret. The most common formula for creating blog titles– Number + Action + Subject (“22 Ways to Upgrade Your Blog”)—is taken straight from the covers of women’s magazines.

We live in the age of the sophisticated consumer; that’s the whole reason storytelling is becoming the key business practice of the future. Storytelling is not #SEO. It’s about communicating what’s human, and real. It’s abandoning the pretence that has for so long characterized advertising and marketing. It’s about using the inherent democracy of widespread access to the internet to tap into a community-focused way of interacting. It’s about relating to, and being a part of your tribe.

Take a look at this ad from UNICEF, which I think illustrates this metric vs. meaning conundrum perfectly.


It’s an incredibly effective ad. It also unearths a painful truth in marketing: Facebook Likes don’t necessarily translate to dollars (or polio vaccines). Social media can build your brand, introduce you to new leads and expand your reach, but it’s not a guaranteed way to make money. Great stories, however, have a proven return on investment. It’s not that social media isn’t part of the solution, but reverse engineering your content to fit some algorithm is not the way forward. Tell stories. Make them as long as they need to be. Be helpful, emotional, funny or educational. Above all, be sincere.

Metrics can come along in time. When it’s time, examine the metrics that can best show you what’s working and not, and that can help you decide whether investing your time in a particular platform is worthwhile. Don’t listen to anyone who says you have to be on Twitter or any other social platform—it’s up to you to decide what’s best for your brand.

Numbers don’t always tell—or make—the real story. Storytelling well done takes time, and you should plan to build your story and content strategy slowly and thoughtfully.