Corporate storytelling in the age of social media

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Corporate storytelling in the age of social media

Corporate storytelling narratives need a new approach. If you read most of the literature out there on the topic, the feeling is that of old school press release storytelling command and control. Cold, unemotional narratives are praised against personal emotional stories. One of the major arguments is that corporate people don’t want you to waste their time with what many interpret as childish stories.

Nowadays many corporations value the power of story, but still use it with caution. The approach is a mix between hard cold data and a slight narrative to motivate their audience. Some are, indeed, masters of it, other just stick to very basic forms of stories. We don’t want emotions running wild. We don’t want the wrong story to filter out of the company, exposing personal details of the CEO.

I truly understand the concern. If you go back in time, ten years, I would totally agree. But we don’t live in 2003. Heck, most of the books on the matter were written in the late 90s. A lot has happened in the past ten years, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Instagram and an assorted array of, what we now call, social media tools. Not only access to social media tools has changed the way we interact, but the rise of smartphones, tablets and now phablets has changed the frequency and places we use this tools.

At the beginning of the century everyone was scared of the 2000 bug, hackers and privacy. Do you remember how long it took you to upload a picture of yourself online? How many concerns did you have? How much did you know of your neighbors? Coworker? Family? It seem scary at the time, to think that we could trace your online footprint in such an accurate way that it could uncover traits we didn’t even noticed before.

Hell, The Internet of Things is just surrealistic. How many of you would thought that you would share credit card transactions, your running performance, how well do you sleep or how is your weight (and fat) evolving over time?

Welcome to 2013. We live in an economy of shared goods. What was seen as crazy just ten years ago, now seems normal. What was normal in the late 90s, is now an antisocial behavior. It’s actually not only antisocial but shady. Who isn’t on Facebook? Why aren’t there? Are they hiding something? Do they have more than one personas?

Now, if we go back to corporate storytelling, society has changed their perception on transparency. We’ve been bullshitted so many times by the press office of so many companies that we’ve turned against them. We don’t believe a word that comes out of their mouths. We don’t trust them. Not even their own employees. Actually, there is an interesting paradox, those working on a corporation are proud owners of smartphones. They share their life on a regular basis, but hit a wall when they try to do that at work. Blocked Facebooks anyone?

There is a major cognitive dissonance effect going on in corporations. While many understand that they should be telling stories, few are effective at it and still believe that unemotional narratives are better of than personal accounts. Few allow their own employees to tell their side of things. To put a human emotional face to what they do.

I believe it’s time to revisit how corporations do storytelling. This is even true for people in the corporate storytelling business. Have you ever seen the website of any of them? They’re ugly, badly designed and of course have zero visual design. Things have changed. Tumblr, Instagram, Twitpic exists. Tools that enhance stories with arresting visual depictions. Nevertheless, few storytellers use them, and few care about their own visual image online.

Corporations need to start telling more emotional stories, to open up and be transparent. They need to show vulnerability. When someone opens up, is truthful, humble and forthcoming, people trust them. Even if they where mad before, they’ll trust them. This isn’t just important for your customers, but for you own employees, for innovation, for corporate culture and in general for the brand, both externally and internally.

When was the last time you heard the story of something amazing that happened at your company? Care to share? Leave a comment and we’ll re-post the best stories!


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