The Train Tracks Underneath the Visual Content Based Social Media Train: Part 3: The Benefits of Storytelling

“Some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle and end.”
– Gilda Radner
“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”
- Phillip Pullman
We now return to our regularly scheduled program, my current series. It’s about visual content marketing trends, which I began in December. For those wanting to see what I’ve been writing about, who want to play catch-up, you can click here and here. To quickly reorient my dear readers, (whom I truly appreciate and invite to share my posts), here’s where we are…….I previously wrote about the practical takeaways I got re: visual content marketing after attending the BDI forum on visual communications on 12/12/13 in New York City. I asked this question then and now:

Visuals are the lock, which help lock in a loyal customer base, generate sales, and stick in one’s memory banks faster than an audio message….. but what’s the key? What’s the “secret sauce”, the train tracks underneath the social media train carrying all those pictures, video clips, and Infographics?” I believe that there are two keys; storytelling and humor. 

I believe that there are two keys; storytelling and humor. I will write more about storytelling today and continue with this vein throughout this month. Then I will write about humor as this series goes on. I cover both in my book. Why?Because my book is a practical and psychological map, with clearly defined and delineated markers and keys to heIp entrepreneurs, particularly women, promote meaningful, profitable, and global change. As I previously wrote in WordPress…..

After attending that BDI forum in Manhattan, I was reminded of the word game I played as a child on long trips in car, before the iPod, smartphone, compact car DVD player, and iPad was invented. We called it “lock and key”; a word association game aimed at building critical thinking and vocabulary. In this case, visuals are the lock, which help lock in a loyal customer base, generate sales, and stick in one’s memory banks faster than an audio message….. but again, what’s the key? What’s the “secret sauce”, the train tracks underneath the train carrying all those pictures, video clips, and Infographics?

That answer is less clear than ever, as we get bombarded by an increase in choices out there for seeding and disseminating company culture and services/products. The question continues to befuddle many people in and out of “the industry”. From techies and creatives rhapsodizing over Instagram’s filters and the brevity of  Vine video clips, to policing citizens who patrol Pinterest boards and Facebook timelines looking for pictures that exemplify copyright infringement, the “Universal Visual Protocol” remains rather unclear and inconsistent. What is clear is that a protocol, i.e. recommended best practices are emerging from the patterns of trial and error and thought leadership seen in real time and cyber time across the globe.

What is it? Let me suggest one, based on my NICE philosophy, my take on marketing, entrepreneurship, and social media best practices. The protocol contains two keys to unlocking the power of visuals to drive engagement, generate leads, and successfully implement a Call to Action (CTA):

1. Implement more methodical and eloquent storytelling

2. Embed more emotional attunement through humor

People have been asking me about my transition from being an educator to an entrepreneur. I was even interviewed by fellow fantastic female entrepreneur and busy blogger Diane Bertolin last month. My answer is that it’s not such a stretch when you think about it. Entrepreneurship, like education, teaches one to study patterns in behavior and learn from them, apply them to a problem, and try to solve it. Like education and storytelling for that matter, it’s all about balancing humanity (artistry) with technology (tools for the architecture of an infrastructure that creates and sustains the environment to share that artistry), something I wrote all about in a series of posts during November and December in my Tumblr blog, The NICE Initiative for Female Entrepreneurship. You can access that archive here.

People are curious about me, especially in the business world where I haven’t been active until recently. I’ve been asked the why, the how, the when, and the what about my own entrepreneurial journey. What they’re really asking me for is my Story. It’s actually a good one filled with humor and pathos, I think so :) some of which I share in my upcoming book, The NICE Reboot: How to Become a Better Female Entrepreneur. Asking one about one’s Story is one of the key ways we achieve Emotional Attunement, and fill a basic human need to connect. With others. With our pasts. With our present. With our future. With ourselves.

That’s why entrepreneurs in particular need stories, and need to understand how to use them in marketing their service/product. I touch on that in my book, and have previously touched on that in my early posts here on WordPress in August. I even excerpted a part of one of my chapters, to create a white paper, which is in my Slideshare vault. You can read it here.

Entrepreneurs can benefit from hearing the stories of others, and from sharing theirs. They should be asking about the Story behind people they meet, and innovation they want to create, disrupt, sustain, leverage, emulate, and share with the world. The whole IS much more than the sum of its parts!  That’s why I like reading the Marc and Angel Hack Life Blog. That’s why I really liked this post by Angel Chernoff, about how to ask specific questions beyond “What’s your story?”. You can read her answer here. That’s why I really enjoyed reading Nate Graybill’s wonderful blogpost, Superman Was Boring Until Kryptonite: The Art of Storytelling For Bloggers, especially his take on humanizing the business equation:

People want to relate to the people they associate with. They want to trust the people they buy from. They want to know that they are feeling, thinking, human beings…….I want to hear about your struggle. I want to hear about when you failed. And then I want to hear about how you picked yourself up again and overcame. I think we all do. Show your human side. Don’t be scared of it. Your story is what makes you unique and it has value in your business. 

Joe Pulizzi is a business thought leader re: storytelling in particular, whom I follow regularly. He’s the content marketing evangelist and founder of CMI, (whom I mentioned in my previous post on WordPress re: content curation i.e. putting the puzzle together to strengthen your Story) who writes all about the benefits of storytelling. He believes that “your customers are hungry for stories”, which I believe is 100% true. More importantly, human beings all over our globally connected but increasingly emotionally fragmented world are hungry for stories. For meaning. For making sense of the seesaw of humanity and technology that is so crucial to balance in today’s iEra and Digital Age.

I wrote about that in my latest article for my column in The Huffington Post, “An Open Letter To the CES 2014 “Powers That Be”. In it I quoted two people and fellow entrepreneurs whom I also admire, whose insights are relevant to this post. About the benefits of honing your storytelling skills. About making them marketable, and using them to change your own perspective and those of others. Sharing and telling stories to create new patterns of behavior that impact on the future; your own and those of your customers.

“Every person has marketable skills. You just have to find out what yours are and take the leap. Change your perspective, gather some courage, and you may just change your life.”

– Liesha Petrovitch, Entrepreneur, Educator, Owner, Micro Business

“Entrepreneurship is all about balancing and rearranging the plates on the table. It’s important to do so, so that a new pattern emerges. One that impacts on the future. Human nature is all about gaming the system to forecast the future.”

– David Mosby, Entrepreneur, Executive Director, Keiretsu Forum Academy & Co-Author, The Paradox of Excellence

Stories are compelling; something we have known since we were children. You can see my Slideshare deck, What Children Teach Us About Storytelling, where I explain more on that, and list three points I learned that have implications for successful entrepreneurship. I’d like to reframe that here into lessons on storytelling for entrepreneurs to consider:

1. Children throw themselves body and soul into telling tales: An entrepreneur needs to fully believe in his/her mission and share it. Why? One who believes in his/her Story and how important it is to intersect it with the Story of others to solve a real problem, right a wrong, and provide a needed service/product, are the ones who make it. Because they inspire others to join their “Tribes” as Seth Godin would say. They find like minded people who mentor them knowingly or unknowingly. They gravitate towards and go into business with/embrace ventures and opportunities with like minded people who share their passion, fueling their commitment to their Story. They also change the nature and quality of their conversation with customers.

“Mainstream conversations on content gravitate to utility and clever applications. Useful is not the same as compelling. Clever is a poor substitute for appropriate. Even meaning, as important as it is to relationships, is running the risk of becoming a fancy expression with little action to back it up.”

- Valeria Maltoni, December 10, 2013, Conversation Agent Blog

2. Children pay attention to and listen to stories about people/places they identify with: An entrepreneur needs to share his/her Story to increase the transparency of his/her company culture. Why? To drive sales and accrue customer loyalty in today’s digital “Wild West” arena and mindset; both of which are an anomaly to old school outbound content marketing folks. The ones who still don’t get that transparency is a foregone conclusion of the social media movement. Stories that show one’s underdog roots, authenticity, vulnerabilities, setbacks, and how they were overcome,  help propel people along the “human experience” pathway and forge emotional connections and empathy…..helping them move through the proverbial Funnel.  Think of the story of Helen Keller and how it propelled her, without ever seeing or hearing her audiences, into a life of giving keynote speeches to thousands of people. Think of all the urban legends and true stories about Steve Jobs who was fired from Apple™ and returned to make it the Behemoth Innovation Factory it’s become. Read about Barry Nalebuff and Seth Goldman who together faced obstacles while founding Honest Tea and their subsequent success in an interview by NPR in August. Part of increasing your entrepreneurial competency is about “The Cumulative Effect” your Story has on others, especially in cyber space and social media sites. It’s about cutting through the “noise” to use stories to sell i.e. creatively providing a Call to Action (CTA). This is something Gary Vaynerchuck does well and writes about in his new book, Jab, Jab, Right Hook. Entrepreneurial success today is also all about transparency, and transmitting it through storytelling on social media.

One of the most common criticisms or objections I hear is that an individual Tweet, Facebook post or image on Instagram isn’t going to make a difference amongst the stream of social noise published every second. Therein lies one of the most profound misconceptions about being active on the social web as an individual or even as a brand: It’s not the single social post that matters, it’s the story that evolves out of the cumulative experience. That’s the disconnect. Don’t evaluate the impact of personal social media participation from the moments shared in individual posts. Think of your social media participation (curation, sharing, engagement, promotion) in terms of a story you’re telling over time.

-Lee Odden, November 13, 2013, Top Rank Blog

3. Children appreciate lessons of what to do/not to do in the future when faced with a similar situation: An entrepreneur needs to  use stories to that inspire. But sometimes it’s more helpful when he/shares lessons learned the hard way and cautionary tales. This makes his/her service/product that much more enticing, and humanizes the brand being built. It is thus crucial to share the Story of others who succeeded, as a breadcrumb trail for the entrepreneurial journey. But it is equally important to use the mistakes and failures of others as a blueprint of pitfalls to avoid and best practices to develop as a result. Human beings in general are all works in progress; something I cherish and hope to secretly remain. Stories give us insight into the human mind, the human condition, and the human ability to adapt and be resilient. That’s why the science of storytelling is getting so much attention, as seen in this recent blogpost on Slideshare by Gavin McMahon. Stories give us leeway to fail, to mess up, and to be rejected. Rejection is part of a hero’s journey, and an entrepreneurial journey for that matter. This idea and the concept of Rejection Therapy, a game created by Jason Comely, was written about last May in Under30CEO.com. Wanting to do something heroic in life and being rejected for it are part of the human experience, but so is the drive to be useful and do work that matters. That’s why major companies, and entrepreneurs who want to successfully build their own, need to understand the power of storytelling, and how it humanizes brands, and according to Adam Grant, enhances the Give and Take byplay going on as we strive to achieve work/life balance. 

“There are three ways we see brand publishers telling stories. One is telling stories about things they care about and being host brands. It’s sort of the baseball stadium equivalent of a JetBlue sponsorship; it’s thank you JetBlue but let’s watch the game. Second, there are brands telling their own story, which we see more and more. GE has a guy whose job is to mine the company for interesting stories. For example, they did a profile of the man who invented the jet engine and is still alive. The stories are about GE but are things that interest people. I don’t see that as inauthentic at all. The third is brands telling stories about their products. That’s more direct, but still works. Take organic food. Once you know about the farmer, you want to buy your veggies from him.”
- Shane Snow, December 23, 2013, Entrepreneur Interview

At the end of the day, storytelling is just a tool for entrepreneurs to wield, like any other. I personally think it’s one of the more versatile, swiss army knife style tools to use, but it’s still just a tool. One used for developing the ability to innovate and create something new from old constructs and patterns. One used to aid in honing one’s strategy, selling one’s product/service, and humanizing one’s mission, digital avatar, and brand.

Because storytelling is only as powerful and effective a tool as the one wielding it, I want to end with some food for thought about integrating more storytelling into your master plan. I will get to the “How” of it as I continue this series here on WordPress. For today, I have shared some more of the “Why” of storytelling, which can be further understood from these lessons. I read them in a deeply thought provoking and insightful post by Tim Kastelle in his Discipline of Innovation Blog, Tools Don’t Solve Problems-People Do:

  • Innovation tools and innovation skills are two separate things: people often think that they can solve their innovation problems simply by finding the right tool. This is rarely true. In general, to improve innovation you have to improve skills and capabilities. Tools can be used to facilitate this process, but they can’t do it on their own.
  • One of the biggest obstacles to innovation is lack of time: if innovation is important, people need the time and space to work on developing, testing, and spreading new ideas. If you are a manager and you want your people to be more innovative, you have to give them the time needed to do this.
  • Tools don’t solve problems, people do: this is why innovation is still people-centric. It’s more important to remove obstacles to innovation than it is to give people tools.

The train tracks underneath visual content based social media may indeed be storytelling and humor. But the conductors of the train need to understand what that means, to persuade passengers to board the train and take a ride with them. I invite you to take a ride with me; here on WordPress, on Tumblr, on Twitter, on Google+, on my website, or on LinkedIn. Please share your Story with me, connect with me, and let me help you connect to others sharing the train, traveling the same route, and packing similar suitcases along the way. Together I believe that we can change our collective, intersecting Story, and do something great! Do you?

Best,

Penina

Penina Rybak MA/CCC-SLP, TSHH
CEO Socially Speaking LLC
Director: The NICE Initiative for Female Entrepreneurship

LinkedIn Page: Penina Rybak  http://www.linkedin.com/pub/penina-rybak/37/900/191
Email: penina@niceinitiative.com
About.Me: http://about.me/NICE.Initiative/#
Twitter: @PopGoesPenina
Tumblr:  The NICE Initiative http://niceinitiative.tumblr.com
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About penina4niceinitiative

Penina Rybak MA/CCC-SLP, TSHH, CEO of Socially Speaking LLC, is an Autism Specialist and Educational Technology Consultant turned Entrepreneur. She is the creator of the Socially Speaking™ iPad App and Social Skills Curriculum, and a national/international speaker on the topics of social communication strategies and integration of iPad Apps. Penina is the Director of The NICE Initiative for Female Entrepreneurship, based on her book, published by Maven House Press.
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