The Train Tracks Underneath the Visual Content Based Social Media Train: Part 2-Storytelling and Its Importance:

“You can’t tell stories and really walk in someone’s shoes and not have a love for them.”

— Shonda Rhimes

“I believe in anything that will engage the audience and make the story more effective.”

— JJ Abrams

Storytelling is an ancient craft, used in all cultures and in all eras. Today’s medium for storytelling includes books, film, television, video games, and social channels (such as YouTube, Vimeo, Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Vine, Snapchat, and blogs.) Shakespeare was quintessentially known as The Bard. The Bronte Sisters and Mark Twain came along to earn the title. Orson Wells and his radio show also gave Shakespeare a run for his money. Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott, Erma Bombeck, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Steven King, Joss Whedon, Tim Kring, Nora Ephron, and now Shonda Rhimes can all give him stiff competition as well, if you ask me.

I discovered stories when I started reading at age 3. The library became a magical place for me, and I begged to visit it every chance I got. Stories shaped me; my thought processes, my outlook i.e. Theory of Mind, my aspirations, and my behavior. Stories about far away lands and people helped me “power down” and decompress. Stories about real people overcoming obstacles and their advice helped me “power up” my entrepreneurial mission and put on my big girl shoes and persevere.

As I grew older, I learned to use storytelling (first with dolls, later with arts & crafts and conversations) to make friends at school, gain compliance from the children I babysat as a teenager, and enthrall my students as a teacher and then a speech therapist. Storytelling is why I love seeing TV shows by Joss Whedon, Shonda Rhimes, JJ Abrams, and Tim Kring. It’s why I adore movies, and getting together with friends and family to discuss them. It is the glue that holds us together, anchors us to the present, tethers us to our past, and provides glimpses of our future. Steven Spielberg’s TV series, Amazing Stories, was a highlight of my childhood. As a Mac Girl turned iPad Evangelist, I was enthralled by the origin story of Apple™ Inc. and couldn’t wait to see the Steve Jobs biopic and gain takeaways. I’m not alone. Carmine Gallo wrote an article for Forbes on what that movie teaches entrepreneurs about leadership, which you can read here.

In my last post here on WordPress, I wrote about 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 ended that post by asking this question:

” 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 will start to write about storytelling today and continue with this vein and also write about humor as this series goes on. I need to start by asking this question:

What is storytelling all about, and why has it been such a buzzword this past year in entrepreneurship and marketing circles? We know that best practices re: education eventually get filtered and trickled down to the business arena, where strategies re: “buyer psychology” and inbound content marketing are being analyzed and emulated.  Storytelling has been a driving force in human communication and overall education of our children for centuries.

As a speech therapist/Autism Specialist I have worked with my students on their language and social communication skills, particularly their visual storytelling, related sequencing, and subsequent problem solving skills for years. I have found it amusing to hear “visual storytelling rules!” and “content is king” in entrepreneurial circles for the past year; as if a new language has been discovered at an archeological dig. 

Storytelling always interested me and came easily to me. In college, I minored in English while I majored in speech-language pathology, with an emphasis on Early Childhood social communication development and Autism Intervention. I was one of the first ones I knew who created Vision Boards to use with my students, and later with my interning speech therapy students, to help them craft, understand, and tell their own Story. I even share on on my website, in my Evernote public folder, which you can access here. There are actual university courses to learn components of storytelling, such as this one from the University of Virginia, on the Seven Elements of Digital Storytelling. You can get a different take and a different list of Seven Elements of Digital Storytelling from the Center for Digital Storytelling in Berkeley, CA.

Storytelling is being praised as signs of an intelligent writer and observer of human nature; two skills which entrepreneurs need to hone. Read about the funny and very smart and compassionate Mindy Khaling and her Rules for Writers, to see what I mean. “Story Entrepreneurs” are becoming a niche leadership archetype, if you believe what Lara Hoefs writes in this blogpost. Storytelling is essentially what social media is all about, particularly blogging. Read what Nate Graybill’s writes about the art of storytelling for blogging, and lessons from Superman, in his terrific post, which you can access here. Jen Godbout even gives you five storytelling tips when interviewing for a job, and Christina Giliberti writes about iMemory and The Growth of Digital Archives; a cultural and societal byproduct of digital storytelling; preserving family lore and memories.

Storytelling is one of the composites of the train tracks underneath the social media train, particularly when it comes to digital content marketing campaigns. Cristopher Ratcliffe recently wrote a fantastic post on what content marketing is all about, and why you need it, a must read for all entrepreneurs gearing up for 2014! Daniel Chioko writes two compelling posts worth reading in a blog worth bookmarking; why storytelling works in digital and content marketing, and what persuasive storytelling is all about. Jerome Adair writes an insightful post for, another site worth perusing, where he lists Nine Persuasion Lessons from a 4 year old. I recently uploaded a “deck” (“stack” i.e. slideshow) to my Slideshare vault, What Children Teach Us About Storytelling.

In my upcoming book, The NICE Reboot, I write more about storytelling, and why it is such an  important skills for entrepreneurs to hone. Here’s an excerpt:

Harnessing the power of storytelling, of identifying archetypes, and implementing that knowledge, together with your resiliency, will help you transition from me to we, especially when it comes to entrepreneurship and marketing yourself in terms of your service or product. It enables you to learn from others, empathize with them, and become more flexible and adaptive when your own story changes and/or intersects with another’s. These traits need to be honed individually and fostered collectively—at home, in public, and at work. How do you do it? By understanding archetypes and the impact of hearing and internalizing stories.

I then elaborate and cite from the excellent book by the Heath Brothers, Made to Stick. Here’s an excerpt:

The Six Principals of Sticky Ideas Interpreted by Penina:

  1. Simplicity: Find the core of your intent and translate that verbally and in writing as your mission and vision statements, and present these statements publicly, including via social media.
  2. Unexpectedness: Find what would naturally block your message from getting out there and solve that problem technologically or intellectually or both.
  3. Concreteness: Break down your business plan methodically and implement it over time at pre-planned, key intervals for more effective delivery of your service or product with less financial risk.
  4. Credibility: Get people to agree with, believe in, and endorse your service or product publicly. Nurture your real-time relationships and protect your digital reputation while doing so.
  5. Emotions: Get people to identify with and share your vision by showing that you care and that your service or product really addresses a particular problem. Emote!
  6. Stories: Inspire others to act based on your examples and tales. Learn public speaking skills and brush up on your presentation delivery—content and style.

Tim Kastelle posed an interesting question in his blog about idea execution and innovation, that relates to storytelling; Are Creativity and Entrepreneurship the Same Thing? In it, he writes this great food for thought with implications for economics, social entrepreneurship, and visual content marketing strategies using storytelling as its cornerstone:

We need to put entrepreneurs back into innovation.  It’s too easy to forget that innovation is driven by people.  We need to put more focus on entrepreneurs – the people that are creating value out of ideas – and less on tools.  It’s people that create value.  If we’re in a big organisation, we need to figure out how to liberate and support our entrepreneurs.  If we’re in a startup, we need to figure out how to build a business model that creates value out of our great ideas.  Both approaches are people-based.

I believe that we need entrepreneurship to branch out in 2014 to include more women, more storytellers, and more “outside the box” thinkers, so that people-based teachable moments and problem solving strategies can be better disseminated and implemented. I will elaborate on this point in future posts. Heidi Cohen (another writer/idea catalyst whose popular and practical posts usually end up in my Pocket and/or Evernote “bin”) gives advice where to find storytellers at work.

I will continue to write about incorporating storytelling into effective, meaningful visual content marketing campaigns. I want to continue to provide more insight and links as to why storytelling really is the train tracks underneath the visual digital marketing campaigns for social media. I want to further relay why we so badly need stories these days, to counteract our emotionally fragmented, morally ambiguous, mentally challenging environment , and help us better balance our humanity and technology, especially as entrepreneurs. It’s my raison d’être for launching The NICE Initiative for Female Entrepreneurship, TBA.

For now, I want to leave you with this message and three more links. My message: Storytelling at its core helps people get inspired, get on track, and get connected. I have a PDF on my Slideshare channel, Reflections on Storytelling, with more information which you can access. I also recommend visiting the Hubspot site and perusing their blog, one of my top go-to resources as an entrepreneur. You can download their free eBook, how to create lovable marketing campaigns that connect you with people, here. I also recommend that you look at this brilliantly done, seemingly unrelated Infographic from eLearning Industry about the role of Instructional Designers. Why? Because it is actually a blueprint for various types of storytellers and/or stories and lessons.

We are all storytellers at heart; it’s what makes us sentient human beings. We are all visual learners to some extent, which is why visual content marketing trends MUST be studied by entrepreneurs, even ones outsourcing their marketing workflow and campaigns. It is why I wrote about it in my latest Huffington Post article; A Picture Paints A Thousand Words… in Pixels: Visualizing The Future of Social Media for Entrepreneurship in 2014.

It is why I am writing about this here. Storytelling MUST be incorporated into our visual content marketing strategy as entrepreneurs trying to promote our service/product. I give some great examples of this in my latest blogpost on Tumblr, which you can read here.

Let me help you experience the power of storytelling in a moving blogpost first hand, by reading the story of a woman who was the daughter of a fighter pilot and wife of a serial entrepreneur who herself turned entrepreneur, Mindy Thomas.

To be continued…..

I wish you all success in crafting, expanding, and sharing your own Story with others. It can truly impact on those whose lives you touch and ultimately change. I also wish you all wonderful memories, enjoyable, educational, and meaningful experiences with family and friends, and Happy Holidays!






About penina4niceinitiative

Penina Rybak MA/CCC-SLP, TSHH, CEO of Socially Speaking LLC, is the author of "The NICE Reboot: A Guide to Becoming a Better Female Entrepreneur". She is an Autism specialist and educational technology consultant turned social entrepreneur. She is also a pediatric speech therapist and the creator of the Socially Speaking™ Program & iPad App. Her second book, "Autism Intervention in the iEra" was published in 2015. Since 2010, Penina has been a national/international speaker about social communication development, balancing humanity and technology, and best practices re: mobile and social technology. Connect with her on LinkedIn to learn more. You can also find her on Twitter: @PopGoesPenina, Facebook: Socially Speaking LLC, Google+ at The NICE Initiative for Female Entrepreneurship, and Pinterest and YouTube as well.
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2 Responses to The Train Tracks Underneath the Visual Content Based Social Media Train: Part 2-Storytelling and Its Importance:

  1. Hi Penina,

    I have been following every of your posts and went ahead with a pre-order of the book. I want to thank you for your generosity and being a great mentor and virtual thought leader I respect.

    I enjoyed meeting you at the last conference in San Francisco and I look forward to connecting again soon.

    Wish you a phenomenal holiday season and the best for the new year.



    • Thanks so much for the compliment, follow, comment, and pre-order of my book, Richard! It was a pleasure and privilege to meet you too last month in CA at the Hack For Big Choices Event! I appreciated the time you took to listen to me speak and then stay afterwords for our chat 🙂 I hope I can help in some way and look forward to staying in touch! Happy Holidays! Penina


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