Four Storytelling Methods

Uig Locational Storytelling Press Launch
Image by Gaelic Arts

Moving from marketing to an entertaining delivery of useful information creates a much higher likelihood of successful communications between an organization and its stakeholders. Like gamification, storytelling entertains the online reader/viewer/listener, earning their interest. Compelling stories convert dry boring content into worthwhile time expenditures.

Success assumes a few of things: 1) That the storyteller understands what compels its stakeholders; 2) the information presented in the story is useful; and 3) the return on investment for an organization is asked for in a tasteful manner. Meeting those three fundamental building blocks empowers an organization to make storytelling work.

There are many approaches towards storytelling. Personification, third person storytelling, embedded journalism, and metaphors are just four ways to enliven content. Here’s a deeper look:

Personification: The old blogging method of personal storytelling can drive great interest. Well executed, the person and their audience can share experiences together (Example: Beth’s Blog). People want to understand how attending that event made you feel, or how that new technology changed your perspective. By sharing an event, an idea, or reflection, we identify with or at least imagine commonality about conceptual material, and content becomes interesting. There are certainly dangers to personification, including nihilism, over-reliance on opining, and personal branding that negatively impacts the organization.

Third Person Storytelling: This gets back to the basic elements of storytelling a la the original oral tradition of tales like Beowulf and the Odyssey. Third person storytelling is really good for causes and consumer facing companies that resolve problems. Showing how people’s lives have become better or enriched as a result of touching an organization is powerful. For many organizations, this is told via case studies, but there is nothing wrong with enlivening a story by weaving narrative elements into it or discussing trends (Example: Shel Israel).

Embedded Journalism: This approach seeks to provide a journalistic view into an organization or related external events and happenings. Similar to trade reporting, embedded journalism relies on facts, the ability to answer the 5 Ws in any good story (who, what, when, etc.), pyramid style structure, and a general tone that instills objective view points (Example: Invisible People). Of course this is the weakness of embedded journalism: By acting as a member of the Fifth Estate, companies and nonprofits immediately are suspected for pushing their wares and solutions. This means fact telling and objectivism has to be held to a higher standard.

Metaphors: Infusing metaphors into content empowers people to more easily imagine data and hard concepts. By using common metaphors that almost everyone has experienced, the ability to identify with the concepts behind a story become much more personalized. The long journey to successful metaphorical writing can involve wrong turns, potholes and flat tires, over-complication of storytelling route (plot), and more. But with practice, this can become one of the most powerful methods of communicating complicated concepts (example: Copyblogger).

What are some of your favorite storytelling methods?

Article first published as How Storytelling Betters Content on Technorati.

  • I like to use a little bit of 1,2, and 4. Storytelling has been a part of human culture since the dawn of time yet some people forget this in a digital age.

    • Anonymous

      Yeah, I think this is a pet peeve of mine, too. The constant need to make everything new again… When it’s not! I tend to write towards the third style myself, with a bit of third person opining involved. Narration without citing myself incessantly. Though I just did that in this comment, ha!

    • Anonymous

      Yeah, I think this is a pet peeve of mine, too. The constant need to make everything new again… When it’s not! I tend to write towards the third style myself, with a bit of third person opining involved. Narration without citing myself incessantly. Though I just did that in this comment, ha!

  • Jackson Wightman

    I think all methods can work depending on what the goals are. The trick is figuring out what method to employ and when.

    An interesting and concomitant trend in content marketing today seems to be that companies don’t put enought thought into their voice in content. Not sure if this is a result of people having to toil extra long in the salt mines and churn out content like Dickensian-era factories, but lack of thought about voice and storytelling method are a lethal combo.

    Thanks Geoff. Great post :)

    • Anonymous

      Laziness and bad mentorship from the social media “thought leaders” is probably why. Knowing how to make a great blog post, content or generally good writing is something most communicators should know how to do…

      Thanks for the comment, Jackson!

  • Geoff – I’ve tried writing stories in the second person, which seems to be quite effective. For example: “You walk down your street and suddenly find a dog who has just been hit by a car, struggling to survive. You call animal rescue, but come to find out that that department has been eliminated due to funding cuts…”

    • Anonymous

      The second person is really hard to do well. Kudos to you for achieving that. It’s good stuff.

  • Nice concise outline, thanks for that Geoff! I’m a big fan of #1 myself. Where do you see the majority of ‘storytelling’ falling into those four?

  • Don

    ┬áThis post would have benefited from an editor. Success doesn’t assume anything. People assume things. Building blocks are not met. They are established or put in place. What is a “time expenditure”? If you are trying to say “use of time”, why not say “use of time”? I couldn’t even bring myself to finish reading the post.