Story telling

Social Media Engagement – Does anyone really care?

PR is so much about social media these days, and there’s one metric we’re all chasing: Engagement.

Likes, comments, follows, re-tweets, shares – all these measurements are becoming the lifeblood of what we do. To get our audience involved with our brands the common advice is to produce ‘engaging content’, but in our current era of analytics, data journalism, targeting, and other technological tricks and devices I think it’s time to take a step back and figure out what really makes content engaging.

Get them to care

For anyone to engage with your content, they have to care about it. To get someone to care, you need to evoke an emotion. The only way to tap into emotion is to tell a story.

‘Storytelling’ is fast becoming the most overused word in marketing communications today, but there’s good reason for this. Since human beings first sat round a campfire and described their adventures, we have been telling stories. It’s hard-wired into our brains and after tens of thousands of years of evolution, we’ve all become very sophisticated storytellers. Many philosophers would argue that this the one defining feature that makes us human.

To engage an audience, you have to be able to tell a good story. It has to be relevant to your audience in the first place to catch their attention, and it has to connect with them at a subconscious level to retain that attention.

Be relevant

Relevance is the easy part. A little common sense is a start (mostly, flower arranging stories will not appeal to rugby players!), and some basic data research though your social media platforms should give you a steer on interests and trends. Nothing, however, beats getting thoroughly immersed in the online community with which you intend engage to get a true feel for the subtleties and nuances of the stories and topics of interest to them.

What’s in it for them?

You also need a good reason to tell a story. What’s in it for your audience? Why would they care? The story has to have a purpose. Today’s burgeoning mass of information and shortening attention spans create an environment where it becomes increasingly difficult to stand out and attract interest in your content, so your story has to be truly worth telling.

It’s very tempting to churn out content because of a commercial imperative – a new product launch, new hiring, a service improvement – but for every piece of content you have to apply the “so what?” rule; if someone was to read or watch this content, will it mean anything to them?

Get emotional

Given that story telling is arguably the very essence of being human, stories should flow easily, but with the pressures of modern commercial life it can sometimes be hard to find the “heart” in your story – the element that will spark an emotion or feeling in your audience. Can you use humour? Irony? Surprise? Love, even? Desire, hope, and even fear can be tapped into to achieve a connection with your audience and get them to engage with you.

Insurance companies use fear of loss every day to encourage us to buy policies that bring with them a feeling of security. By telling stories of loss, followed by rescue by the insurer, they take us on mini journeys that end in a happy resolution. Toothpaste manufacturers play on our fears of social exclusion because of bad breath or dental loss, while banks and finance companies try to offer hope for the future and security.

Find your hero

To carry your story you also need a hero, and there has to be a conflict and a final resolution. A hero can be your product or even your brand, but it can also be a character (ideally someone who is typical of your audience), or even a pet! We work with classic cars a great deal, and often the ‘car is the star’, but our hero could also be the owner or a mechanic struggling to get the car on the road. Conflict can be a problem faced by the hero that your product or brand solves, leading to resolution. In the classic car example this could be the story of how the owner (our hero) overcame many hurdles (conflict) to restore his beloved machine to its former glory (resolution).

Every tweet, blog, post, video, even an instagram photo, must be part of a narrative that takes the reader on a mini journey that’s relevant to them and connects emotionally. And maybe, if they really care, they’ll feel moved to share it, and that’s the real secret of social media success!

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