Tapping into the Art of Social Marketing Storybuilding

Michael Smith, Digital Strategist, Palio

Have you ever played Round Robin? Round Robin tale telling is a collaborative creation of a story where individuals each contribute a small part to drive the plot forward. Social media is similar in that plenty of people participate, and at any given moment each participant can affect a story’s outcome.

Businesses have always used words and pictures to tell their story, but – outside of marketing research initiatives like focus groups or surveys – information flowed in one direction, from companies to consumers. Today, stories are told from multiple perspectives using various mediums and reach a wider audience.

Getting people to communicate passionately about your business – whether that’s a new treatment therapy, technique, hospital or physician’s office or pharmaceutical product – can create engagement and interaction among individuals, increase customer or patient loyalty and impact the bottom line. Not taking advantage of the art of storytbuilding and effectively crowdsourcing your message is a missed opportunity because of the sheer volume of people interacting on social networks.

In this Harvard Business Review article, Coca-Cola’s Joe Tripodi advises companies to not fight this wave of expression and accept that consumers can generate more messages than you ever could. With changes to Facebook rules, it’s time to accept that everyone really is empowered to tell part of your story. Rather than fighting to control the message, it’s time to figure out how to influence it or take advantage of it.

People love telling stories – the nutrition major talking about a hands-on learning experience at Lowell General or the patient who blogged about bad hospital food – and they love sharing them. Stories are like puzzles, and there is no puzzle if your pieces aren’t matching.

How do you help your fans and customers put the pieces of the story puzzle together?

Make your best information inherently shareable and granular. That means more than just a row of social media sharing icons on your company blog – it means breaking your information up into smaller pieces that can be repurposed by your fans and customers. Not many people want to share a 10-page white paper, but a tip of the day? A contest that rewards social linking? A build-your-own video microsite that stars users – and your product? Those are going to get more traffic.

Stories can – and should – be told across channels and even across products. Using print ads to drive traffic to your website? Welcome to 1995! Today, savvy marketers are building defined-path stories and messages that still start from a common channel, but increasingly the best ROI is coming from stories that can be joined from a range of channels and followed across whatever media the user happens to feel like jumping to next.

Quit trying to own the whole narrative and be happy with own the Dramatic Opening and the Big Finish. All stories have an arc, and 1.0 marketers – those same folks stuck in 1995 – often try too hard to own the whole arc. Instead, look for opportunities to launch stories with a dramatic opening and let users and fans guide themselves (and their network) to a big finish that drives home your key messages.

Of course, not every twist and turn will be positive. Negative feedback is par for the course with social interaction. There may be times marketing needs to intervene, which is why social media monitoring is so important, but there also may be times when your customers and fans will do that for you. You may choose to wait and see if your network of fans and friends comes to your defense and perpetuates the happy ending of your story. And when they do? Be sure to acknowledge their contribution. They’ll know they’re being heard, respected and valued, enabling you to continue building the loyalty you’ve worked so hard to create.

Palio is an advertising agency revolutionizing pharmaceutical and healthcare marketing to create experiences that will Never Be Forgotten.

© 2011 Palio.com