In the age of social media, we can instantly connect with an audience; whether we know them personally or they’re halfway around the world. But in every age, storytelling still reigns supreme. It’s still the most effective way to connect… on an emotional level. Now social media adds a different kind of connectivity, as well as a new platform for storytelling.
Even your grandma knows the term “viral,” even if she misuses it constantly. When something goes viral, it’s like every person that comes in contact with that particular bit of Internet flotsam hits “Share.” It’s the Millennial chain email.
But the secret to anything going viral actually lays in the story that the content tells. Look at the most popular thing being shared around your Facebook feed right now. Chances are, it has something to do with a sad dog, sick child, or some other “protagonist” that you can feel something for.
The protagonist might be a group of people. But they’ve usually done something admirable, or something shocking. The shock element makes for a good story. At the very least, the story introduces a good character that you (the reader) feel compelled to publicly, or a villain that you feel compelled to speak out against.
It’s that emotional push that gets people to share stories via social media, and it’s how these stories achieve viral-status.
A Shared Experience
The trick of good storytelling is to have some kind of relatable element, right? Something that your audience can identify with: “I’ve felt that way before,” “I’ve known someone like that,” “I’ve been there,” or “This reminds me of…” Any kind of “me, too!” moment.
Many successful social media campaigns rely on the community experience. Social media is just that; social. It’s a forum for people to share their experiences, and they emotionally connect over the shared moments.
One example of successfully utilizing a shared experience to gain benefit on social media (i.e. free marketing) is Starbuck’s famously poor spelling of customer’s names. It’s famous because it annoyed so many people that they felt the need to share the experience on social media. Others got excited and said, “Me, too!” They, in turn, shared their misspelled names on coffee cups bearing the Starbucks logo.
Starbucks recently admitted that this wasn’t an accident. You’ve never seen a Starbucks commercial on tv. They don’t have to pay for a commercial to get your attention. They can just laughably and horrendously misspell everyone’s name so that they’ll feel compelled to share the experience online. It works.
Reinventing the Monomyth
The idea that all stories are essentially the same isn’t a new concept. But it’s a concept that can be utilized effectively through social media. Putting a new spin on a tired old story often works better than trying (and usually failing) to come up with something from scratch.
Any storyteller knows that it’s nigh impossible to tell a truly original story. Some say it can’t be done. Regardless, you can avoid the cliches and freshen up the old stories to recapture the interest of the audience on social media.
You can even use it as a way to endear the audience to you. For example, Apple’s successful “Think Different” campaign used that storytelling tactic to its advantage: “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels… They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
They brought you in with a quote that is closed to have being said before. But it’s fresh enough that it works. More importantly, the reader wants to identify with the person they’re talking about. They become a character in Apple’s story.
Social media users will Like, Favorite, and Share that kind of story to pieces. Their friends see it. The story passes into legend and goes viral.