Social-First Storytelling, Identifying the Real Hero – Mike Blake-Crawford

Mike Blake-Crawford, Consultant
Join Mike Blake-Crawford to learn about 'social-first storytelling' and understand the components of storytelling that will be driving successful brands in the future.

Takeaways on storytelling on social media from Mike Blake-Crawford

  • In the social age, the brands that succeed are those that set a vision, define their purpose, and ultimately have consumers buy into that vision and purpose.
  • Stories help create order out of chaos.
  • Emotion is fundamental to purchase decision making.
  • The strongest brands tell consistent stories.
    • However, brands no longer define what these stories are.
  • The power is with the people.
    • But… don’t forget the hero (i.e. The Hero’s Journey).

[08:36] Storytelling—The Power of Emotion

  • We all want to learn something.
  • We want to have some fun.
  • We need to be inspired.
  • “Storytelling” is a buzzword in an industry that loves buzzwords.
    • Buzzword: A word of expression that has become fashionable in a particular field and is being used a lot by the media.
  • Storytelling is intrinsic to our development as a species and as individuals.
  • “95% of purchasing decisions are made emotionally.” (Gerald Zaltman, Harvard Business School)
    • Stories help to unlock this emotion.
  • Facts tell; stories sell.

[15:44] How can we apply storytelling to brands?—Specifically, how does this work for short attention spans on social media?

  • Specs don’t sell Apple products as much as the stories behind them.
    • Apple fanaticism impacts the same area of your brain that religious beliefs do.
  • Use The Hero’s Journey framework:
    • Ordinary world
    • Call to adventure (“Just do it.”)
    • Threshold (“Once you pop, you can’t stop.”)
    • The test/ordeal (“Impossible is nothing.”)
    • Meets an ally
    • Returns home/earns reward (“It’s finger lickin’ good.”)

[22:10] Social media overtook TV in 2016

  • Brands no longer define their own story.
  • Vision, Purpose, People
    • #Gymshark66
      • The Hero’s Journey in action
      • Gymshark: “Instagram is a huge part of our story because of the communities we create, but the challenge is always how to stand out among so many online businesses vying for consumers’ attention.”
    • Glossier:
      • “Glossier Inc. is a people-powered beauty ecosystem. Skin first, makeup second.” = Vision, Purpose, People
    • Shopify:
      • Vision: “The all-in-one commerce platform to start, run, and grow a business.”
        • Purpose: “Making commerce better for everyone.”
          • People: Shopify powers over 1,700,000 businesses worldwide.
        • They are the ally to help you be the hero.
      • Brand storytelling gone wrong: Fyre Festival

Q and A on social-first storytelling

Q: How does storytelling work in really professional industries (ex. finance, pharmaceutical services, etc.) where emotional sales aren’t the only part of the decision making process?

A: It’s all about getting the balance right. Incorporating the power of storytelling is effective regardless of the size of your company or the industry you’re in.


Q: How does storytelling work where there are multiple customer touchpoints? Can you repeat the same story for each touchpoint or do you have to create a different story for each touchpoint?

A: Being able to adapt and be flexible with storytelling depending on the touchpoint or channel is incredibly important. The worst thing you can do is replicate the same type of storytelling across different touchpoints. If it’s offline or in-person, events work a lot better to cascade that vision and that purpose to your community; whereas, on a platform like Instagram, using static imagery of individuals and long copy might be the best way to do it. It’s all about going back to the foundation, which is to connect the rational element of your product or service with emotion, and communicate that in a way that is native to the environment you’re playing in.


Q: What are the most engaging formats on social? How do you write captions to gain engagement?

A: We’re seeing a paradigm shift in social: It’s being driven by user behavior—the way people consume and interact with content; but, also the way we create content. Basically, the TikTok format is the future of content creation. Short-form, dynamic, mobile-first, 9:16 vertical video content is definitely where things are going. Another thing to consider is the polarization of attention spans. Yes, short-form is incredibly important today, but passive consumption is, as well. For example, podcasts up to three hours an episode have become popular. People are binging Squid Game. So, you’ve got to be mindful of creating content for each end of the attention spectrum.


Q: Could you use the same framework for blogs, etc. as well for social?

A: Yes. It works the same for written as it does visual content. It works well for any story that you’re telling.


Q: What’s the difference between storytelling for kids and storytelling for adults?

A: Not very much. The fundamentals of storytelling certainly don’t change. In fact, the simplicity of Disney films really highlights The Hero’s Journey. The Lion King and Aladdin are great examples.


Q: When I think about storytelling, I think about viral: Something that hooks the reader in, wanting to know more. What are your tips to create viral stories that really hook the reader?

A: Traditional ads had story arcs that typically built up to a payoff. Now, you have to do the reverse to fight within the first three seconds to capture people’s attention. You have to deliver the payoff first to get people intrigued to find out what led to the payoff.


Q: How can you persuade senior management or other members of the team that social-first storytelling is important?

A: The challenge with traditional senior marketers that have been in the game for a long time and aren’t fully versed in this way of communication, is that you have to replicate The Hero’s Journey in making your case to them. Talk about the challenge your business is facing in light of the way media is changing and take them through the threshold, be their ally, and find success for the company. Leverage the examples I gave.


Q: How do you manage negative reactions to your storytelling?

A: There’s always a fear of engaging with the negative. You can either hide from it and pretend it’s not there; or, you can embrace it head-on. The real value in today’s landscape is embracing it. There is an opportunity on Google reviews (which most businesses don’t take advantage of) to engage with negative comments and potentially turn them around publicly.


Q: Can you use only one social media channel; or, is it better to use multiple?

A: Don’t play everywhere just because you feel like you need to be where everybody else is. The most important thing is to double down on where your audience is and where you’re going to deliver the most ROI.