Simple Steps to Get Storytelling on Social Media Right

I recently came out of the Bumblebee movie feeling more satisfied than all the previous Transformers series combined. If the cinematic experience was more epic in the first five movies, why was this little spin-off loved by more moviegoers?

Similarly with social media content and advertisements. Why are some able to connect with us emotionally more than others?

In the golden age of Big Data and Machine Learning, marketers often make the fatal mistake of relegating their audiences down to numbers and graphs. The result is an endless streak of uninspiring content built based on statistics and algorithms rather than human beings.

There are a few fundamental reasons why this is the case:

  1. Humans are not numbers. Just because the Big Data shows that investing RMx will yield y number of leads, it does not mean we can simply cast a net and the numbers will magically appear. Humans tend to also ask the question Why they should invest their time on your advertisement or content.
  2. More media than we can ever consume. As of 2018, a staggering 300 hours of videos were uploaded onto YouTube every minute alone[1]. We’re not even getting into Facebook and Instagram. With so much media to consume and so little time, audiences have less patience for content that cannot immediately connect with them.

But how do we as marketers gain and retain the attention of audiences when attention is quickly becoming an expensive commodity? This is where the ancient art of storytelling comes into play.

From the paleolithic cave dwelling days, storytelling has been a way to pass memories and historical incidents down generations. Over the years storytellers learned to apply some dramatization and structure their content to keep listeners at attention.

While the way we all consume content now is very different from before, the things that draw us into a good story is still very much the same. This is what sets apart classic stories like The Lion King and How to Train Your Dragon, and less memorables ones like Transformers.

The Quest

All good stories revolve around a Quest that the protagonist needs to embark on. Something bad has to happen and the only way to fix it is by going on a treacherous journey filled with trials and tribulations.

One can utilise the Quest from a brand’s perspective by revealing a story that spans beyond profits and gains. Nike performs this well by putting themselves in the shoes (quite literally) of athletes and their daily struggles. Nike shows the athlete’s Quest to achievement, and all the struggles that come with it.

Other good brand Quests include non-profit values that help make the world a better place for all. Fellow supporters of the cause will feel a connected sense of purpose, which leads them to become loyal customers and advocates.

Good vs Evil

The most classic plotlines contain elements of Good vs Evil, in which Good shall always prevail. Build a compelling narrative of the protagonist facing their evils and overcoming them will draw viewers’ empathies. Losses will be equally mourned and wins celebrated by audiences.

The Evil need not be a person. Returning to Nike’s advertisements with their athletes, evil can come in the form of hurdles and adversities that are unforeseen. But the key is for the Good to always rise to the occasion in the end.

Another strong Good vs Evil campaign is Apple’s most memorable Superbowl advertisement in 1984 that took a stand against the mainstream and generic represented by IBM[2]. This campaign was so strong, it became the very foundation that Apple stood on until this very day.

The 3 Acts[3]

Now that we’ve established the content of a good story, we will need to structure them in a way that keeps viewers interested from start to finish. Here comes the crucial part of putting the 3 Acts together.

1.Act 1: The Hook

Unlike the way motion pictures are structured, viewers are not as patient to wait for long introductions and dull character reveals. One must release a lure so compelling that viewers will want to continue watching to find out what happens. That is The Hook.

It is the part that gets people wanting to know more. And it usually involves the crux of the story, the moments before the twist, or open-ended scenes. A good example would be reality show previews with shocks that end up meaning nothing.

Good social media examples utilising this method are food accounts like Tasty, Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay. They tend to show us the finished product in the beginning to lure us into wanting to know how it’s made. 

2.Act 2: The Meat

This is where the story actually starts, which will contain 3 parts in itself: The Intro, The Body and the Struggle.

The Intro is a quick summary of characters and the situation that will set the stage for the rest of the storyline. A good intro would be a sports person trying out for the Olympics.

The Body is the story itself. It explains why the protagonist wants to embark on this journey, perhaps inspired by a late parent who was also an Olympic athlete. It is important here to keep the protagonist flawed, which will make them more relatable with viewers.

The Struggle is where empathy is seeded into viewers’ hearts. When done well, it creates deep levels of connection with the protagonist.

One classic quote from the movie character Rocky Balboa says it best: “It ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.[4] Viewers like to see someone struggle through failures because that’s what their lives are about.

3.Act 3: The Resolution

Through all the struggles, the sports person needs to achieve a moment of Resolution. Perhaps they grind through all the tough times and come out stronger, perhaps they tried a different method of solving a seemingly unsolvable puzzle.

With so much emotional empathy invested by viewers, a positive ending is encouraging and inspiring.

An effective story takes viewers on an emotional journey through the 3 major acts. While we all know that brands are here to sell us products, it’s the deep connection with our passionate selves that ultimately take it down the final mile. It is also the stories that sink deep in the viewers’ memories, and create loyalty and advocacy.


[1] “37 Mind Blowing YouTube Facts, Figures and Statistics – 2019 ….” 5 Jan. 2019, https://merchdope.com/youtube-stats/. Accessed 22 May. 2019.

[2] “1984 (advertisement) – Wikipedia.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1984_(advertisement). Accessed 22 May. 2019.

[3] “Three-act structure – Wikipedia.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three-act_structure. Accessed 22 May. 2019.

[4] “It Ain’t About How Hard You Hit, It’s About How Hard You Can Get Hit.” 24 Jan. 2019, http://www.amyreesanderson.com/blog/it-aint-about-how-hard-you-hit-its-about-how-hard-you-can-get-hit-and-keep-moving-forward/. Accessed 21 May. 2019.

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