Shanna Mallon

Social Stories: How to Use Storytelling on Twitter

By: Shanna Mallon | June 17, 2013 | 

Twitter stories Humans love stories, so when you use the basic elements of narration on Twitter, it’s to your social marketing advantage.

Do you know how to tell your brand’s story on that social network?

Are you engaging your audience, even in 140 characters or less?

The limitations of Twitter are no excuse for not putting storytelling to work, especially when you consider the ways others are turning it into a powerful tool.

With that in mind, here is a look at ways to use storytelling on the real/time, 24/7 social network.

Literally—To Tell a Story

Using Twitter to tell a long, detailed story might not seem like an obvious application, but take a look at Storify or at the hashtag #afternoonTwitterTale to see it in action.

Author Clinton Yates coined the hashtag, which signals a tweet-by-tweet narrative that gets posted during one afternoon.

Yates’s social stories have included “Why I Love Baseball” and “A Junkie Named Raymond,” among others.

How You Might Use Storytelling Literally

Even if you don’t start posting afternoon Twitter stories, here’s something to take away from Yates’s example: No tweet is an island.

Instead of looking at tweets only as individual, self-contained updates, look at them as parts of a greater, larger whole.

When you can’t share a full story in one tweet, consider spreading the story across a few back-to-back tweets instead.

Creatively—To Tell a Story in a New Way

In Amanda Cosco’s article at Social Times, she argues, “If we’re the social media generation, it’s not that we’re losing the opportunity for story, it’s that we’re telling our stories differently.”

Stories today are about new things: Specific industries or businesses, or even social media itself. Stories spread in new ways and are less packaged and more constant. You’re always telling your story on social media, more and more with every tweet.

What Creative Storytelling Looks Like on Twitter

Personal branding is, at its essence, a form of storytelling. With every update and link, you are telling the social stories of you and your brand. You are showing your followers who you are and what you find interesting. For this reason, the best social media engagement involves thought. Consider what you want to communicate, and what you want to be identified with.

Consistently—As a Way to Reinforce Your Message

Whether you’re the mattress king or the mortgage lender home buyers trust, Twitter is a great place to reinforce your message.

You have advertising, you have email marketing, you have a blog — and with Twitter, you have another powerful tool for telling your followers, again, why they can count on you.

Keys to Reinforcing Your Message

On social media as in any marketing effort, consistency is key. Determine your voice and tone, and stick to them. By fulfilling the expectations you’ve set, you not only reinforce your message, but also build credibility.

Personally—To Let Your Audience Get to Know You

Here’s the most popular way to use Twitter to tell a story: Sharing personal details from your life. Even when you blog for business, you’re still writing for people, and people like to hear personal stories. If you’re the face of your brand, be a memorable face. Share what you’re doing, what intrigues you, what you’re learning, and so on.

A Warning about Personal Details

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know there’s a line when it comes to sharing personal information online.

So here’s a word of caution: Stick to information you’re comfortable with the entire world knowing, and look for ways to make it relevant to your overall message.

Do you engage in some form of storytelling online, either intentionally or unintentionally? What do you like or dislike about brands that use Twitter to share their stories? What do you wish you would see?

About Shanna Mallon

Shanna Mallon is a writer for StraightNorth, a Chicago web design firm providing specialized SEO, Twitter marketing strategy, web development, and other online marketing services. Follow StraightNorth on Twitter @straightnorth.

  • I enjoyed this post, Shanna. 
    The experts suggest so many different ways companies should use Twitter (engage! sell! be personal!) but rarely have I seen suggestions to use it as an extension of the brand’s story. It’s a really smart strategy. 
    And if you’re a person, I really can’t think of a better platform, especially if you consider all of the supplementary tools you can weave into your Twitter feed.

  • Great post! Beyond the advice for telling stories on Twitter, you make a really important point about stories in general. We should all be telling little stories and those should all fit into a larger story.
    The little stories are the tweets, the anecdotes in a speech, the short videos we make, the customer testimonials we share, the reviews we quote, etc. And all of those should together build a larger story. That is, we’re not telling these little stories for the sake of being amusing, they should, for the most part, feed into the greater brand narrative.

  • kevinrothermel

    I think sometimes it can be useful to think about Facebook and Twitter more like you would think about a blog. What’s your subject, what’s your voice, what’s the relevant story of content you can tell that sits at the intersection of your brand’s interests and the interests of those you want to reach. For instance, if I ran social media for Jeep, the Jeep twitter account would be a magazine about the outdoor lifestyle with the occasional ad like object thrown in.

  • sherrilynne

    “No tweet is an island”.  Love it! I’m using it!

    • sherrilynne haha so am I…hehe it is a great quote…

  • My personal opinion is that very few brands understand why/how individuals on social media develop relationships that matter. If they did, they’d be stealing the magic instead of retaining barriers. Small example: when’s the last time you saw a brand tweet “dude. awesomeface, you are going to rule at this new job” instead of “Congrats on the new role at X company.” 
    Language matters. Humans instinctively know this, brands need to steal it. Can you imagine if a huge “cool” brand like Sony rethought their entire brand as a personality? (admittedly, they are already better than most which I credit to the gamer influences via PS and other sub-brands)

    • JoeCardillo Thank you Joe for this awesome response and I agree with your statement: “Language matters”.

      • PTheWyse JoeCardillo Call me when it doesn’t! I’ll find a good cliff to hop off of hah

      • Jennifer Barthe

        PTheWyse JoeCardillo So true. Sony did an amazing job with the launch of the PS4. It was so compelling that I know people who skipped work just to watch the product launch online. And these very same people skipped work or went in late to pre-order the system from Best Buy.  By the way, the PS4 doesn’t even come out until January 2014!

  • Shanna I love this post because storytelling is definitely needed. The key with storytelling is being genuine. I like to tweet in clusters because of the storytelling potential. Present content that aligns with your brand identity statement. Create content that gives you the potential to show expertise within your niche. Humans identify with people, they also identify with emotions. More brands should take this approach.

  • I suppose one element that makes or breaks the “Twitter storytelling” on behalf of businesses for me is whether or not I can engage with someone there at the biz about an element of their story that I like. Zappos comes to mind — their reps constantly tell the brand’s story (often with details that don’t ever say the word “shoe”) and respond back when I tweet them. // Another cause that I think does an incredible job on Twitter with their story is CFCA ( @cfca ). In addition to a blend of factual information about their program and the children/aging they serve, they hold monthly twitter chats around specific themes. They are great at telling their story consistently and holding my interest.

    • Jennifer Barthe

      biggreenpen The CFCA monthly twitter chats sounds like something I’d like to take part in. I agree, Zappos doesn’t even feel like an online shoe store but a group of friends helping you find and enjoy shoes that look good on you. It’s very personable and that’s why I love them.

      • Jennifer Barthe biggreenpen They’re enjoyable twitter chats! The tag is #cfcachat — the time has moved around a bit (this probably violates some consistency principle but …) it’s almost always at 1:00 EST and typically on the 2nd Monday of the month (LOL but not always).  Follow them at @CFCA and you’ll catch mentions of ’em!

        • Jennifer Barthe Hi Jennifer. I just rec’d a DM from @cfca that the next twitter chat is Tuesday, 6/25, at  noon Central and the topic is “Summer Fun.” I’ll be on vacation next week so probably will not be able to join but definitely encourage you to drop in if you can!

  • ardath421

    Shanna,I love this! As a parallel, I was talking with a college today that’s having their students play with Vine to string them together into a series that tells a story. Same concept, same type of length constraints.
    You made the point with Amanda’s article quote, “…it’s not that we’re losing the opportunity for story, it’s that we’re telling our stories differently.”

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