by Michael O'Neill
October 10th, 2013

Storytelling has always been a part of communications. And as a fair chunk of PR has migrated to online, the concept has become even more noticeable.

First came blogs, which allowed storytelling to become optimised. As online mirrors of copy-based communications, it was easy for blogs to replicate the style and function of traditional storytelling techniques. However, as digital communications has shifted from blogs to social media platforms, we need to ask ourselves: can the same principles of storytelling still be applied?

In short, the answer is yes, but this does not mean that storytelling is the same as it was. Rather the nature of storytelling has changed – evolved even – in line with the new digital era.

First we need to examine how blogs and social media function differently. A blog is a multi-paragraph format that allows the author to craft various extended messages. In contrast, the likes of Facebook and Twitter limit content. A message has to be delivered in short bursts of texts — one or two sentences at most.

Reach is also different. Whereas on a blog platform, the reader may have found the blog post through a shared interest or a specific keywords search, a social media audience is more indirect, most often accessing a message through a timeline or content feed. As such, audience attention spans are notoriously short – five seconds or less for each post — so each message needs to be positioned perfectly.

So what does this mean for storytelling? For one thing, it makes it much more difficult. Telling a story in one or two line is an art form in itself, not to mention the challenge of trying to grab the attention and interest of a non-committed audience. At the same time, though, getting digital storytelling right can lead to a much deeper level of communication and engagement.

In terms of copy, it is important that basic elements of storytelling are being adhered to. Does your post contain an introduction — an initial point of interest to intrigue the reader? Does it have a narrative or is it simply introducing an event or product? Have you incorporated a climax or twist? Is it short enough to communicate the message in a manner concise enough to communicate the message to the casual readers?

A second important consideration for digital storytelling is the use of imagery. More than ever before, images perform a central role in the storytelling process. An image is as powerful for delivering a message than any long-form copy. Again, we need to ask a number of questions. What is the image trying to say? Is the core of the message clear? Is the construction of image effective? Are the image and text complimentary, or are they just duplicating the same message?

Social media is different to a blog, which is itself different to a magazine or newspaper. For storytellers, the challenge remains the same — engaging your audience and communicating your message. However, by adapting for new platforms and new consumption habits, we will enter into a new era of digital storytelling.

Andy Shin is senior account supervisor, Korea, at Weber Shandwick



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