The power of digital storytelling: Your story

This is the first of a three-part series.

My career in journalism has helped me tell many stories over the years. As a bonus, it has helped me tell them more succinctly and on tight deadlines.

These skills work well in blogging and social media.

I spent Friday’s lunch hour leading a discussion on the Power of Storytelling with See Jane Write‘s Bloggers Who Brunch. With so many bloggers and social media power users in the room, it was easy to ask them for their ideas and insights into how we share stories online.

Before we discussed the what and the how, we started with the why. I find stories critical to our blogging and content marketing efforts because readers remember them far longer than any ad or pitch. When friends tell us about something crazy that happened to them, we can recall it more easily later than the many other anecdotes that fly by in a given week.

Stories that have the most power are extreme in some facet: hilarious, moving, interesting (almost to the point of disbelief) or helpful. They touch our hearts or our minds, or ideally both.

As bloggers, many of us have a great story to share. Typically, it’s the story of us. For a company, it’s the story of the brand, the people, the products and services.

Sometimes, we don’t know the story at first. We write our posts and find our voice and the thread of our narrative along the way. I think either works fine, as long as you’re moving toward a sustained storyline.

One useful exercise is to describe your digital story in a single sentence. Any book, movie, TV show or other plot can be summarized in one sentence.

For example, my personal blog Project Bulk has an easy summary: A skinny guy tries to add muscle by learning to work out and changing his diet.

The New Testament of the Bible could be summarized in one sentence as: “Jesus Christ is Lord of lords and King of kings and Savior of mankind.”

We can even boil stories down to a single word. It could be a subject, an emotion or an adjective. For Project Bulk, I could describe it as “transformation.” (Or “vanity.”)

For the New Testament, I think of “redemption” or “grace” or “Jesus.”

Describing your story in a word brings you to a theme that should flow throughout your work. It’s that theme that will help you find the next post when you’re stuck. That same theme will keep you on track with connecting with fans and readers, as they understand what your story is trying to convey.

When we tell our stories online, we have little control over how they’re consumed. Most people watch movies and read books from the beginning and typically hold on through the end. (If it’s awful enough, they’ll stop the movie or book.) The author and the director have a say in what audiences will see first and last.

But in digital storytelling, audiences are always arriving somewhere in the middle. They find a post by search engine, or social media, or a link shared by a friend, or some other seemingly random fashion. Your typical reader will never start at the first post and read them in chronological order — they may only see a small fraction of your entire story.

How on earth do we tell a meaningful story when readers see only bits and pieces, and each reader sees a different set of pieces?

Go back to your theme, your one-word summary of your story. That theme must permeate every entry in your digital narrative. You must work hard to hook your readers through every tool you have: headline, image, lead paragraph. (This is why a background in journalism is so helpful in digital storytelling and content marketing.)

Defining and amplifying what your story is about will help set your site apart from the millions of competitors that make it up as they go along.

Learn more about digital storytelling
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About Wade Kwon

Wade Kwon is conference director for Y'all Connect. See his full bio.

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