The power of digital storytelling: Your story monetized

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This is the last of a three-part series.

Digital storytelling can build trust and build relationships with fans and customers. It conveys a theme over time that attracts the curious, and it can take on many forms from blog posts to tweets to slideshows to videos.

But can digital storytelling make money?

We discuss monetization last, though it should be considered at the start, as you plan marketing efforts across time and platforms.

It comes last because it takes time — even for established companies — to reach their online audiences. Sometimes, brands play catch-up with their fans, even stumbling along the way.

American blogger Sara Russo created World Nutella Day in 2007 while living in Italy. The annual fan event grew to thousands of participants around the world. That is, until parent company Ferrero sent Russo a cease-and-desist letter in May.

Fortunately, Russo was able to work out the situation with Ferrero, which stopped its legal action.

This collision between brands and fans seems to be happening more often, despite shared interests. When fans help tell the story, can brands empower them rather than alienate them?

A company likely starts out in digital media with the intent to inflict its marketing upon people. But one engaged in storytelling might soften its approach by narrating rather than pitching.

A good story keeps the audience hanging on every word. They are dying to know what happens next. They become involved emotionally. Can your brand sustain this story?

More important, these digital narratives encourage interaction. It even requires letting some control go, allowing fans to have a stake in it. They can help tell the story and share it with others online. They can have a meaningful say in what happens next.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for companies is shifting focus away from themselves to their fans. We start out thinking our products and services are the stars of the story, but in the digital reality, our fans want to be the center of attention.

We should make them the stars. It’s the only way they’ll feel a part of the story. Otherwise, it’s just another brand talking about itself. What’s in it for them, the audience?

Bloggers are sometimes better at sharing the spotlight with their community. As they build traffic and fans, they understand their community better over time.

Only after showing their reliability and consistency can bloggers (and storytellers in social media) look at options for monetization. Those include advertising, sponsorships, affiliate marketing, events, products and subscriptions.

Which option fits your audience and your brand the best?

Tanya Sylvan, a runner and blogger in Birmingham, showed off a typical morning run on a recent post. She used photos she shot along the route, narrating the stops and why each one had meaning for her.

The post, “Birmingham — I Run This Town,” was a hit, bringing in monster traffic and 50 comments.

In one of those comments, I suggested that she continue to build on this format, sharing runs from different neighborhoods, times of day, seasons and so on. I even thought a collection of them would make a great coffee table book.

I believe her post resonated with many new readers because it continued her narrative on running but also hit a hot topic, the renaissance of Birmingham. Even though I don’t run, I do love seeing others’ perspectives on my hometown.

Bloggers don’t find those breakout posts without consistent schedules and storyline. They can’t discover new directions for adding fans and monetizing content without investing months of effort and creativity and interaction.

When it comes to digital storytelling, we can wield great power over time if we are deliberate in our goals and our execution. Big brands can stumble, and little guys can succeed.

It is up to each of us to start the story and shoot for an ending that makes everyone happy ever after.

Also …

Photo: Matt Chan (CC)

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About Wade Kwon

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

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