The Power of Storytelling in the Context of Social: Part 1 of 2
The Power of Storytelling in the Context of Social: Part 1 of 2
4 years ago 0 1

Last week I had the pleasure of attending a session on social storytelling at Social Media Week NYC. Quality storytelling in the context of social media has become central to brands in the past few years, and now that they have more channels to tell their story through, standing out from the noise has taken on new importance.

The session was hosted by Lisa Bright, David Crabb, and Robin Gelfenbien—all expert storytellers in their own right. They broke down the process of connecting with an audience through storytelling into two key steps: create empathy and establish trust.

We have broken this post into two parts to keep it tight. In today’s piece we will go over the first step: creating empathy.


Part 1: Create Empathy

Be real and human

For customers to empathize with a brand, it has to be more like them.  As Lisa put it, “Be human, not alien.” The wisdom here goes back to something we were all taught as children: put yourself in someone else’s shoes to understand their perspective.

Starbucks provides a great example of connecting themselves to a real story that happened in one of their franchises. When Sherilynn, a young deaf woman, moved to Hawaii, she had a hard time connecting with people. She felt isolated, and it wasn’t until she discovered a meet up for deaf people at her local Starbucks that she started to make new friends. You can watch the video below to get the full story.

Starbucks promoted this story through Upworthy, a news platform designed to encourage social sharing of stories that matter. Because it was an authentic story, people didn’t reject it in the same way they do a scripted advertisement and Starbucks was able to make a real connection with their audience.


Stand for something

People have opinions, and brands need to have opinions too if they want to be relatable. These brand stances should be relevant to a company’s product and mission. Chipotle made their opinion known by taking a stance and exposing themselves by inserting their brand into the conversation around food processing.

By enacting this campaign and opening up their food supply practices to the public, Chipotle was able to shift conversation about their brand in this space from a negative perception to 98% positive sentiment.


Be vulnerable

Some brands *cough Apple cough* try to be as invulnerable as possible, cladding themselves in an impervious shell of power and inhumanness. To be frank: a strategy of non-cooperation and standoffishness will ultimately fail. American Express is a brand that understands this truth. They sponsored the documentary “Spent: Looking for Change,” with the hope of enlightening people about the issues people are facing with exclusion from financial management services.

What was brilliant about American Express’s involvement is they did not claim to be an all-powerful entity that could singlehandedly solve this problem. Instead, they created a movement, calling for other companies in the financial space, even their competitors, to get involved. By being vulnerable in this way and taking the high road, American Express endeared themselves to its audience.


Creating empathy is about getting closer to your customer emotionally. When brands think about how to do this, they need to think about what’s wrapped up in human emotional connections. Shared experiences, common interests, and mutual trust are all things that pop to mind. The second part of powerful storytelling is establishing trust and loyalty, but brands need to learn to trust their audience before their audience will trust them back.

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