How To Use Social Media to Tell Your Story

“Stories are just data with a soul.” -Brené Brown

If you follow me on Instagram, you know that this past week was a flurry of activity for me. On Wednesday night, I helped professionals with their bios alongside fellow writer Jess Hagemann for a Creatives Meet Business event dedicated to polishing our profiles: headshots, personal style ideas from Greer Image Consulting, personal brand advice from PitchATX, social media tips from The Content Plug, plus food and drinks in an incredible venue. It all added up to a value-packed evening of connecting with awesome people and getting them to the next level in their careers!

The following morning, I presented at Social Media Week Austin, the local iteration of an international annual event. My talk was titled ‘Who Are You? Using Business Principles to Tell Your Story’ and in my session, I led attendees in a step-by-step approach to constructing a personal narrative on social media. We discussed tone, why-based messaging, and vulnerability (Brené Brown’s research factored heavily in my presentation, naturally, as did Elaine Benes) as keys to successful storytelling on social media.

I guided the audience through the four steps of storytelling on social media:

  • Assess: know your audience; know your inputs (data points, facts, and key takeaways)

  • Educate: respect your reader; add value; integrate data into a narrative

  • Collaborate: our stories don’t happen in a vacuum, so we share our stories and get feedback

  • Iterate: get peer and audience feedback, then make adjustments to your message

This isn’t a ‘one and done’ process, but a continuous cycle to apply to the messages and stories we share both on and offline. When we regularly evaluate and measure the impact our message has on its intended audience (the LinkedIn SSI score is my current favorite social media analytical tool), we can make incremental improvements to the story we’re telling and ensure we’re sharing a unified message across all channels and formats, from longform blog posts to status updates to microcopy on our website.

personal versus professional tone on social media channels

Modulating tone across social media channels is crucial (and also the easiest thing to adjust): what we share (and how we share it) on Facebook may differ greatly from how we use Instagram or LinkedIn. The graphic above is an illustration of how I personally use social media: Facebook has always been a personal venue and LinkedIn is strictly professional, whereas my Instagram is a blend of both. Establishing how you use various social media platforms will help you write and tell your story with a unified message in a venue-appropriate tone (enter: LinkedIn is not Facebook).

Of all the information I presented in my Social Media Week talk, the most important has to do with the Brené Brown quote preceding this post: stories are just data with a soul, and remembering this is the key to getting our message to land with our audience. Stories are memorable when they employ emotion: when we as the reader or listener are able to empathize and find ourselves in the narrative being shared, we are much more inclined to recall the data points embedded within the story. Knowing how to mix feelings with data in a compelling way is the magic formula for effective storytelling — and the secret to social media.

(Want to see my whole Social Media Week presentation? Reach out and I’ll send you my slide deck! And the photo on this post is by Ashlee Newman Photography at the Polish Your Profile event: check her out if you need event photography in the Austin area.)

What Storytelling Does to Your Brain

The word ‘storytelling’ automatically conjures childhood memories: listening intently as grown-ups read us stories and sharing tall tales and jokes with other kids on the playground. ‘Story’, however, doesn’t necessarily mean ‘fiction’; it means ‘narrative’: weaving connected events together in a way that makes an impact with the listener or reader.

Author Ann Handley describes it best in her book Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content: “it’s not so much ‘storytelling’ as it is ‘telling true stories well’”. Choosing your words wisely to tell a relatable, impactful story is undeniably an art, but is there science involved in storytelling as well?

When we sit through a boring slideshow presentation filled with data points, only certain parts of our brains are activated. But when we listen to a story full of descriptive language, powerful metaphors, and personal details, it actually activates our entire brain. Because our minds think in narratives and cause-and-effect relationships constantly, when we hear a story, we associate the information being delivered with our own experiences, thus making it more memorable—and easier to recall later.

The field of marketing should be taking notes on the science of storytelling. Austin-based media and technology guru Paul O’Brien recently shared his thoughts on the topic at a Marketing for Startups event in October, opining that “the ultimate goal of marketing is to make the sales department obsolete”. He pointed to the strength of brands like Apple and Yeti where customers are the brand, lining up for the release of new products and proudly emblazon their cars and clothing with their logos. Because the stories behind these two brands are so strong, the products sell themselves: marketing has replaced sales.

When we tell our own stories, whether it’s the story behind our company, our upbringing, or our everyday lives, it is imperative to remember that our story (and thus our truth) is wholly unique. Telling our story in an authentic way is what makes us memorable.

Remember: it’s your story and people need to hear it!

(And the story behind the photo on this post is simple but sweet: when we got married earlier this year, my husband and I took photos at my favorite place in Austin, Big Top Candy Shop. The colors of the candy, the placement of the bouquet… it tells the story of our wedding in one snapshot. Chelsea Francis took our photos, and I cannot recommend her enough!)