Consumer behavior has changed dramatically. We now have more interests than ever due to mobile and the social Web, and you can be engaged and exposed to your areas of interest whenever you want, and to whatever depth. It's virtually impossible to keep up with the sheer volume of content being produced around every topic imaginable. People are spending on average five hours a day consuming content.  

Businesses are struggling to craft authentic and compelling stories and content to engage consumers online and inspire them to act. Yet consumers are far more fascinated by consumer-created content-it's more trustworthy, there is a constant stream of it and it's contextual-it's where the consumer already is. 

So how do you shape a story that will move consumers, without coming across as cheesy? I asked Maria Sipka, CEO of Linqia, a tech company matching social storytellers to brand marketers, to share her tips.

3 steps to a compelling story 

  1. Find them in their context-and serve up stories there
  • Where does the recipient of your story spend time? Here's what Maria thinks:
    • Millennials = Tumblr, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter
    • Business = LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter,
    • Moms = Blogs, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter
    • Personal = Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter

Search for keywords and phrases your customers are talking about, and determine what type of social communities and blogs exist (use Google blog search or Bing). Tap into social search functionality within Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Instagram and other social channels. You'll start to see patterns across these communities, which will help you determine the characteristics to search for within more tailored community search tools, like Inkybee and GroupHigh, or lists like Technorati or bloglovin.

By immersing yourself into at least 20 communities and blogs, you will sense the types of conversations people are having, the problems they're facing, solutions they are looking for, and the tone of the conversation.  This is the starting point for your story.  

  1. Be authentic-be a trusted person not trying to sell anything

It's crucial to have your story told  by a trusted person who is the voice and heartbeat of a social community-it's the most effective way to be introduced to the audience you want to reach. And the last thing community leaders want is to pimp their sponsor's product or service; it would deteriorate the relationship with their tribe.  What excites a community leader is to share a story supported by content that educates, informs, inspires, or entertains their audience. Providing them full creativity within a set of guidelines enables a story to unfold that is genuine, nuanced to their audience, and makes them look good.  

  1. Track accountability and ROI-close the loop

Accountability and results from social marketing and content programs include:

  • A high volume of original content to repurpose and share across your social channels
  • Distribution of your story and content across social channels (blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google , YouTube, etc.)
  • Amplification of stories and content by the community via retweets, shares, pins, focus group-like results that last and boost your SEO results
  • Insights through hundreds or thousands of consumer comments within blog stories, social posts, and forums
  • Search footprint-unlike ads or content partnerships, blogs and social content continue to surface in search results long after they've been posted
  • Traffic! When people emotionally connect to stories they are likely to engage, take action, and visit your site to learn more
  • Leads - consumers register for more information, take pledges, enter competitions, download white papers, register for events, request a call, etc.

In part II of this post, I'll show how to craft a story to drive business results. Then we'll look at some examples of successful stories.