LinkedIn’s recent State of Sales Report for 2017 indicates that social media is changing sales and our expectations around how salespeople should conduct relationships with customers. For example, 94% of those surveyed said they go to social media platforms to gain insights about customers.
We know that a large part of business centers around persuasion. Yet while most businesses struggle to persuade their audience and customers, for some it comes easily. What makes their message and content so persuasive?
- According to Keith Queensberry, it has to do with the structure of the content. In a study of over 200 SuperBowl ads found that those that those ads that told a complete story using Freytag’s Pyramid were the most popular.
- People are social creatures and relate to others via stories. Neuroeconomist Paul Zak‘s research indicates that our brains produce hormones during various phases of a story that only serves to keep an audience engaged.
So while social media storytelling holds the promise of boosting sales, it is important to remember that it isn’t just for crafting a persuasive sales pitch. It is a strategic priority that allows brands to engage in meaningful ways with their audience and build relationships.
- By conveying your personality. The narrative structure in storytelling is often quite similar to what is used in everyday conversations and is also used in thought processing and decision-making.
- Storytelling can help portray your brand as the protagonist.
- It can evoke emotion. Well constructed stories are known to create richer experiences for audiences and can couple feelings to concepts and facts that are being shared allowing for better information retention.
- Reduces skepticism. The emotions involved with storytelling reduces the rational considerations people could have if only provided with facts around a product or service.
- Keeps your audience coming back for more. The traditional ways of advertising are increasingly less efficient and just contribute to the overall noise that people are exposed to. Storytelling, however, is part of human life, more engaging and less disruptive.
- According to Christian Salmon –
People don’t buy products, but rather the stories that these products represent. Nor do they buy brands, but rather the myths and archetypes that these brands symbolize.
As effective as storytelling can be, it is important to remember that on social media you often only have a few seconds to communicate a story. You can get that story across if you follow the three fundamental principles of a three-act play:
- Start with a setup
- Introduce conflict
- Resolve the conflict.
Here is an in-depth breakdown of how you could use social media storytelling to build ongoing relationships, engagement and boost your sales.
1. Know Your Customers
Do you know the difference between music and noise? The answer is simply the formula. A good and effective formula changes noise into music. In the same way the formula you employ in your marketing matters. According to Joe Pulizzi author of Epic Content Marketing, You need to know your customers to create a connection. It will also help you tailor a story that resonates with them.
This means knowing your customers beyond being on a first name basis over email. It means understanding what motivates your target audience and customers. Loyalty to your brand will only develop when they feel connected to the organization and feel that you as a brand care for them as much as they care for you.
Kathy Ireland, for example, gained celebrity status as a supermodel but attributes her success in business by simply knowing her customers, respecting them and doing everything she can to address their needs in a very unglamorous niche of busy moms.
ThinkGeek is another company that truly understands their customer base. They carry a wide variety of thought-provoking products which have huge nerd appeal. With over a million followers on Twitter and Facebook respectively you can see they really engage their audience.
They are successful because they unabashedly have the same interests as their customers, and are consistent across all their posts. In other words, they come across as human.
They share behind the scenes activities and historical events to engage their audience without the intent of selling.
They speak their customer’s language with references to geek culture.
So how do you understand and learn how your audience engages with a social media platform? Here are three ways to do that:
- Know what your customers share. For example, if a person shares recipes, it could mean they have some cooking experience. But it shows that they have an interest in cooking. So it makes sense to present them with products or information related to that.
- Know who your target audience follows. Tools like mention or Brand24 can easily help you discover who and what your customers follow on social media. This will allow you to help identify patterns related to content that is relevant to their interests.
- Know how your target audience engages with your content. Once you have established a social media audience you need to keep them engaged. So use a combination of analytics and surveys to discover what content resonates best with your customers and so create a loyal base.
2. Define the Problem
Before you can talk about what your customers want, you need to define the problem that stands in their way. There are 3 levels to the problem: the external which most companies tend to address, the internal which is why most customers buy and the philosophical which provides the why the problem is wrong.
In other words, emotional engagement is as important if not more so than rational engagement. The Dollar Shave Club launch is an example. Their launch video is a great example of how to frame a problem and emphasize the pain point your potential customer’s experience. It is also a fine example of the power of emotion-driven storytelling.
They launched with an “explainer video” that went viral just by marrying a simple to the point explanation with a bit of humor driven emotion.
So how do you define a problem on social media?
Businesses need to understand that people do not call or ask for help to resolve their physical problems. for example – fixing a broken hot water system, repairing a car that doesn’t start or mowing a lawn. The external problems may cause a sense of frustration, fear, jealousy etc but there is more than just that motivating them.
In identifying those motivations talking about resolving the feelings of frustration, or tension you’ll see a greater response to your social media marketing. In other words, when you position the purchase of your product or service to resolve a person’s external, internal and philosophical problems with an action, you are likely to create passionate advocates for your brand like Apple and Coca-Cola.
So for example when a brand like Blog2Social identifies the issue that WordPress users have with scheduling and cross-promoting their blog posts on social media they could narrate that issue and how it can be solved manually before they introduce their plugin that provides the same result through automation saving time and money. So they could address the three levels of problems like so –
- External problem – The hassle of having to manually craft and post or wade through various tools to promote blog posts on social media.
- Internal problem – Tension, fear of the unknown (due to an inability to measure results easily) and frustration in wasting time and energy to get the most out of social media and drive traffic to the website.
- Philosophical problem – The inability to share and promote content effectively hampers you from what you do best and getting the information out to those who could most benefit from it.
3. Position Yourself as a Guide
In the early editions of the Star Wars movie series Luke Skywalker is portrayed as the hero that is unable to reach his Jedi potential until he apprentices under Jedi Masters Obi-Wan “Ben” Kenobi and Yoda. Characters like Yoda in the movie serve as a guide to the main character. In the same way, a guide can play a powerful and vital role in the customer experience via social media. Donald Miller, author, and Founder of Storybrand marketing advocates for making customers the hero of your story.
Because a hero cannot solve his problems. If he does, then there was no problem. A hero will always have a need. They will, therefore, require someone along the way to help them fill the gap for them to acquire success.
David Ogilvy is quoted as having said that a good advertisement is one which sells the product without drawing attention to itself. Therefore, it makes sense to take the position of a guide in your storytelling, especially on social media.
Consider the following responses from the LinkedIn State of Sales Report regarding the most important factor for closing a deal:
- 39% – Trust in our relationship
- 33% – ROI (return on investment)
- 13% – Price
- 8% – Strategic counsel
So again we see that taking the position of a guide can only help close more sales.
Customers are prouder of brands that give them the chance to be heroes. They will see the solution in you as you put yourself in a position to help them achieve their goals. In fact, they tend to buy products from the brands that in their stories come to fill the gaps in customer’s live hence making them winners. So use empathy and authority to help position you as the guide. Customers will feel that you understand what they are going through and that you are in their way to help them.
For example, Steve Kamb founder of Nerd Fitness doesn’t just share stories of how his students have benefited from the weight loss approach he advocates.
He also provides advice on how to handle challenges that many in his audience face like in this post.
Ian Cleary founder of Razorsocial does a similar thing by showing his audience how they can gain social media and content success through the best use of tools and automation.
4. Give Them a Plan of Action
In 2012 We See HOPE’s Phil Wall told his story at QlikTech’s annual meeting. The story wasn’t really about Phil but rather about the orphans and vulnerable young people that his charity helps in Africa. He also talked about those that do the actual helping and those that raise the money to help. At the end of his talk, the 1,100 attendees were compelled to action.
His story had 3 simple yet essential parts –
- A platform for change that resonated with the audience
- A vision and plan of a brighter future to which his audience related
- A call to action that people accepted
If you know your customers and have defined the problem they encounter, have positioned yourself as a guide you need to provide them with a plan of action to overcome the challenge.
The idea here is to break down the solution into bite-sized pieces that people can understand and act on easily. People’s brains don’t cope very well with ambiguity or confusion. So by providing them with steps, you are helping your audience gain clarity and understanding of how their challenge can be overcome.
Tony Robbins, for example, does this regularly on his social media accounts. Take the following post that also provides credibility as it is a repost from Inc.
Robert Kiyosaki does similar things on his Facebook account like this post:
5. Call Them to Action
According to Jeremy Smith, audiences today expect a call to action.
“This doesn’t mean they are going to convert,” he says. “It simply means their minds are prepared for the experience of being called to act. They know it’s coming. Their minds have already decided that there will be a CTA.”
So how do you do add an effective call to action?
By making it obvious to your audience. Most social media platforms have made it easy by creating suitable user interfaces. All you need to do is craft a suitable call to action.
Your call to action should encourage your audience to engage with you further.
So make them an offer they’ll want. Your offer will depend on your business and where the prospect is at in the sales process so consider what you will offer – white papers, ebooks, email course, discount coupons or free consultations.
A good way to think about it is to answer the question – What’s in it for them?
People on most social media platforms are there to socialize not to buy. So give your audience a reason to act once you have built a relationship with them. This is where storytelling comes in.
According to author Michael Rabiger a story requires tension or conflict for the hero to overcome. So build your calls to action by starting with the customer as the hero.
Then ensure you have answered these questions in your story as you consider the call to action:
- What will your customer’s future look like if they buy from you?
- What will your customer’s future look like if they do not buy from you?
Once you have the answers your call to action essentially becomes a roadmap for how a customer can achieve a positive outcome and avoid a negative one. So take the time to carefully craft a picture of opposing futures. If your audience isn’t inspired by them they will not buy. Consider using visual media where possible.
Over to you
Social media storytelling is a powerful way of engaging your audience and building trust before a sale. This is especially necessary if you are selling a product or service that is upwards of a few hundred dollars. Consultative purchases are a good example of this. In such instances, a lot of education and information is required for enough trust to be built before a purchase.
HubSpot, for example, has leveraged the opportunity to build trust with its target audience by offering a number of resources and insights that help businesses with their inbound marketing.
By positioning themselves as a guide and providing plans of action they routinely are able to get their audience to act on their calls to action.
The key to boosting sales with social media, however, lies in storytelling but even before that with knowing the profile of your target audience and how they interact and relate to different platforms, as each one requires different uses. It’s also fundamental to understand the “culture” or idiosyncrasies of each.