Digital Storytelling: Why Most Small Businesses Suck at It (And How to Make Sure You Don’t!)

Talking about digital storytelling reminds me of a time when I was five years old. When I was in kindergarten, I loved storytime. Every day, I’d anxiously wait for our teacher to bring out the puppets, which signified that it was time to sit on our circular rug and listen to tales Astrid the Alien learning to count or Donny the Dolphin practicing her ABCs. Storytelling was, to me, the most exciting part of the day.

Today, I’m still excited by a great story. I get sucked into TV shows like Breaking Bad and Doctor Who. I enjoy the plot of a movie more than the acting or special effects. And books? Forget about it. I become obsessed with books that tell an amazing story.

Digital storytelling fascinates me. Twitter gives people a short peak into our thoughts. Google+ allows us to expand on and share ideas and opinions. Instagram and Facebook allow us to share snapshots of our everyday lives with not only our friends and family, but also complete strangers. Vine adds video to the mix.

While most people use these social tools in a very stream-of-consciousness way, brands can easily tell a more cohesive story. Yet, most small businesses are falling behind. Instead of digital storytelling, they’re just digital selling…which is becoming less and less effective.

The question is, how can you make sure that your small business is telling the right digital story, rather than contributing to the white noise of junk people don’t want to see? How can you make your digital storytelling suck less?

The Moral of Your Digital Story

The very first step, and one that is often overlooked, is to clearly identify your brand’s “moral of the story.” This is the image your want to the portray, the emotions you want to cause, or the information you want to convey to your audience. Typically, the moral of the digital story is somewhat abstract, but the success of you entire digital storytelling campaign hinges on clarifying this moral, which is not the same thing as your goal.

A really great example of digital storytelling is Google Chrome’s “Dear Sophie” video:

The “moral” of the digital story is that Chrome, and the entire Google brand, is for personal connections. Imagine how different this ad would be if the moral of the story was that Chrome is cutting edge technology.

You don’t have to be a big brand like Google to have a moral to your story.

For example, let’s say you own a bridal salon. The moral of your digital story might be that you’re a classic, upscale salon that has been helping brides for 50+ years. How could you digitally tell this story? How about creating a video or Instagram campaign where you show side-by-side images of mothers and daughters who both purchased their dresses from you, wearing their dresses on their wedding days.

Now let’s say that your bridal salon’s “moral of the story” is that you have dresses at every price point, even for brides who think they can’t afford a nice gown. Your goal is very different, even though you both have the same goal: finding new customers and selling dresses. In this case, you might create a series of blog posts where you profile brides on extreme budgets and how they created amazing wedding experiences, despite their lack of money (including purchasing a dress from you).

Without the moral of your brand’s story, it is nearly impossible to create a cohesive digital storytelling plan. The moral of your story is your brand. What do you want people to have in their mind when hear your company’s name?

Understanding the Plot Component of a Good Digital Story

At the end of the day, digital storytelling is about more than just pinpointing your message. The storytelling part matters. When I was a kid, I wasn’t excited about Astrid the Astronaut’s message about learning to count. I cared about the adventures she went on. I cared about the story.

This is where I see most small businesses fall short. Without a plot, you’re just doing what every business is doing online – sharing tidbits that give people zero incentive to pass on to their friends. Let’s say you’re a fitness studio, for example. A picture of the salad you’re eating for lunch today at the office isn’t going to go viral, even if it does relate to the moral of your story (that you’re a healthy brand).

That’s not to say that you should never share a picture of your lunch. But digital storytelling is a little different. For a story to work, something has to happen.

An English major will tell you that a good plot has five story elements: the exposition, the rising action, the climax/turning point, the falling action, and the denouement/resolution.

  • The exposition: This is the introduction to the story, the set up.
  • The rising action: A conflict of some sort is introduced.
  • The climax: The turning point of a story, where you’re most interested and want to know what is going to happen.
  • The falling action: The reader see what is going to happen.
  • The denouement: A resolution to the conflict, where loose ends are tied up.

Here’s an example of great brand storytelling that you’ve probably seen, from Dove:

And here’s the breakdown of the plot elements:

  • The exposition: The forensic artist introduces himself and the women talk about walking into the room and being sketched.
  • The rising action: The women describe themselves.
  • The climax: It is revealed that a second person is also describing the women.
  • The falling action: The women see the images side by side and realize that they are too hard on themselves.
  • The denouement: The women have revelations about needing to recognize their own beauty.

Now, obviously, this is for a single video. Your overall brand story might be something that you’re sharing over the course of months or even years. Your brand’s digital story is something you may have to tell over and over, in different mediums. But whenever you tell that story, it should have the above five elements.

Evoking Emotion with Digital Storytelling

Emotions are extremely powerful for digital storytelling because people tend to take action when they’re feeling extreme emotions, like anger or empathy or happiness. Remember, your entire goal isn’t just to entertain someone with a story. It’s to make a sale. Your content has to convert, and if it doesn’t, your digital storytelling campaign isn’t a success, even if it goes viral.

The key is to understand your audience. You can’t evoke emotion if you don’t know what makes someone tick.

Is your target audience male or female? Do they have a family? What are their hobbies? What is their sense of humor like? Are they educated?

Keep asking questions to help you dig deeper, so you can figure out how to emotionally touch your target market. Some people respond better to videos that tug on the heartstrings, while others respond better to blog posts that make them angry because they see an injustice in the world, while others still respond better to Twitter updates that make them laugh.

Digital Storytelling Tools

Before closing out this post, I wanted to give you a short list of tools to help you create a better digital story for your small business. You might not have the budget of a big brand, but you can still make a big impact.

Meshfire: If your business is more than just you, I highly recommend Meshfire as a team social listening and management tool. There are many such tools out there, but in my experiences, Meshfire is the best, even for being a relatively young company. They’re especially helpful for executing campaigns, because you can assign tasks to specific members on your team, keeping everything organized within the conversation platform, instead of in a separate team management program. (I will say this about Meshfire: I will like it more when I can connect to all my social accounts, not just Twitter, but I’m assuming that is coming down the pipeline!)

Storify: I love using Storify (now owned by LiveFyre) to curate content for digital storytelling. Using this platform, you can collect videos, blog posts, social updates, and more in one place. Better yet, it’s not just your own content that you can curate. You can collect content from anyone speaking about a specific topic and gather it in one place. For example, People Magazine used Storify to curate a digital story about “Star Style at the Grammys” by collecting social updates from celebrities posting images of their clothing, hair, nails, makeup, and more.

Vine: You can tell your brand’s story on any number of platforms, but if you haven’t checked it out yet, definitely give it a try. Vine taps into how people like to consume content today – video content is more engaging, but people also have very short attention spans. Check out this post from BJ Emerson for more tips on using Vine for storytelling, along with examples of brands who do it well.

What’s your favorite digital storytelling tool? Leave a comment below!

Image credit: “book open 3” by pandora_6666, modified

10 Ways to Get More REAL Twitter Followers

This post was originally published on the NMX blog. It is reposted here with permission.

When I first started using Twitter, I had no idea how to build my follower list. So, like many rookies, I made the mistake of following as many people as possible en masse. If someone was on Twitter, I followed them – and hoped that they’d follow me back.

While it is true that I built a follower list of several hundred people, they weren’t real followers. That’s not to say they were bots (though I’m sure some of them were), but they weren’t real followers in the sense that that didn’t really follow anything I said. Few of them clicked on my links, retweeted my tweets, or engaged in conversation. When I released a product, even fewer of them translated to sales. So, I did what any rational person would do.

I started over.

I purged my list, keeping only the followers I knew or actually wanted to follow. In unfollowing so many people, lots of people unfollowed me as well – but that was fine, because to those people, I was just a number. If you only follow me if I follow you back, that says to me that you don’t actually care what I have to say…so go ahead and unfollow!

Once I did that, I was left again with a fairly low follower number and no idea how to build it. So, I started doing some hard work, figuring out what works and what does not. I followed people I loved, but I didn’t use my own follows as a ploy to get people to follow me. Instead, here’s what I did to get real twitter followers:

  1. I added my Twitter ID to the bio at the end of my posts. Every day, I get about three to five new followers from that link. When I write an especially popular post, I get more.
  2. I started linking to my profile within posts when relevant. By directing people to follow me on Twitter, I could remind them that they should add me if they liked the post I wrote.
  3. When I made new business cards, I added my Twitter ID.
  4. Whenever I start following someone I truly like, I make sure to @reply – jump into a conversation, tell them why I’m following, retweet a link they’ve posted, etc. It gives that a little poke, showing them that I actually am interested, not just another number.
  5. I participate in Twitter chats. This is a big one. For example, every time I participate in #blogchat, I end up with 10 – 20 new followers – sometimes even more if I’m super active. If you host a chat or serve as a co-host, you’ll get even more followers.
  6. I started using hashtags. You don’t have participate in a full chat, but just using hashtags occasionally when you tweet, especially about a conference (like #BWENY) or specific topic related to your blog.
  7. I started participating in #FollowFriday. With #FF, I don’t link to a list of people – I recommend one person with a reason why to follow. And more than just posting a few #FF tweets, I also take my friends’ recommendations and follow people who I find interesting (and tweet at them, see point number four).
  8. I stopped thinking of Twitter as a marketing tool and started just talking to followers like friends. Without conversation, you probably won’t be very successful on Twitter (check out my experiment here). As people see you having conversations with people they know, they’ll jump in and likely follow you as well.
  9. I added my Twitter ID to my forum signatures and – this is important – started being active in the forums. This is somewhere where I’m still lacking because I don’t always have time to participate in forums, but whenever I can legitimately be active (i.e., not spamming the boards), I see an increase in followers.
  10. I’m not afraid to be funny. Funny tweets (or even retweets) get retweeted – a lot – and the more you get retweeted, the more followers you get.

Okay, those are my ten best Twitter tips. What are some of your best strategies (that don’t include “follow a bunch of people and hope they follow you back”)?

Image credit: “Twitter Bird Sketch” by shawncampbell, modified

30+ Killer Ways to Build Your Email List

This post was originally published on the NMX blog. It is reposted here with permission.

Who doesn’t want a biggest email list? It doesn’t matter if you’re a blogger, podcaster, web series/video producer, or business owner – having a bigger email list allows you to reach out to your target market on a one-on-one level.

This post is a compilation of every technique and tip I’ve come across or used to grow my own list. Of course, you don’t have to (and probably shouldn’t) use all of these tips. Pick and choose the ones that make sense for your needs. And feel free to add more by leaving a comment below!

1. Put a sign-up form on your sidebar. This seems like a no-brainer, but every day, I see lots of blogs and websites that have no way for someone to subscribe for content. DIY Themes lists the top of your sidebar as the first place you should have your sign-up form.

2. Put a sign-up form at the bottom of every blog post. Someone who readers a blog post all the way to the end is very engaged, so you need a call to action (CTA). Put a sign-up form there as your CTA and you’ll capture email addresses at a higher rate. Read more about compelling CTAs from Flyte New Media.

3. Put a sign-up form on popular pages. At the very least, put a form on your about and contact pages. (And learn about creating a better About Page here.)

4. Ask your current subscribers to tell their friends about your list. Give them easy options within your emails to forward and share your content.

5. Use QR codes for easy sign-ups at live events. They’re free to create and give people a very quick way to sign up with any smartphone.  Come QR code creation options include Kaywa and Microsoft Tag. You can put them on signage and promotional material like brochures.

6. Put a QR code on your business card. That way, you’re leading everyone you meet to your list.

7. Tell your social followers about your mailing list. Ask them to sign up if interested in receiving more content from you. You can even add a custom sign-up tab on your Facebook page.

8. Tease your content on social media. Tell people how great your latest email is – and give them a link to sign up if they want it.

9. Tell people how many subscribers you have. People like to be part of a large group. So, if you can show a number or say “Join 592 other people…” you’ll play into that heard mentality and get more sign-ups.

10. Try a pop up ad asking for an email address. Some people like them, some people hate them, but for most people, they do convert. The good news is that you don’t have to use a pop up ad that smacks someone in the face the moment someone gets to your site. Play with the settings to find a good solution if you’re going to use pop up ads. Not sure about pop-ups? You’re not alone. Check out The Great Pop-Up Debate.

11. Ask for subscriptions when people comment. Blog commenters are engaged and already giving you their name and email address. Here are some tips from Moz about getting more comments.

12. Get customers to sign up. If you have a physical store, have a sign-up sheet by the cash register where people can give you their email address. If you have an online store, ask during the checkout process.

13. Print a link to your subscription form on your receipt. If your product is digital, you can include the subscription form directly instead of asking them to click a link.

14. Use testimonials. What are people saying about your emails? Show social proof to entice people to sign up. Check out Copyblogger’s tips for getting better testimonials.

15. Offer a free ebook. Make sure the ebook has an enticing title and a well-designed cover, and choose a topic that really grabs readers. Here are some ebook tips worth reading.

16. Offer an in-depth case study, report, or white paper. Give your readers something special that they can’t get anywhere else.

17. Run a contest. To enter, people have to be signed up for your email list. TopRank has some great tips on running an online contest.

18. Give people exclusive content. It can encourage people to sign up if they get something via email that they can’t get elsewhere.

19. Host a webinar. Either require people to be on your email list to attend or ask them to sign up afterward. Check out Hubspot’s post on how to host your first webinar.

20. Link to your sign-up form in your email signature. It goes out to everyone, so you should capitalize on the opportunity.

21. Speak at events. Put a link to your sign-up form on the last slide or, even better, create a resource page with all the notes to your presentation (including a sign-up form) and give it to your audience so they can just listen to you instead of trying to take notes.

22. Create a useful tool, app, theme, etc. for people to download. People love free gifts beyond the text documents that most people offer. If you typically sell this kind of downloadable, create a free version as well to help you collect email addresses. As a bonus, this helps you give people a sample of your product!

23. Offer a discount for email subscribers. This works best when you give a substantial discount or bonus freebie on orders that people really want.

24. Promote your email list at the end of guest posts. It’s typically more effective to have a specific CTA at the end of a guest post instead of just linking to the homepage of your blog.

25. Ask people to sign up to your list at the end of videos. Videos are extremely engaging, and not only will you pull in new subscribers via YouTube, but you can also post the video on your blog (and hopefully other people will too).

26. Host an offline event (like a TweetUp). Afterward, email attendees to thank them for coming and invite everyone to sign up for your list. Here’s a post from Mashable about hosting a successful TweetUp (with many tips that can apply to other meet and greet type of events as well).

27. Play around with the language on your sign up form. Test what works best. What happens if you say “Please sign up…” versus “Please join us…”? What about if you call it an email list versus an email club?

28. Play around with sign-up form colors and dimensions. Sometimes a form that blends into your site works best. Other times, you need a bright, jarring color that stands out. KISSmetrics has some great examples of sign-up forms that work you can check out.

29. Make it as easy as possible for people to sign up. The more information you ask people to submit, the fewer people are going to fill out the form. People don’t like the work of a long sign-up form, and they may not understand why you need the information.

30. Partner with another blogger. Offer a giveaway, free product, or other special jointly to anyone who signs up for both of your email lists. Or, you can do a deal where you promote one another (i.e. you send an email to your list encouraging them to sign up for their list and vice versa). Want to work with a “big name”? Here are some tips for getting past the gatekeeper.

31. Partner with a group of bloggers. This works even better than partnering with just one blogger!

32. Promise future content. A great example is to write a blog post series or regular feature. At the end of every post in the series, ask people to sign up for reminders of more content.

I’ll continue to add to this list as I hear of more techniques for growing your email list. Got a suggestion? Leave it as a comment below!