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So you’ve finally decided to incorporate storytelling into your communication strategy. You’ve rolled up your sleeves, dusted off your keyboard, crackled your knuckles and are finally ready to churn out story after story and watch the engagement roll. Suddenly, you realise you’ve hit a slight snag…you don’t seem to really have anything to say.

You know you want to talk about the wonderful experiences people in your company enjoy, how their working lives are better than others’, the great stuff they build and the difference they make in people’s lives. Hello, standard brief! So how do we get from this bland, run-of-the-mill requirement to interesting stories from people within your company? Let’s find out.

Map out your messages & goals

Before you write a single line of text, spend some time to map out your main messages and align them to the company’s broader messages. Are you talking about how you enable people to make their dreams come true? That’s what you’re stories will have to be about too. It doesn’t have to be in your audience’s face, just like in Alice in Wonderland the theme of coming of age isn’t tooted all over the book, but the theme gives the story direction. So must your company’s messages provide your story with a clear direction.

Messages aren’t enough, though. Unlike Lewis Carroll, you’re not writing brand stories because you’ve been hit by a sudden bout of inspiration and have an uncontrollable urge to write. You’re doing it because it’s part of your job, for a company, that has to see some benefit as a result of all your typing. As such, you’ve got to be upfront about what you expect your story or set of stories to do. Do you want them to improve brand awareness? Or would you rather they got people more engaged? Depending on what you’re after, you’ll craft your distribution strategy differently and measure different outcomes.

Throw out the rulebook & develop your own process

If you put 5 decent storytellers in a room and ask them how they come up with their stories, they will each give you a slightly different answer. That’s because every single storyteller starts out by listening and then all bets are off. Some of us work based on questionnaires, others simply engage people in conversation until they find an interesting angle.

I try to get people comfortable and just talk to them, nudging them in one direction or another until I’m happy I’ve got a good story. Then I go away, develop it and come back to polish it through another round of conversation. This is my favourite way to develop stories because it allows me to start out with a general idea of what I’m after without digging my heels into a particular storyline. In other words, you’ve got an open mind but you’re not stumbling in the dark.

There’s no recipe or framework here, there are only other people’s processes so, while you can give each of them a shot, I encourage you to exercise patience, experiment and develop one that works for you.

Start with what you know

Now that we know what we’re writing about, what we want to achieve, and how we’re going to go about it, all we need are ideas. I’ve heard a lot of Content Marketers and Content Writers say just go out and talk to people and you’ll find a lot of great stories. Bullshit! I’d love to see them walk around a company with 18 offices in just as many countries, talking to 15,000 people who have no idea why they’re being asked to talk about their fluffy feelings, as part of the organisation.

In a perfect world, in which we have an abundance of time to get to know everyone and find these fantastically inspirational stories, maybe I would agree. Real life, however, doesn’t work like that. Instead of trying to network randomly, start with the things you already know.

Are you organising a company event, a Christmas party, a knowledge-sharing session? Perfect. Now instead of just saying it happened, go talk to the people sharing knowledge, the employees putting up the stockings at the Christmas party and spend some time to understand their experience and then re-tell it to your audience in the framework of the messages you’ve set out to deliver and the goals you want to achieve.

Snoop around social media

Having some measure of awareness about what employees are posting about the company is really important not just from a brand image standpoint but also as a valuable resource for stories. To stay on top of this, some social media managers befriend anyone they can get their hands on. I’m not a fan. Personally, I don’t think whoring out your profile and ending up with hundreds if not thousands of friends is going to make your job of tracking posts about the company any easier as, eventually, algorithms will prevent you from actually seeing every post. So you’ve exposed your private profiles to people you barely know but haven’t gotten much in return.

If you’ve built a minimal engagement with your employees, they’re likely posting snippets of their daily lives on social media and some of them might already be using either company mentions or hashtags to improve reach. Make sure you’re checking your social media mentions and track hashtags to discover these stories. You can then either just share them yourself or, even better, reach out to the original poster to develop the story and follow up with it on your company account.

Some brands have put employee advocacy programmes in place to encourage people to share their stories online in return for all sorts of perks, however, even just encouraging employees to use a specific hashtag in their posts for a chance to be featured on the company page can significantly boost engagement.

The Bottom Line

More and more brands are beginning to recognise the value of storytelling in their marketing and, as a result, are trying to build intricate templates and frameworks to encourage company-wide contribution. What they lose sight of, however, is that the best stories, and especially the best brand stories, are about people. So what we really need to do first is simply look inwards, at the people within the organisation and the stories they’re already telling through social media, blogs and videos.

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