By Daniel E. Craig, Reknown
Last month I was honored to be invited back to Buy Tourism Online in Florence, Italy to give a keynote presentation on Social Media & Storytelling. Here are some key takeaways from my presentation, which you can watch by clicking the video above.
Storytelling in the Digital Age
Storytelling is nothing new. Human beings have been telling stories since the time of cave dwellers. Today, however, social media has created unprecedented platforms and audiences for sharing stories. “Social storytelling” is about shaping social media content into stories that grab attention, compel action and are remembered and shared.
Unlike other forms of storytelling, social storytelling is short, interactive and highly visual. In social media people have fleeting attention spans, are constantly scrolling, and are often on the go. If something doesn’t grab their attention within seconds, they’ve moved on. Unlike books and movies, the audience participates and can interrupt and make comments. And rather than simply entertain, the purpose of social storytelling is to compel action, whether that’s to click to find out more, share, save for later or make a booking.
In the travel industry, stories can be divided into the two main types: stories told by travelers and stories told by businesses.
A traveler story can be as simple as “I was here” or “I like this place” or “I recommend it”. Reviews are particularly powerful because they provide more detail and come from an unbiased source. Unlike marketers, reviewers have nothing to gain if the traveler books or doesn’t book.
As businesses we can learn a lot from traveler reviews, which contain many of the elements of good storytelling: a gripping lead, suspense, drama, inspiration, insight and a good dose of reality.
Travelers’ stories are driven by their experiences. As a business, you can help shape these stories by setting a vision of what you want guests to say about your business and coaching staff on how to deliver on this vision. When you receive reviews that capture what you’re trying to achieve, share them with staff and explain why they’re so important.
The Brand Story
For businesses, social storytelling starts with your brand story, which describes your key value propositions. It should answer the main questions travelers have when planning trips: Who are you? Where are you? Why should I go? What will I do? How will I feel? Be consistent with your brand story on social media profiles, tweaking as necessary to fit each medium.
As an example, when you Google “Tours in Vancouver”, Vancouver Foodie Tours is one of the first to come up.
Embedded right within the link is the brand story, which targets two primary audiences: travelers, by answering their key questions, and search algorithms, by including keywords. The story is simple but effective: “If you are looking for fun things to do in Downtown Vancouver, our food tours and educational day trips are a favorite tourism attraction to remember.” On the website a page called “Our Story” provides more information, and you’ll find a consistent story on the company’s social profiles. Most important, travelers are telling the same positive stories on TripAdvisor, Yelp and Google Business.
Once you have your brand story nailed down, the challenge is the day to day business of social storytelling—keeping Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other channels alive with fresh, interesting, brand-relevant content that appeals to your target audiences. While you don’t want to inundate followers, you do want to keep them engaged.
You can’t tell your whole brand story in every post, nor do you want to, but all of your messaging should complement your brand personality. When your stories are shared they change from marketing content to user-generated and user-endorsed content, which increases credibility and reach.
Slices of life can be particularly effective: snapshots from the daily lives of guests, staff and local businesses. For example, a photo with the caption, “Check out this cute couple enjoying champagne breakfast at the pool after getting engaged here last night.” Subtext, the underlying, unspoken meaning, is an effective technique in social storytelling for subtle promotion. The subtext here is “Come to our hotel for romance, life-changing events and a taste of luxury.”
Traditionally, the travel industry has lured travelers in with fairytale descriptions and fantasy photos, hoping they won’t notice the grimmer reality when they arrive. That tactic doesn’t work today because it will lead to a backlash of bad reviews. You must strive to ensure that your brand story is consistent with traveler stories.
The trend today is reality marketing: being so honest and authentic that you leave ample opportunities to exceed expectations, thereby creating advocates who help spread the word.
Imagery on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram has grown exponentially because it combines the most powerful aspects of social media: imagery and sharing. And unlike text, imagery requires no translation—it’s a universal language.
Strive to integrate three types of visuals in social storytelling: professional imagery shot by experts, social imagery taken by you, and user-generated imagery taken by your guests. When uploading imagery, label it much as you would label a book, tagging it with your brand name, location and a description.
Selfies are a huge phenomenon because they allow users to insert themselves into the visual story, feeding into our narcissistic tendencies. Businesses can capitalize on this trend by designating selfie spots onsite and encouraging guests to tag photos with your brand name, thereby inserting you into the story too—and right into their newsfeed.