Last week Facebook unveiled its Timeline for brand pages, and companies large and small started scrambling to figure out what it will mean for their business.
Love it or hate it (starting March 30, you’re going to be stuck with Timeline either way), this new layout for Facebook’s Fan Pages offers companies an opportunity (and a challenge) to brush up on a skill that’s often overlooked in content marketing…storytelling.
Timeline is tailor-made to tell your company’s story — from its humble beginnings to the present — capturing every milestone, change and challenge so your clients or customers can see, at a glance, who you are and why you do what you do.
But ultimately, Timeline is just a tool. You still need to come up with the information, ideas and media with which to populate it and create a story that’s interesting and engaging for your community.
So what makes a good company story?
1. Think beyond words.
When we hear the word “storytelling” most of us automatically think of words – either written or spoken. But great stories transcend words.
A painting or photo can tell a story with a single image. A poem can tell a story with only hints of words and phrases. Videos can tell us stories where words are never even uttered.
So, think outside the box when you’re deciding what media and medium to use to tell your company’s story.
Pick something that is a good fit with your brand, that plays to the strengths of your content producers, and speaks in the language that your clients or customers understand. (Do you produce a visually interesting product? Then perhaps you should tell your story in pictures.)
2. Answer questions.
What should you tell stories about? That’s easy. Ask your clients or customers. (Or, check in with your sales or customer service people to see what types of questions they get on the front lines from your clients or customers.)
You may be thinking that the story of how your logo ended up being bright yellow is fascinating. Your customers? Eh. Not so much. They’re likely more interested in why you designed your product the way you did, why you priced your services the way you did, or why you do business in a particular way.
If there is simply no story to the answers behind any of those questions, your company has got bigger problems to deal with than Timeline.
3. Failures make the successes sweeter.
A big mistake I see a lot of companies make in their storytelling is to spin every story with their company as the triumphant victor over all uncertainty and any obstacle.
Quite frankly, that sort of story is boring as hell.
Think of the greatest stories you have heard in your lifetime. There is nearly always failure and success, love and loss, birth and death. Your story needs tension and contradiction too, so don’t forget to include the bad with the good.
No, you don’t have to make your company seem like a dolt. But you should seem real. (And the reality is that all companies make mistakes sometime…and then they learn from them and do better the next time.) Humanizing your brand this way can help pull in people and deepen their relationship with you.
4. Make your clients and customers the hero.
The other thing that’s as boring as hell? Reading all about you all the time.
Your company exists for a reason, right? If that reason is to help, serve or support someone, then that “someone” is whom we want to read about in your stories.
So, for example, when you tell the story of how you came up with the idea for your best selling product, don’t start the story with your company having an idea to make something, but rather with your client or customer having a need. How did you hear their story and use the information about their need to create the product?
5. Give your story room to grow and breathe.
When we know the story already, this slow build can make us antsy. “Yep. I get it,” we’re thinking, “The big bad wolf is going to blow that house down too…now get to the point.”
But the lesson we need to remember is that, for a first time listener/reader, the journey in the story — with all of its steps and pauses — IS the point.
A story has to have a beginning, a middle and an end. To learn a lesson, one must first have their knowledge challenged. To suffer a great victory, one must first struggle with defeat. To initiate empathy, one must first reveal their humanity.
So don’t be afraid to explore the full journey in your stories. Take the time to paint in the subtle details. Flesh out multiple voices. These are the qualities that will make your story memorable.
6. Cherish the origin story.
One of the most notable features of Timeline is the opportunity to document your company’s founding. It’s a great idea, because, as we’ve learned from comics and superhero movies, people love a good origin story. (Ah…so that’s how Spiderman got his web slinger!)
While your company may not have the rich history of say, Coca Cola, Macy’s or Ford, you DO have a back-story and it’s an important one to share. Your origin story documents your company’s birth…and, just like childbirth, that’s a story that’s unique and special to everyone who tells it.
Just be careful not to confuse “origin story” with “mission statement.” Yes, there is probably a story behind your company’s mission, but your mission statement itself isn’t that story.
The reason why you exist pretty much only interesting to you. Now, what you do with that existence…THAT’S the story people want to hear.