The secret sauce to social media storytelling

Humans are born storytellers. It’s in our DNA. There’s something about a good story well told that is irresistible. Today, the power of storytelling has taken on new value for business, because social media has empowered the sharing and spreading of good stories.

While that insight might not be new, how to do it well still eludes many brands.

The key difference between brands that do this well and others who try but fail is having a story that others will want to tell on your behalf. Framed from that perspective, it’s all about them, not about you. When you give people a reason to share your story, you’re making THEM look smart, funny and connected to an inner circle.

But it all starts with having a great story worth telling.

This week I’m going to look at a couple examples from the hotel industry – a highly competitive field where brands often fall into a sea of sameness profiling luxury and awards, fighting for positive online reviews, or competing on price. We’ll take a look at a couple break through examples that have used storytelling and then leveraged social media to stand out. And we’ll pull some insights that we can all use.

Hotel ZED profiles themselves as a ridiculously fun and eclectic hip hotel with locations in Victoria and Kelowna, BC Canada. Hotel Zed is where vintage meets modern. They have vintage VW and retro Chevy shuttle buses, rotary dial phones, typewriter stations (both with instructions for younger customers), comic books in all rooms, a vinyl listening area, ping pong station, mini disco room (complete with black light and fog machine) and wait for it… a water slide. Oh, they also have stylish retro modern brightly coloured rooms with flat screen TV, free to use bikes, longboards and roller-skates for getting around town, and of course lightening speed WIFI. Hotel ZED appeals to the fun loving rebel in us.

They’ve turned accommodation into entertainment. Of course they are a legitimate brand appealing to tourists and business people staying in the area, but some of their promotions like “The Valentine’s Nooner” are pretty cheeky. Yes you can rent a room on Feb 14 between 11am – 2pm for $50 in Victoria. You heard it here first.

The Marriott this is not, but it’s entirely likely that HotelZED will pick up some of Marriot’s customers, and that’s the point. They’ve created a story worth telling around their brand. And they’ve made it easy to share through social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, direct from their site. They have a blog where they share stories out on social media, always drawing readers back to their site. They feature lots of photos and videos, which are easily shared, and they host videos called the ZED files, where they go out and interview politicians and celebrities in the community – to share out on social, but to also achieve pick up when those folks push the content out on their own social media channels with significant followers.

The site is visually rich giving an insight on the experience of staying there, and how visitors are defined less by age and income demographics and more by lifestyle and values.

Olsen Hotel

Ever wonder why check out has to be at 11am, when check in is 4pm, and there might not even be anyone taking your room anyway? So did the Olsen Hotel, a stylish 5 star hotel in Melbourne, Australia several years ago. They decided to offer the world’s latest check out. The “Overstay Promotion” was offered if your room was not needed by another guest later that day or even the next. Guests were invited to stay on absolutely free until the next guest was due to arrive. All you needed to do was call reception in the morning and find out when the next guest was due to arrive. It was simple and honest. There were no limits, so technically if nobody was behind you, you are welcome to continue as long as you like – quite revolutionary. Of course the hotel was popular, so the likelihood of a huge extended stay was limited, and most travelers had some sort of schedule that would prevent over indulgence, but the fact that they erred on the customers side and were honest about it, made this promotion a winner.

Do you think maybe a few folks talked about it favourably online and off? You bet. In fact the hotel encouraged just that, suggesting folks post photos to their Facebook page or on Twitter and Instagram telling others about their overstay, and what they did with their additional time in Melbourne. In the end they gave away 342 nights overstay, sold 1,550 rooms in 4 weeks and earned $37,200 in room service. There were 8.3 million Twitter posts, $1.5 million in global media, and no paid ads. That’s the power of storytelling and giving people a reason to share.

So what can we learn about social media storytelling through these examples? Here are 5 key insights – I call them the Secret Sauce to social media storytelling:

1. It’s really all about them, not about you. Share a story that makes them look smart, funny, insightful or connected to an inner circle.

2. Wrap your brand in stories. While you should have a story around how the company started, or your purpose, continue to cultivate stories to share.

3. Make you stories easy to share socially. There are two key things you must do here. You have to have a blog/news tab feature on your site to be able to publish your stories to, which you will then leverage out on social media, but always with links back to your website. And you must have social share buttons for prominent channels like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram not only on your site home page, but also included with all blog/news posts.

4. Be visual. Social media is increasingly more visual. The use of images and video is absolutely critical for getting social media posts noticed and shared. Images and video lend themselves to storytelling. A single image really can tell much of the story. Let visuals do your heavy lifting.

5. Design for mobile viewing. Mobile devices are the tools for social and apps are the gateway to social interaction. Increasingly mobile is the device many of your customers will interact with your brand on. As you’re crafting your stories to share, this is worth considering. How will your images and videos be displayed on mobile? How quickly does your site load? Can video be understood without audio? (many people watch video on mobile in public spaces with audio turned off)

So let me know what you think. Have you seen some great storytelling by brands out there worthy of sharing?

Mary Charleson

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