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Digital Storytelling is Tough; Change this One Thing to Make It Simpler

Illustration from Ralph Steadman

‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here’

‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.

‘I don’t much care where — ’ said Alice.

‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.

‘ — so long as I get somewhere,’ Alice added as an explanation.

‘Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, ‘if you only walk long enough’

Most people who have worked in digital content will have been told something like ‘make my thought leadership piece go viral on social media’.

Unless the writer is a celebrity, or there is a very large promotional budget, then that’s not going to happen. 

Like Alice, it’ll get somewhere, but who knows where?

Content that gets highly shared on social networks and becomes visible to search engines needs to address an audience interest and to be creatively presented. It needs both direction and top-spin. 

The packaging is the message

It never ceases to surprise me how many organisations fall at the final hurdle by failing to package their content effectively for search and social. 

It’s perhaps to do with how hard it is to clear all the internal approval hurdles – there’s no time or energy left to apply the vital finishing touches that will make the piece fly through digital space. 

If there is time, then it’s hard, though not impossible, to retro-fit an engaging angle and sharp packaging to a post. But it’s much, much easier to think about these things right at the beginning rather than right at the end.

This approach is also an extraordinarily effective way of increasing the overall impact of content teams. 

Attention-seeking filters to stress-test your ideas

The very best way I have found to maximise the chances of viral success is to put new ideas and pitches through a series of filters based on the relatively short list of factors that get posts noticed in the content maelstrom out there.

Organisations are full of people who have messages they want to deliver. Individuals are hungry for information, answers to questions, and interesting stories. There’s a deal to be done between these two groups. And the common ground requires digital content teams to pass the following tests:

  • What’s the search question that would yield this post as a top answer?
  • What is ‘relatable’ or new about the story that could go in the headline or social copy that would pique the interest of a browser?
  • What is the ‘shareable’ – the image in social feeds – that would make this post stand out in the stream? 

Think about your own use of search and social

The good news is that you already know how to do this. After hundreds of hours spent scrolling through social streams, you’re already an expert in what makes a good social post. And years of using Google means you know precisely how search works.

What I’m recommending here is that you set aside all the internal complications of your organisation and think really hard about what it would take to get one of your relations, or a colleague, or one of your friends to click through to your post. 

Easy to say, surprisingly hard to do, absolutely vital if you want to cut through.

More tips and tricks for maximising your digital impact

Postscript: It’s been pointed out to me that “Begin with the end in mind” is one of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.