As companies look for ways to create and maintain emotionally engaging online communities, storytelling has been identified to be a good enabler. Dom Robertson opined on the Guardian site: “The winning formula for consumer engagement is storytelling. Narratives as powerful as the Bible, to ancient myths and Shakespeare’s prose, speak to the heart, teaching us how to relate to one another and guiding us into action.” He further revealed that: “Studies of human psychology have found that if we are told something through narrative, we are more likely to relate to the message.”
We are all understood to be natural storytellers in life; we know a good story, when we hear one. Our senses are awoken and emotions triggered, as we keep our eyes fixated on the screen, of our phones or laptop, reading through a story of someone who has had a bad or good experience with a brand. A few months ago, I received an email, from a sender, claiming to be the UK tax authority, and stating I had a tax refund. I suddenly searched online and found forums, where people shared stories of how they received the same email and said it was a scam and advised against clicking on the email link. I heeded to the advice on this forum, because people wrote about their own stories, regarding the said fraudulent email. Their storytelling ability helped me to remain emotionally engaged, as I read through the entire contents and could relate with it.
With the continual growth of social media and online forums, the act of storytelling is becoming more evident online. People are using the narrative to explain their disgust or delight with a service, technical support teams are also using it to explain set-up and troubleshooting processes to customers online.
Christine Onelo enthuses that, emotion is an essential element of good stories and screenwriter Pilar Alessandra agreed to the emotional element of storytelling, by adding: “Story(telling) is action plus emotion. It’s a series of interesting choices strung together, incited by emotion or resulting in emotional consequences.” Simply put: “Concept = idea. Plot = the events that express that idea. Story = concept + plot + emotion.”
Leo Widrich of the bufferapp blog, wrote a good piece on storytelling that expressed the importance of storytelling from a speaker (writer) and a listener’s (reader) perspective. He said, when you are being told a story, things dramatically change in the language processing part of your brain- they simply come to live. He further added that, synchronization of the brain takes place between a storyteller and a listener, when a story is being told.
Annie Murphy Paul, on the backdrop of a neuroscience research, carried out in Spain, opined that: “The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated.” There is more potency to storytelling than you could ever imagine.
Reasons why storytelling facilitates an emotionally engaged online community
1) It helps the customer recollect better: When customers are giving account of their experience with your brand or product, storytelling, helps them to not leave out on any detail. In a chronological manner, they express all the details of the experience they had with your brand. A good example is a Trustpilot reviewer, who uses storytelling to express his disgust with a service.
2) It helps them feel relieved: When your online community members or customers express their disgust or delight about your brand, it is an emotional experience. Through storytelling, they endeavour to make sure every ounce of pain or pleasure is poured out.
3) It transmits more emotion: Storytelling is a good transmitter of emotions in any online community. You could feel someone’s emotion better if they tell you a story of how they bought your product or got an ill advice, from your call centre agent. It makes the community emotionally charged and that heightens engagement.
4) People could relate with it: A storytelling-laden online community, has a higher level of reads or views. People can easily relate with a topic, discussion or review that is expressed through a story.
5) It touches and lightens up a section of our brain: Josfina Casas says storytelling lights up the part of our brain that deals with emotions. This explains why storytelling makes people cry, laugh, sob, terrified, inspired and so on.
6) Breaks down barriers of communication: People are more relaxed and receptive when listening or reading a story. So if you want a more engaged online community, then adopting and encouraging a storytelling technique would be imperative.
7) It creates active participation: Most people want to be involved in a story- as someone in your online community shares a story of their experience with your product or service, some other community member, would like to keep the topic or story alive by, sharing their own personal tale.
Storytelling is a powerful tool, which could be used to emotionally engage an online community.