While trust is an increasingly important issue in the age of “fake news”, according to lead author Dr Torgeir Aleti of RMIT University’s School of Economics, Finance and Marketing, straight facts aren’t the way to win over fans.
Instead, Dr Aleti said that it is storytelling that has proved to be the most engaging means of communicating in the “Twittersphere”.
“This attraction to narrative is in line with the increasing attention of consumers and practitioners for storytelling, which is also being reflected in the rise of other platforms, such as Instagram Stories,” he said.
“Storytelling enables an emotional and cognitive transfer from the protagonist to the consumer and moves people to action, that is to retweet in our case.”
The study, which was published in the Journal of Interactive Marketing, examined the “content and linguistic style of thousands of tweets by famous celebrity chefs, personal trainers and fashion bloggers to see which were more likely to be retweeted”.
It found that those tweets that were more about storytelling than being analytical found more favour with followers and were more likely to be retweeted.
That was especially true where tweets focused on others (you can do something) rather than being internally driven (I am doing something).
Among the examples presented were:
- A celebrity chef: “Tonight’s lesson on #TheTaste. When Jacques Pepin tells you this is how you do it? That’s how you f**king do it!”
- A fashion blogger: “I know you think there’s one hairstyle that will never work for you, but what if you’re wrong?? (GIF)”
- A personal trainer: “Sometimes the people around you won’t understand your journey. It’s okay. They don’t need to. Your journey is not for them.”
Dr Aleti suggested that using influencers and sponsors to spruik a product or service may not deliver the desired return on investment if they are heavily controlled.
“Brand-facts spruiked by celebrity endorsers often come out in a contrived way, as the celebrity shifts focus from their regular storytelling to their contractual obligation,” he said.
“Consequently, the content communicated becomes less effective. This research suggests the choice of the specific celebrity should not only be related to the number of followers but also to how well they communicate and engage users with their messages and how seamlessly they can insert brand into their storytelling.”
Instead, the study’s co-author, Dr Tom van Laer, of the University of Sydney, said consumers favoured stories from recognisable people that “exuded an elevated social status and were focused on the audience, not the celebrity”.
“Those doing this well are heavily stylising the information they disclose in telling an engaging story from life among the stars,” he said.
“While some research suggests that perceived friendship, identification with the celebrity, and sense of intimacy through Twitter varies based on the type of celebrity, this storytelling element is consistent across them all.”
He added that the findings demonstrate businesses and individuals need a social media strategy that focuses not just on content, but also on the style used to convey that content.
The findings reflect the advice to business leaders of professional speaker Sam Cawthorn, who previously said that what we say counts for only 20 per cent of our influence over other people, and that simply incorporating storytelling into communications can directly influence our earning potential.
“We need to realise communication is the number one skill on the planet, period. You can go out and get any other skill, anywhere at all in the world, but we need to realise that communication is the number one skill,” Mr Cawthorn said in an appearance on the My Business Podcast.
“It’s actually not about the story itself, or it’s not even about your expertise. It’s actually how you tell that story.
“One of my other students, he can turn an everyday journey down to the local supermarket and back into an edge-of-your-seat thriller.”
He added: “It totally frustrates me when I see someone with an outstanding product, with an amazing message, with phenomenal services, but they don’t know how to sell it or they don’t know how to communicate that effectively. Then on top of that, we also have the sharks out there, which have a crappy product, but they know how to sell it.”
Another advocate of storytelling is adviser and author Mike Adams, who told My Business earlier this year that “communication of disconnected facts is neither memorable, understandable nor persuasive”.
“Business storytelling means putting your facts, ideas and experiences into a story format so they can be understood and accepted,” Mr Adams said.