Follow Me: 5 Steps for Telling Stories on Social Media

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Tell Stories on Social Media - infographicA few months ago, I read an amazing story about Megan Amram, a comedian who tweeted her way into a job as a writer for the hit NBC show Parks and Recreation.  I opened up her Twitter feed to see what the buzz was about and started reading.  That’s when something unusual happened.

I couldn’t stop laughing.

Most of the posts I read were irreverent (ex: “I hardly buy things, but when I do it’s PRODUCTS ™ (SPONSORED TWEET)”) –  pretty standard stuff for a comedian.  But a few dozen tweets in, I noticed something unusual: a series of tongue-in-cheek posts about a lost roll of masking tape (Spoiler Alert: The tape was on her wrist the entire time).  I found myself looking at photos,reading her blog entries about the tape, and even retweeting from her feed.

This got me thinking: apart from funny one-liners, how does Amram engage so effectively with her 370K followers?

The answer, once again, is storytelling.

To help you tell great stories on Twitter and social media in general, here are “5 Tips for Telling Stories on Social Media”.  You may not gain millions of followers overnight, but you’ll at least be able to find the masking tape on your wrist.

1.  Start with a problem.  I’ve mentioned this before on this blog, but it bares repeating: all good stories need a problem.  The problem doesn’t have to be life or death, but it should be specific and easy to understand.  Maybe you were stuck on a train home from the beach with a preacher who wouldn’t leave you alone.  Maybe you couldn’t find an open restaurant in midtown at 10 PM.  Maybe you lost your masking tape.  Whatever the issue, just remember that you only have a limited amount of space on social media, so keep the post short and simple.  If you absolutely need more space, one workaround is to link to a blog that illuminates the problem in more detail.

2.  Find your character.  Amram is so successful on Twitter because she tweets and responds completely in character.  Whether you’re telling a personal story or using social media to tell a larger company saga, it’s important to maintain a consistent voice.  One way to find your voice on social media is to answer the question: What does your character want in this situation?  Once you know what the character wants (i.e. a good meal late at night), play around with the tone of the posts until it feels honest.

3.  Build tension.  After you’ve discovered the character’s voice, heighten the tension with each successive post.  Use short posts to keep your audience on their toes.  Introduce new pieces of information. In Amram’s case, she uses photos of her posters and daily entries to keep people updated on the tape saga.  Photos are an easy way to build tension and add specificity without losing your audience.

4.  Provide a resolution.  Once you’ve built the tension to it’s highest point, provide some resolution.  This could be a tweet or Facebook post that references a blog entry, a video or even a series of photos.  It’s important to resolve the problem definitively.  If you don’t satisfy your followers, they may turn on you and you’ll find yourself in the middle of a Twiiter war.

5. Hint at a future problem.  One way to keep the conversation after the story is resolved is to hint at a future problem with a final joke or suggestive line.  In comedy, this is known as a tag.  This is a chance for your followers to continue the conversation with you, so make sure to keep it brief.  You’ll followers will thank you for it.

Feeling a little more social?

The Time Has Come: 3 Tools for Masterful Timing

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While browsing Tumblr earlier today, I came across Megan Amram, one of the writers for the hit NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation (see above).  The first few posts I read made me chuckle. By the fifth or sixth entry, I had to stop reading just to keep myself from crying with laughter.

Amram has a clear gift for finding funny stuff in everyday life and has a following (361K Twitter followers and a feature in Fast Company) to prove it .  Here’s one of her sketches:

Hilarious, right?  But what makes Amram’s sketches and jokes so spot-on?

One word: timing.

Regardless of whether your material is funny or sad, the success or failure of stories (and jokes, for that matter) hinges on timing things correctly.  So to help your stories take off and land smoothly, here are “3 Tools for Masterful Timing”.  Timing is everything.

1. Arrive late and leave early.  The golden rule for writing is conveniently the same rule that applies for attending parties.  The key here is to not waste your audience’s time; enter into scenes as late as possible and exit as early as possible.  Once you’ve broken the story into scenes, look at each scene and ask: “Is every piece of information important?” If the answer is ‘no’, re-examine the scene and see what you can eliminate. Don’t waste your audience’s time!

2. Create build-up.  Each scene should build on the previous one, adding new information and helping shape the audience’s understanding of both the central problem and the characters.  In comedy, we see this in the form of ‘heightening’, which gradually makes each sequence more intense.  In more dramatic stories, we see this in terms of an escalation of stakes, which in turn generates tension.  The further along we go in the story, the more important each scene becomes.

3. Pay it off.  Every story needs to “pay off” or answer the central question posed in the beginning.  If you’ve timed the story correctly, all information will build to a climactic moment when it gets paid off.  Practice telling stories in a social setting and see if your audience fully feels the ‘payoff’ built into the story’s climax.  If not, don’t immediately scrap the story.  Go back and see how you can fix each scene to create build-up that feels organic to an audience.  You’ll get a laugh and you’ll satisfy your audience every time.

How’s that for a payoff?