RonAmok!

The adventures of an analog engineer and digital storyteller who studies emerging networks and their impact on the great game of business.

The Storyteller

Recently, I’ve seen lots of chatter in Social/New Media circles about business and storytelling. Evidently, storytelling is “in!” Who knew?

I have mixed feelings about the topic. As a storyteller who has produced 70 episodes of a storytelling podcast since 2005, I’m excited about any interest in the craft. But as a New Media Evangelist who looks into the eyes of corporate executives everyday, I have serious doubts. Storytelling for business may sound great to those who push the business communications envelope daily, but when it comes to actually implementing the practice within rigid corporate hierarchies, I’m afraid that we have a long way to go.

How can business be ready for storytelling if most professional business communicators still believe that “conversational” writing is “unprofessional?” How can business be ready for storytelling if the majority of corporate websites are crammed with McMarketing slogans and McPressReleases? How can business be ready for storytelling if only a minority of them actually allow employees to blog? Storytelling for business? Really?

The elements of storytelling have been honed over many generations. Stories require:

  • Characters in conflict.
  • Characters that we care about…and good characters are flawed.
  • Protagonists and antagonists
  • Characters must change as a result of conflict resolution.

In essence, stories require all of the things that professional business communicators are trained to eliminate, like conflict, emotion, flaws, etc…

Storytelling involves an intimate relationship between writer and the reader. This intimacy is orders of magnitude higher than the “conversational” style required within Social Media channels.

Can we implement storytelling within business? Damn straight we can! But we have miles to go before we sleep. Show me an industry where 90% of the competitors are blogging and I’ll show you an industry that is ready for the business of storytelling. Until then, we must keep teaching, because business storytelling will be built upon a foundation of New/Social Media fundamentals.

And not a moment sooner.

Photo Credit: celesterc

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Filed under: Content Development

Comments

The interesting thing is that now is the time for execs to figure this out. According to Forrester, this will be the year that the “early adopters” of social media approaches are going to start making money.

Lou Covey
January 28, 2009

The interesting thing is that now is the time for execs to figure this out. According to Forrester, this will be the year that the “early adopters” of social media approaches are going to start making money.

Lou Covey
January 28, 2009

Ron – As a marketing communications writer, I totally agree with your ideas on storytelling in businesses. I think too that the larger and more established the business, the less likely they are willing to adopt a new, radical messaging style. Like podcasting, the storytelling concept probably gets kicked around a lot of boardroom tables, but gets lost, homogenized beyond recognition before it hits the streets. Executives like to incorporate “social media” terms into their marketing lexicon, but it’s only the rare few that are willing to gamble, to integrate truly original, fresh thinking into their marketing plan. Nothing really wrong with the status quo as long as the business plan is solid and has a positive track record. If it doesn’t, then maybe it’s time to unlock the blog sites and step out of their comfort zone while exploring the meanings of the new words they’ve added to their marketing vocabulary. Maybe it’s time to tell a few stories.

Tom Jordan
January 29, 2009

Ron – As a marketing communications writer, I totally agree with your ideas on storytelling in businesses. I think too that the larger and more established the business, the less likely they are willing to adopt a new, radical messaging style. Like podcasting, the storytelling concept probably gets kicked around a lot of boardroom tables, but gets lost, homogenized beyond recognition before it hits the streets. Executives like to incorporate “social media” terms into their marketing lexicon, but it’s only the rare few that are willing to gamble, to integrate truly original, fresh thinking into their marketing plan. Nothing really wrong with the status quo as long as the business plan is solid and has a positive track record. If it doesn’t, then maybe it’s time to unlock the blog sites and step out of their comfort zone while exploring the meanings of the new words they’ve added to their marketing vocabulary. Maybe it’s time to tell a few stories.

Tom Jordan
January 28, 2009

The irony, of course, is that the most successful executives — not to mention sales people — are often the best storytellers. Somehow they seem to forget that when it gets to more “organized” marketing programs, unfortunately. The company I just left had some decent success using storytelling in corporate learning programs (including in some very large companies), but we struggled to integrate that into marketing programs for our clients as well. Hopefully the current chatter will at least move the idea forward a bit. Meanwhile, we can at least keep pushing on the conversational front, which can be a bit of a bridge toward more serious storytelling.

Rob Leavitt
January 29, 2009

The irony, of course, is that the most successful executives — not to mention sales people — are often the best storytellers. Somehow they seem to forget that when it gets to more “organized” marketing programs, unfortunately. The company I just left had some decent success using storytelling in corporate learning programs (including in some very large companies), but we struggled to integrate that into marketing programs for our clients as well. Hopefully the current chatter will at least move the idea forward a bit. Meanwhile, we can at least keep pushing on the conversational front, which can be a bit of a bridge toward more serious storytelling.

Rob Leavitt
January 28, 2009

Human beings ARE storytellers. It’s what we do. It’s what distinguishes from the other critters crawling around this planet and it’s our best hope for understanding each other.

The idea of corporate storytelling isn’t new. For some background, please let me recommend some very good books on the subject:

Squirrel, Inc.: A Fable of Leadership Through Storytelling — Stephen Denning

The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling — Stephen Denning

The Story Factor — Annette Simmons

Kevin
February 5, 2009

Human beings ARE storytellers. It’s what we do. It’s what distinguishes from the other critters crawling around this planet and it’s our best hope for understanding each other.

The idea of corporate storytelling isn’t new. For some background, please let me recommend some very good books on the subject:

Squirrel, Inc.: A Fable of Leadership Through Storytelling — Stephen Denning

The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling — Stephen Denning

The Story Factor — Annette Simmons

Kevin
February 5, 2009

Kevin,

Thanks for the references. They’re awesome.

Some of my favorite storytelling business books include:

1) The One Minute Manager Series, Blanchard et al,
2) The Goal — Elyahu Goldratt
3) The Richest Man in Babylon: George S. Clayson.

Storytelling works. It’s just that until B2B companies can overcome their internal communications biases, they won’t be very good at it.

R~

ronploof
February 6, 2009

Kevin,

Thanks for the references. They’re awesome.

Some of my favorite storytelling business books include:

1) The One Minute Manager Series, Blanchard et al,
2) The Goal — Elyahu Goldratt
3) The Richest Man in Babylon: George S. Clayson.

Storytelling works. It’s just that until B2B companies can overcome their internal communications biases, they won’t be very good at it.

R~

Ron Ploof
February 5, 2009

It does seem hard to believe that the “stuffed suits” who worship at the altar of old school professionalism can embrace the narrative, doesn’t it?

But if there’s one thing I know about business people… They’ll follow the money. As folks learn more and more about how effective storytelling can be, more will do it.

Some will make it ugly, but some will do it right. You just need to hope that they come at with quality instruction and an open mind.

Terri Rains
July 3, 2009

It does seem hard to believe that the “stuffed suits” who worship at the altar of old school professionalism can embrace the narrative, doesn’t it?

But if there’s one thing I know about business people… They’ll follow the money. As folks learn more and more about how effective storytelling can be, more will do it.

Some will make it ugly, but some will do it right. You just need to hope that they come at with quality instruction and an open mind.

Terri Rains
July 2, 2009

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