How to Tell Stories Others Want to Share

Storytelling is a key factor in successful design, and content creation in general. Without telling some kind of story, there’s no way to get people excited about the content you have to share. Many times, however, people will lose interest in a story for a variety of reasons, which we’re going to cover in today’s post.

Where, exactly, do you lose a user’s interest when telling a story? What are the key ideas that must be utilized when you’re attempting to convey a key set of ideas? Let’s look at the elements of a good, shareable story, and what goes into creating content that sticks in people’s minds.

Be like a politician

A story is like a marketing meta message from your client to your users. Think of a story like a democratic government, and your users as the voters. You, the designer, the political campaign machine — you develop key storytelling elements that excite and compel people, and get them fired up.

be like politician

If they vote to share your content, then your campaign is a winner. If not, then it’ back to the drawing board.

Go back to the story

If you ever observe politicians running for office, you may start to notice something very peculiar: no matter what question they’re actually asked, they will always make a point of coming back around to their prepared “talking points”, or a specific set of topics that they wish to stress to voters.

People often express frustration with politicians for evading the question being asked, but part of the goal of politics is to shape public opinion in the direction the politician wants it to go.

You can do something similar (though not nearly as slimy and manipulative) with your own storytelling to make sure people get the main message. Crafting a list of key points that you absolutely want to convey no matter what will help you stick to only those ideas that get people the most excited.

Look for commonalities

It’s said that we humans are all far more alike than we are different. There’s no better example of this right now than the fascinating website, Humans of New York. Photographer Brandon Stanton finds people from all walks of life, and interviews them to draw out their unique, individual stories, which he then posts an excerpt from beneath their photograph.

look for commonalities

It’s a brilliant example of the universality of storytelling in action, and the fact that Stanton’s book of the same name went straight to the top of the New York Times Bestseller list reinforces the idea that people are looking for common experiences with their fellow humans.

The very best storytellers find common joys, fears, complaints, and truths that bring people together and tell the story of how they can overcome their trials and succeed in accomplishing their goals. Pick things that everyone can relate to, universal ideas that people will always want to share with others.

Use the right emotions

The fact that we have common emotions in storytelling is all well and good, but what if you want to cut to the chase, so to speak, and get people to really share what you create, enough so that it goes “viral” and puts you, the storyteller, in the spotlight?

use the right emotions

Nostalgia, frustration, anxiety, pride, surprise, amusement, and controversy are excellent storytelling emotions that make people want to share. Peace and contentment, on the other hand, are terrible for storytelling.

Nobody wants to share a story in which there is no conflict. Think about the last work of fiction you read. Did the protagonists simply float through the book with no conflict whatsoever, and then live happily ever after? Probably not.

Even nonfiction must contain some type of conflict within the story it’s trying to tell the reader.

Cut the fluff

Storytelling is very much like design. The more efficient and minimalistic it is, the better and more elegant a solution you will end up with. Each element must earn its way into your story. If it’s not serving any purpose, cut it out. Create easily digestible content.

This is a reason infographics are so popular these days. It’s a great way to amuse and inform people, and tell a story at the same time.

Another efficiently simple storytelling medium is joke-telling. The best jokes are the ones with the least amount of setup and the most “punch” in the punchline. These types of jokes have been refined through numerous tellings, and all the current teller has to do is not mess it up (there is an art to telling a joke properly, after all).

The more you decide you don’t need to tell your story, the faster your audience will get the essence of what you’re saying, and the easier they’ll find it to share with others.

Images matter!

Here’s where you really get to shine as a designer. Viral storytelling is so much more effective when there are images involved. Again, infographics are a perfect example. If people don’t have time to read a long, complex story, a compelling, well-designed image is the next best thing.

images matter

And a short, easily digestible video is even better, provided you post it in the appropriate places. What do I mean by that? It’s important to respect the digital medium you’re using, and tell your story in the way that the majority of people on the site want to hear it told.

Be mindful of where you share

People go on specific social networks for different reasons. This idea is outlined very well in Gary Vaynerchuk’s book, Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook. In it, he explains the differences between users of Tumblr versus Pinterest, Facebook versus Twitter, etc.

be mindful

You need to know your audience and why they share the content they do in the places they do. If you’ve ever had the experience of being on a particular site, and feeling like the editors have made a misstep in how they presented their information to you, you know what I mean.

Perhaps you didn’t feel like clicking on a video when the majority of the site is text. Or you were expecting to see more images and fewer words. You’re not always in the same frame of mind when you visit different places online, and neither is your audience.

Be aware of what kind of story they want, in which particular format, and give it to them.

What do you think?

What are some other things to consider when telling a story to your users? Have any interesting insights to share? Tell your own stories in the comments!