Determining a story topic for your community

A key to getting your storytelling program off on the right foot is to discover what type of story your community would like to tell.

When we first speak with prospective clients, they often have an idea about what story they’d like. More often than not, that story is, “Why I love [Insert your company name here].” These testimonials are great, and can be useful throughout your site, but they’re not always the right way to start.

First off, there’s four basic types of topics you could pose to your community:

  1. Contests or Sweepstakes: these generally take on the theme of “Why are you our ultimate fan?”, “What would you do for a Klondike Bar?”, “ or any topic that relies on the raw energy and enthusiasm of the storyteller. Incentives play a big role in these topics, but they generally work for any and all brands
  2. Advice & opinions: this can take on a decidedly pro-brand angle, or a more generic approach. For the former, Covergirl did a great “Beauty Smarties” campaign, where customers provided makeup tips and advice. For the latter, Blue Shield of California did an awesome campaign asking their community for Healthy Living Tips. Either are great ways to create content relevant to your community and valuable for content marketing.
  3. Testimonials & Reviews: this is by far the most sought after content by brands. These stories take on a tone of “Why do you love us?”, “What do you think of this product?”, or “What was your experience with our customer service”. The advantage is the obvious use of this content for your marketing effort. The drawback is that it relies on the participant being a customer, and many customers shy away from these blatant, branded experiences.
  4. Storytelling: this is the most underutilized topic for brands, but it can be the most powerful. Tangential topics relevant to your community, but not blatantly pro-brand, can invite widespread participation, as well as a lot of fun for your community. One example is Bare Snacks – a healthy snacks company here in San Francisco. They invited their customers to share their Bare Moments – moments of truth and often embarrassment to share with the community. Not only was this uniquely tied to their brand attributes, but it also sparked a fun and frivolous vibe that made it delightful and fun for community members to participate.

Once you pick a topic, it’s vital to remember that the story you want your customers to tell MAY not be the story your community wants to tell.

So a few tips to make sure you start your program with the right prompt, consider:

  • Look at what stories they’re telling their friends.
    • Check out Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google Plus, Pinterest… what sorts of things are they talking about? It’ll provide a great indication of their natural inclination towards topics and themes
  • Review what stories they’re sending you.
    • Surveys, emails, and customer service calls all provide indications about stories they’re already sharing
  • Test your question on social channels
    • Before you double down on a customer storytelling campaign, do a quick test on social channels. Does it get a response? Does it get likes, retweets, comments, and interactions? It’s a cost-free and simple way to feel out interest from your community.
  • Consider the tangential
    • One more plug for storytelling – it’s a great way to uncover topics that are more unique to your community and tie to your brand more directly.

Interested in learning more? Check out our webinar on The Science of Storytelling to learn more about how you can get started, or check out our Customer Storytelling Campaign Checklist to learn more about what you can do to get started today.