Some anthropologists believe storytelling predates the spoken word. Evolution brought the spoken word to “don’t do that, you’ll poke your eye out”. A grandparent could spin that into a wonderful story where the facts are irrelevant to the lesson of the story. Just the way the rest of us can spin our stories on blogs, Twitter and Facebook. All this isn’t new, it’s just Storytelling 2.0.
Web 2.0, a catch-all phrase for social media, becomes collaborative almost by definition. MySpace can be a diary. A Facebook “wall” can support brainstorming. Twitter, a microblogging site, can be used to share and build ideas 140 characters at a time. But is this really storytelling?
Tom Reamy, in an article in KM World, says that “stories are a fundamental form of knowledge.” They are “…a fundamental means that humans use to structure the world. Our brains seem to be wired to easily and almost automatically organize information into stories. Listen to small children play and you hear the most wonderful stories being created, all without the benefit of major skills acquisition programs.”
Intel, IBM and HP have all used storytelling to share knowledge and empower innovation. They likely still do. At least one U.K. facility of a major corporation unofficially holds their safety training in a pub. The stories are precise and relevant. As each tale evolves, they stay extremely effective. I was told by one of the “trainers” that they key to their success was to “never let the facts get in the way of a good story.”
“Companies that have good story tellers are the ones that will succeed,” says Aaron Strout, vice president of social media for Mzinga. He should know. Massachusetts based Mzinga builds communities to give companies a strategic edge. Think of it as a storytelling and content platform within a company.
“Engaging a community is not about the tools. Tools are a commodity and only one-third of the equation.” Content and community management are other key elements. “If the content isn’t relevant, they’ll tune out”. Content, the meat of any story, is a natural byproduct of business conversations and collaboration. The innovation that comes from sharing and reusing the content replaces reinventing the wheel with each project.
Continuous success comes down to one question, according to Strout: “How can they be better storytellers and have better communication with their audience?”
He sees increasing blogs, video and podcasts as “powerful ways to let people comment” on ideas, increasing the value of the community to the company and the individual community members. An example he shared is Utterli, a web site that lets people comment with photos, text, audio or video. Each user has “Utters” which can easily read as a story or integrate smoothly into other social networking sites to enhance and clarify content. When used well, it puts you right in the middle of an event, and draws you into the story the “author” is trying to convey.
This is organic storytelling. I don’t believe most of these people think of themselves as authors or storytellers, but they are generally aware of an audience. In the rare cases when they aren’t aware, it can be pretty funny. And be careful with that blog. You’ll poke someone’s eye out.
Wayne Kurtzman is a senior marketing analyst who loves the shiny toys of technology and online communities. He has led knowledge management and web analytics practices for startups and larger companies including Intel. Wayne also is active at the international level of Destination ImagiNation, a not-for-profit organization that fosters teamwork, innovation and creative problem solving skills in students from kindergarten through college.