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Give Permission to Tell Real Stories: Takeaways from Ed Reggi’s ON TAP Talk

More and more, brands are using storytelling in their social media marketing because (as we writers will tell anyone who will listen): stories are powerful. Or at least they can be when told well. But how do you tell the right stories that resonate with the right people and get your point across in an online world bombarded by copious amounts of content?

These were the questions posed and answered by Ed Reggi in his ON TAP talk this week for the Social Media Club St. Louis. Admittedly, Reggi’s yarn meandered quite a bit and at times I was hard pressed to discover the meaning behind his words. Most likely, this complexity was intentional for the topic’s sake. Below you’ll find a few takeaways that resonated most with my efforts to tell good brand stories.

Taking the Time to Find the Right Story

Even though Reggi is best known for his improv classes and work at COCA, he has always been passionate about technology. This love dates all the way back to when BBS (Bulletin Board System) was the only social network in existence and computers had “less memory than the beer you’re drinking.” Communication back then still felt “profound”—people didn’t take it for granted. Today, social media has become so mainstream that we don’t take the time to find a story worth telling. We just say whatever comes to mind first.

The Power of Improv & “Using Agreement to Get Things Done”

When Ed Reggi became part of the first all-LBGT Second City troupe, he was inspired to bring the same relationship authenticity found in professional improvisation to technology. Improv “uses agreement to get things done,” says Reggi. In order for the show to go on, all parties have to agree to work together to tell a story—even if someone takes it in a direction you weren’t prepared for.

The same agreement has to take place between brands and their customers on social media. If your brand is discussing something and your audience responds with a topic out of left field, you still have to respond to it. Doing so will yield more promising results than if you ignore your audience to pursue your original point. You may even lose them altogether.

“Find the People Who Know the Real Story”

User-generated content makes or breaks social media campaigns. Just think of what the #IceBucketChallenge videos did for The ALS Association in 2014. While fun gimmicks are an effective way to raise money for a non-profit cause, they’re not a sustainable marketing strategy on their own. ALS affects thousands of people whose stories are the foundation for every fundraiser the association organizes. Without those stories, the Ice Bucket Challenge would be just another silly YouTube fad.

But if you’re not a non-profit organization for a debilitating disease, how are you supposed to find the meaningful stories to build your brand’s foundation? “It’s hard to force it,” says Reggi. Many brands fail at telling a good story by excluding others. It’s not always the CEO that knows what will separate your brand from the competition. “You need to find the people that know [the right story]. Each person may only have parts of the story. Include other people. Teams of people.”

“You Need Permission to Tell Your Story”

People are usually not keen to dig into their own deep, meaningful pasts in public. In essence, people need permission from the brand or the public to tell their story. They have to feel like it’s alright for them to be completely honest about something important.

How do you overcome objections? “People have to trust you,” Reggi explains. For example, Reggi once led a news story about US immigrants from the perspective of non-border states. The original plan was to collect user-generated content from immigrant families, but the collection yielded nothing other than “how to make tacos.” The people creating the content didn’t feel like they had permission to tell the important stories and instead resorted to something with mass appeal: cooking.

“Use their language,” Reggi suggests. If you talk to them like a friend rather than an employee or a customer, your audience will feel more comfortable responding to your story in kind. But beware: as we’ve talked about multiple times on the jWeb blog, “people can sniff out when you’re inauthentic.” Know your audience well enough to identify with them, but never be dishonest about your motivations or actions.

When an honest verbal exchange becomes part of your brand, people will rally behind your cause and set you apart from the competition. All you have to do is make the effort to find the right story to tell.

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