To anyone who knows me, I’m sure I sound like a broken record by now. But social media has never, and will never, be about the tools. The tools are fleeting, they change, and yes, if you’re going to be in this space, you have to understand what it means when new tools come along and the ones we have change.

But you know what? Every day I see dozens of people on Twitter who know how to click the buttons, but don’t actually know how to use the tools. Corporate accounts are often the worst offenders. They spew out automated drivel about their company that nobody cares about. There’s no interaction, and no personality.

The thing that most businesses don’t get about social media is that it’s about telling stories.

Once upon a time I got deep.
For some reason, people have a hard time thinking of stories to tell about their business. They default to case studies (which are often just poorly written stories), or they grab onto the latest product launch or company event and try to make a chronology out of that. Both can be informative, but neither really makes me want to leap out of my chair and start doing business with them.

The stories we tell have to go deeper than that. But the problem with this is that going deeper makes you vulnerable. As soon as you start talking about an experience, or how you feel about something, the dynamic shifts. No longer are you just the marketing person typing a few words and posting a photo of your last trade show booth, but you’re moving into sharing an experience.

The best storytellers allow themselves to be vulnerable once in a while. It’s an uneasy feeling at first, and I’m not going to lie and say it goes away. This is my 472nd blog post on Suzemuse. Every time I write something and hit “publish” I get that uneasy feeling, because I feel like I’ve just stripped off another layer of that protective shield that the introvert in me is inclined to hide safely behind. The uneasy feeling doesn’t go away, but you get used to it.

And trust me, the rewards are worth it.

Watch and learn.
I took a creative writing class years ago in which we did a great exercise. We had to go somewhere, like a park bench, or a shopping mall, or a pub, and sit down with paper and pen, and write down everything we observed about the space we were in. We could describe things like the texture of what we were sitting on, the people, what we were eating or drinking, and anything interesting we observed about our surroundings. If there was a person that caught our eye, we had to describe them in detail, and perhaps speculate on their story a bit.

It was a great exercise and a fun one too. Most of us spend way too much time in our own heads when we are going about our day. We’re busy thinking about that pile of laundry, or getting the kids to gymnastics on time, or fuming about that annoying thing our boss did. We’re rarely existing in the space that surrounds us.

The best storytellers are the ones that can observe the scenes that surround them and discover the stories that lie within. It takes practice to be an observer. But practice whenever you can, and be sure to write down what you observe. Then try it next time you’re at work, and you’ll notice something incredible.

Stories will start to emerge.

Steer clear of the obvious.
When we are in public school and we’re learning creative writing, our stories are pretty obvious at first.

Once upon a time there was a princess. She had a pink dress and long hair. One day the prince came to her castle. They rode away on his horse and got married.

We tell the story as it actually happened in our heads. We only state the obvious. This happened, then that happened, then this happened. As we get older, we find it hard to get out of this habit. We tend to write stories, especially in the business world, like a news report. There’s no cadence, no nuance. There’s nothing unexpected.

Good stories don’t focus on the obvious.

But Suuuuuze, this is hard!
You’re damn right it’s hard. People write list posts because they are easy (well, and good for SEO if done well). Writing 600 or 800 words of something that tells a story and makes observations, takes time, energy, effort, and is way more risky (like how it’s entirely possible this post will totally suck, yet I’m posting it anyway).

Lists make people consume and forget. Think of the last list post you read. Remember where you read it? Not likely. Stories make people think, and they also make you more memorable.

The stickiest thing on the Internet is a good story, whether it’s written in a post, or told in a video. And yes, it’s hard to do it well. But have faith. Don’t be afraid to go a bit deeper, and be vulnerable – you’ll get used to the feeling. Observe the world around you at all times, for observation is where true creative inspiration comes from. And don’t automatically move towards the obvious. Step back, observe, and find the unexpected pieces that can create something truly compelling.

[photo by cindiann]