Does long form digital storytelling work?

By Nicola Summers, Social Media Consultant, Middleton Davies

The CIPR Midlands held a well-attended Digital Storytelling masterclass recently and I had the pleasure of joining Tom Grocott from McCann Central to discuss strategies for sharing stories on social platforms. 

I took the opportunity to share my views on long-form storytelling, something that seems contrary to the much-held view that you should grab attention in mere seconds. Attention spans in social media have evidently reduced, so can you really tell a ‘long form story’ in digital nowadays? 

Powerful Storytelling 

The short answer is yes you can. Storytelling is powerful, it gives you facts and narrative. The long story form has as much a role to play as its short form sister. Stories shape the world around us, help us to understand it and make decisions. If you can tell stories about who you are, your brand and your products you make it much easier for people to make up their minds about you and build an emotional attachment. It secures engagement through emotional payoff. And what we’re all after is engagement. 

Video Content 

Video and the long form story go together. Watching video for entertainment is still one of the most popular things people do on social media. Platforms are optimised for video content with a range of ad format lengths, various ways to engage and algorithms which benefit successful content. Long form digital storytelling through videos, is in my experience a combination of great creative content, audience insight & targeting, channel optimisation, and detailed distribution and publishing planning.  

Mini Documentaries 

One great example is the Dragon Challenge, Land Rover’s 2018 campaign for the Range Rover Sport. They successfully tackled the question ‘How do you sell a product which has extremely strong competition and a high price point?’ When you’re asking a big question, you don’t win on facts, you win on the emotion and the engagement you create.  The result was a 6 min documentary style film for YouTube and a series of mini films. Each mini film focused on different parts of the story such as location, safety, local views and testing, proving useful for targeting new audiences with interests like travel and adventure.

But not all brands and companies have the budget of Land Rover. Nevertheless, the principle still holds true: an emotional, well executed long form story that can be reformatted for different channels and audiences is worth the budget, no matter how big or small.

Story Telling in a Global Pandemic  

Today we’re in a different world where we need to make new choices and change our behaviour. The stories brands tell in these times need to resonate with our emotions as well as our situation. One great example is Tesco’s Food Love Stories. With its updated campaign line, it now has a more urgent and emotive call to action: ‘Now more than ever it’s time to make the food you love for those you love’. It’s clever because it speaks to the emotion many families are feeling right now and also calls for audience content. 

More Great Reading…

But don’t just take my word for it, here are some useful industry articles exploring how to communicate your story in these challenging times: 

Use nostalgia
When we don’t feel able to plan ahead we can collectively feel reassured by enjoying things from the past, and in most cases assets can be re-used.

Consider your authentic response 
Thinking about what you do, your territory what is it that you do that you can respond with? 

Be appropriate & needed 
Be actively thoughtful, can you anticipate changes in customer behavior, pre-empt questions with clear information, share what you’re doing.  Maybe you can offer a welcome distraction or share stories of hope and positivity.

Nicola Summers is a freelance social media and digital content marketer, working as a consultant with Middleton Davies. Nicola has 15 years’ experience in communications, with specific expertise in digital marketing and social media, in corporate and SME global businesses in the energy industry and most recently as Global Social Media and Content Manager for Jaguar Land Rover.