The web moves in phases. The first phase was presence. In 1999 when I built my first website, FoundObjects.com (now RIP sadly), having a website was sufficient to generate Return On Investment (ROI).
The next phase was the battle for commerce. The move from "brochure-ware", websites that were little more than printed brochures that happened to be online, to limited interactivity.
Once the conversational door was open the social tsunami began. Where once we lucky few Internet marketers lectured now, in the social era, we listen and curate. Having conversations means we develop different kinds of websites.
One easy to spot difference is the ubiquity of social share buttons. Social signals such as Facebook Likes and Tweets confirm our claims and the conversations taking place on our new more social websites.
Why Stories Matter NOW
- No one speaks first, so conversations must be present and robust.
- Speaking in stories creates more vulnerability than "marketing speak".
- Being vulnerable creates trust and a quid pro quo.
- Stories create relationships.
- Stories create engagement.
- Google's algorithm changes.
Google is simultaneously the web's greatest influence and gauge of what is important. Google's re-emphasis on engagement and relevance protects the core of their model - the validity and democracy of links. Debating if Google's shifts are in response to an observed trend or their desire to create a better web is moot.
Understanding WHY something becomes as important as stories are now is often a fool's errand. Internet marketing is fast moving. Time is often too valuable to spend understanding the past since to do so risks the NOW. Every dollar your website will ever make happens in the only time the web recognizes NOW.
Watch Andreas Ekstrom explain how Google knows when you will get the flu and who will win an American presidential campaign and one Internet marketing truth is clear - what Google wants you want too:
Google Wants Relevant Stories
Google doesn't speak nearly as clearly as, "More and better stories please". Google uses words like "engagement" and "heuristics" to say the same thing. A website's heuristics are metrics such as time on site, pages viewed and bounce rate that should demonstrate a growing value, a growing relationship.
Google is going to do their job, ship traffic to our websites. Your job is to treat that traffic like family. When I was a Director of E-commerce we washed thousands through our conversion funnel to trap hundreds. Not a good idea now.
After Google algorithm changes less traffic converting better holds up our end of the Internet marketing bargain. Google is the traffic cop and we are tasked with creating unique experiences that thrill people Google sends.
"Thrill" means people spend more time with your content, share it with their friends and social network and convert (take some action Google can see such as clicking for more pages, joining your email list or buying something).
Story As Conversation Starter
Stories, voice and tone have never been more important, but we aren't in college and this isn't a lecture. Stories aren't lectures. Stories are examples of your website's recognition of where we are, what phase of the moon we are in.
Your website must begin by sharing stories. Almost immediately your marketing should emphasize User Generated Content (UGC). You share your stories to create TRUST. When your customers share their stories trust is assured.
This can be a hard pivot. Internet marketers tend to get stuck in a single gear. Once marketers gear up to tell stories they may forget we share stories with intent - to create an ecosystem where conversations happen, where our customers are comfortable enough to share their stories.
There was a time when we lucky few marketers invaded Russia in the winter. We gathered millions of dollars of resources, pointed all of that armor at a target, gritted out teeth and bulled our way forward. Not so much anymore.
Even if a marketing team could create such a massive campaign actually spending the money would be foolish. Today's marketing is about smaller steps more carefully watched. Today's marketing requires stories because stories are the best way to feel our way forward.
Great Story Resource
Karen Dietz is my favorite online storytelling resource. Karen is writing a book about storytelling and here is a link to one of my favorite posts on Paper.li's blog:
Whoever Tells The Best Story Wins
Storytelling To Grow Your Business Karen's Paper.li
Just Story It on Scoopit
@Kdietz on Twitter