You went out for brunch yesterday but you forgot to snap a photo of your pumpkin-ginger waffles, did you really go out for brunch?
On your last trip to Los Angeles, Facebook’s airport check-in was broken so none of your friends could see that you were traveling, did you really go to LA?
If you’re thinking “what am I reading right now?” let me explain how twisted a lot of twenty — and thirtysomethings are today.
There’s an ongoing joke that if you did something interesting but you didn’t document it on social media with a picture, video, location check-in, etc, then it didn’t really happen.
Facebook > Real Life
This is, of course, an exaggeration of a less funny theme: connection.
We’ve talked a bit about the importance of storytelling in business, but we haven’t talked much about why your business needs a clear Theme and High Stakes.
One of the reasons Facebook is a mega hit is because it has a clearly defined theme with high stakes.
“When Facebook launched, its theme was (and remains) “connect with your friends.” The stakes were implied: If you don’t connect with someone on Facebook, you aren’t friends,” says Brian Scordato.
Brian wrote an excellent article for Fast Company that explains the basics of storytelling in business.
My 3 big takeaways from Brian’s article were:
1. You need to make people care.
“Entrepreneurs’ main task is to make people care: customers, cofounders, investors — everyone. The problem is most peoples’ default state is to not care. You’re reading this, but I could lose you at any second. You owe me nothing. Each sentence is a transaction: I write something interesting, you read another sentence.
“The conventions of storytelling help with this transaction. They’re a shortcut to help get across what you’re building and why it’s interesting — quickly.”
2. To make people care about your story, you need to have a theme.
“Everything great has a clear theme, says Brian. “Books, startups, movies, vacations, online dating profiles, a dinner party — everything. But themes are hard, particularly for entrepreneurs. They force us to do something we hate: Focus.
“To make things more confusing, most entrepreneurs (rightfully) preach ‘lean,’ a methodology that prioritizes testing and iteration and encourages experimentation and data-based decisions. But a dangerous misunderstanding of the lean mindset tends to serve as an excuse to stay unfocused.
“When I was building a startup called 3Degrees, I initially shied away from launching it as a Facebook-driven dating app for people under 30 (which didn’t yet exist). Instead, I built an unfocused ‘connection’ tool. “Let’s launch with a bunch of features and see what resonates,” I thought. “If people date, we’ll build a dating app. Let’s not exclude anyone.”
“I wasted six months and a bunch of investor money. Entrepreneurs tend to use lean methodology to paper over their fear of choosing a unique, unifying theme because that always feels risky — even if the bigger risk is having no theme at all.”
3. A good theme usually has high stakes.
“When Facebook launched, its theme was (and remains) “connect with your friends.” The stakes were implied: If you don’t connect with someone on Facebook, you aren’t friends. Yikes.
“Facebook’s features, “share photos and videos, send messages, and get updates,” all support the theme of connecting with friends.
“On the other hand, Twitter whiffed here (and still whiffs). Its theme isn’t clear, so the stakes aren’t clear. Twitter is for, uh, “breaking news and entertainment, sports, and politics . . . with all live commentary”? Huh? If I’m not on Twitter, then what? Well, that simply lets customers do what they love doing most: Nothing. Think maybe I’ll download it and “see what’s happening” some other time.
“What are your stakes? What does the customer have to lose if they’re left out? Do they care? Is there urgency? And how does it fit with your theme?”
Going back to our original question, if it’s not on Facebook, did it actually happen?
How would you answer that question knowing what you know now?
The logical answer is whatever you did, whether it was documented on social media or not, happened.
But our emotional answer, the thing we care about, is telling us it didn’t happen.
This is weird and some of you might disagree or feel like you don’t need Facebook’s validation, let me be clear, you don’t. But the majority of us feel like we do.
We can’t help it. We need the tribe to like us or we won’t survive. Again, not literally won’t survive, but emotionally we feel like we’ll die.
You can see why having a theme with high stakes creates strong emotional connections with your customers and audience. It would be foolish not to take advantage of these benefits.
Remember, the goal is to make your customers care. Storytelling is just one way to accomplish that.
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