Writing for Social Media: Building a Fiction We Believe In
Transparency and authenticity are still two of the most important qualities that social media specialists tell brands to employ when they engage conversation online.
This honest approach seems like a reasonable way to avoid bad buzz or big mistakes, but it does not seem to be the most important thing when generating a strong commitment from communities with organizations online.
We believe in more.
Whether you love or hate traditional advertising, you can't neglect the fact that most iconic TV copy is based in fantasy, irrelevance and daring to provide something more. And most of them succeed in becoming cultural objects, shared among a wide diversity of generations or social classes.
You may remember the famous "Hello boys" line, supposedly said by Eva Herzigova on Wonderbra's poster, which was accused of distracting (male) car drivers and causing accidents in 2002. It's a clear narrative which could enter one's mind, become a topic to discuss with mates and eventually give rise to a public interest as everybody could suddenly express an opinion on the topic: Was it really a safety-issue? Is Eva Herzigova really responsible for causing all this trouble? Are modern men really like that? Is sex still bankable? What's this representation of women?
This anecdotic example is not that far from what brands try to create online - a trigger, a call-to-action, a viral piece of content. Something that makes a statement about the brand.
And more importantly, this ad remained in our minds for a long time. In comparison, who remembers what was tweeted yesterday during the World Cup final?
We need more than social cues and social electrical hazards here and there to really settle a brand in our brains.
A story is something to negotiate with readers; an experience is something to be dealt to users.
What's the difference between a good story and a bad story? This debate is more valid today than it has ever been. Style, aesthetic, societal issues, topics that give clues to how we can better understand why a book is suddenly a blockbuster.
For instance, it's hard not to see the relationship between the best-selling novel turned movie "The Fault in our Stars" (a love story between two teenagers suffering from cancer who fall in love) and Stephen Sutton's amazing life-lesson (the young man died of cancer after a bucket list of 46 things he wanted to achieve before passing away). Stephen Sutton became the leading figure of Teenage Cancer Trust; and despite the fact he's no longer on Earth, his fan-page keeps acting, supporting thousands of patients and fighting against cancer. Stephen Sutton then became of "fictional" stricto sensu, whom we keep believing in.
Why in 2014, is there a sudden peak for this thematic? Luck cannot be invoked when millions of minds suddenly turn together in the same direction. A strange chemistry happened; and among the billions of topics which could rise, readers, users, citizens decided to pick this one.
It then does not mean that fiction is not tangible: it just means that the story has a life beyond its initiators. And that you and me become shareholders of the reputation of this story. Even more challenging: a story needs to become a fiction to reach more people.
The textual cooperation (Umberto Eco) helps us understand how we should write for social media.
There's a sort of "unconsciousness in text" as Eco explains. To make a text (or a content in general) be fully accepted, there must be a strong understanding of the readers, of the "users." For one single copy of content, the idea is that there can be multiple worlds which suddenly open. The reader and the author enter a sort of "textual cooperation" together, playing with hidden meanings, codes, cultures, and acceptance.This approach helps us a lot in understanding why some brands or organizations perform better in social media; most of the successful organizations are the ones that know (intuitively or not) how to play with this interpretative freedom.
When Oreo expressed its support for LGBT rights, it was not only a timely tactic: it was also because this cookie is far more than a cookie, it's all about togetherness. The brand also has a strong cultural inheritance: in the US, you generally twist, lick and then dunk the cookie. Something which could never really happen in France where the population hasn't been taught to do so. By providing consistent copy that users can refer to, to set up their own rules, the brand has become famous among communities which were not even able to buy the cookies in retail.
This unconsciousness in social media content can be a fantastic territory to explore for smart brands or organizations. One of the brightest ideas is probably what Shu Uemura and Karl Lagerfeld's cat Choupette have dealt. The cat of the famous fashion designer will be the new face of Shu Uemura's new makeup collection. And this collaboration coincides with Choupette's debut novel.
Is it a transparent or authentic approach? Not sure, but we know it's aligned to what consumers, social media users want to breath when it comes to the three brands. It brings a new character to the table, which is probably more inspiring than any available model. And people are going to be able to collude their own worlds of references to this mash-up.
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