Digital storytelling will never work without a terrific story

Search engine optimization, tagging, and our need for something new to chew on produces nouveau terms such as "digital storytelling."

Search engine optimization, tagging, and our need for something new to chew on produces nouveau terms such as "digital storytelling." While the terms get us up to speed on a new idea or product (such as smartphones or, my favorite, the fanny pack), they also do us a disservice, generally by placing undue emphasis on one element (as with "fanny.")

However, we've all heard about digital storytelling - ad nauseam perhaps. And, indeed, for good reason: today's hyper-social and digital world has created a fertile storytelling and sharing environment, one that can be fruitfully harvested by organizations and brands. At times, though, it seems we get laser focused on the digital part and end up losing sight of the most important element: the story. An organization could use every digital channel known to mankind to talk about its new linoleum in the third-floor kitchen area, but one doubts how well it would be received or, at the very least, how well it ties back to business objectives.

In this era of social media, communities, and networking, it's too easy to get caught up in the thrill of establishing yet another social channel. Organizations do this repeatedly - jumping on Google+ while their Facebook page has been untouched for three weeks or signing on to Pinterest with no YouTube channel in play. I liken it to someone who brags about belonging to 13 health clubs, but works out once a month. It's not about the quantity of digital channels. It's not about digital at all. It always was and will be about the story.

Did Kony 2012 receive 83 million views because it's a video on YouTube? Because it's digital? Or, because it's told as a good story on the right channel? Without question, video was the proper format to tell the story. The tale of Joseph Kony, one of the world's worst war criminals, is a highly emotional topic and video is your greatest ally in driving and deepening emotions. It's showing us things many of us have never seen before - forcing us to confront that which many like to pretend never happens.

Moreover, video is a very shareable digital medium, especially when coupled with Facebook and Twitter. If your friends and family share it, you are more inclined to watch it. But those are the digital factors in the equation - the absolutes. The story is like the pi of the equation, the irrational number that makes the magic happen. 

David Krejci is an EVP of social media and digital communications at Weber Shandwick's Minneapolis office.

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