11 Storytelling Formulas to Supercharge Your Social Media Marketing

11 Storytelling Formulas to Supercharge Your Social Media Marketing

Apple tells stories of people challenging the norms Nike tells stories of people doing the impossible Airbnb tells stories of travelers living in homes around the world and belonging anywhere. Before – After – Bridge Before — Describe the world with Problem A. Set the stage of a problem that your target audience is likely to experience — ideally a problem that your company solves. In his TED talk, The power of storytelling to change the world, he shared the story formula he has been using for his stories. Once you introduce the character of the story, describe how things went awful for her, using emotions to draw your audience into your story. Example: 5 storytelling tips from amazing storytellers Armed with these 11 storytelling formulas, you are ready to tell your brand stories. (Visual Element) (Emphasis mine) // To be updated: In terms of storytelling format, here’re 20 creative ways to use social media for storytelling for your inspiration (link). Here’s my favorite advice from his article: Creating detailed imagery helps craft the setting YOU want Want to get people swept up in your stories? (Emphasis mine) The awesome thing about storytelling on social media is that you can use multimedia such as images and videos to complement your words. In his Harvard Business Review article, A Refresher on Storytelling 101, he shared seven advice on successful storytelling, and this is my favorite: Parachute in, don’t preamble.

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Legendary marketer, Seth Godin, describes marketing as “the art of telling a story that resonates with your audience and then spreads.”

If you look at some of the biggest brands around, you might notice that they are often amazing storytellers.

  • Apple tells stories of people challenging the norms
  • Nike tells stories of people doing the impossible
  • Airbnb tells stories of travelers living in homes around the world and belonging anywhere.

But how do you tell compelling stories? How do you tell stories that your audience wants to hear? And how do you tell your brand story?

While researching on the topic of storytelling, I discovered several tested-and-proven storytelling formulas — formulas used by companies like Pixar, Apple, and more.

These formulas can be applied to your company’s overall marketing, content you produce, social media updates, copy on your website, and more.

Ready to jump in?

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11 Storytelling Formulas to Supercharge Your Social Media Marketing header image

11 storytelling formulas to supercharge your social media marketing

1. Three-Act Structure

Setup — Set the scene and introduce the character(s)

Confrontation or “Rising action” — Present a problem and build up the tension

Resolution — Resolve the problem

The three-act structure is one of the oldest and most straightforward storytelling formulas. You might recognize this structure in many of the stories you come across.

In the first act, set the stage and introduce the character(s) of the story. In the second act, present a problem faced by the character(s) and build up the tension. In the third act, deliver the climax of the story by resolving the problem (with your product or service).

Example:

Emily turned her passion into a business. She enjoys every moment of it... apart from the bookkeeping, financial statements, and taxes. But, she doesn't have to do them herself.
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Three-act structure example

2. Freytag’s Pyramid: Five-Act Structure

Exposition — Introduce important background information

Rising action — Tell a series of events to build up to the climax

Climax — Turn the story around (usually the most exciting part of the story)

Falling action — Continue the action from the climax

Dénouement — Ending the story with a resolution

The Freytag’s Pyramid is created by Gustav Freytag when he analyzed the stories by Shakespeare and ancient Greek storytellers.

It is a more elaborate form of the three-act structure, which puts emphasis on the climax and the falling action of the story as much as the other parts of the story.

Example:

As a fast-growing startup, we work on many things at once. Emails and personal to-do lists were great when we were smaller. As we grew, collaborations became messy. Where's that file? What's the progress of this project? Who's working on this? Then, we discovered Trello! Now, we have everything in one place — comments, files, to-do lists, and more. Team collaboration has never been better before.
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Freytag’s Pyramid example

3. Before – After – Bridge

Before — Describe the world with Problem A.

After — Imagine what it’d be like having Problem A solved.

Bridge — Here’s how to get there.

This is our favorite storytelling and copywriting formula. We have been using it for our blog post introductions but it can be applied to social media updates, email campaigns, and other marketing messages.

Set the stage of a problem that your target audience is likely to experience — ideally a problem that your company solves. Describe a world where that problem didn’t exist. Explain how to get there or present the solution (i.e. your product or service).

Example:

Creating great social media images takes time. Imagine taking only 15 minutes to design one. With Canva, you can make stunning graphics in just a few clicks.
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Before-After-Bridge example

4. Problem – Agitate – Solve

Problem — Present a problem

Agitate — Agitate the problem

Solve — Solve the problem

This is one of the most popular copywriting formulas, which is great for storytelling, too.

The structure is quite similar to the Before-After-Bridge formula. First, you present a problem. Second, instead of presenting the “After”, you intensify the problem with emotional language. Finally, you solve the problem by offering your product or services.

Example:

Video calls aren't always fun. Distracting background noises, no video images, and poor connection. Unless you are using Zoom.
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Problem-Agitate-Solve example

5. Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle

Why — Why the company exists

How — How the company fulfills its Why

What — What the company does to fulfill its Why

Simon Sinek’s TED talk, How great leaders inspire action, is one of the most viewed TED talks ever, with more than 30 million views so far. He explained that great companies like Apple inspire people and succeed because they use the Golden Circle formula.

Always start with your Why — Why are you in this business? What motivates you? Then, explain how your company will achieve your Why. Finally, describe in tangible terms what your company does to bring your Why to life (i.e. your products and services).

Example:

At Basecamp we want to do everything we can to help restore work-life balance. Work has a way of encroaching. Work calls on Friday at 9 pm or pings on Sunday at 6 pm as you’re sitting down for dinner with the family. It’s time to take a stand. So we’ve built a feature into Basecamp 3 we call Work Can Wait™.
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Golden Circle example

6. Dale Carnegie’s Magic Formula

Incident — Share a relevant, personal experience

Action — Describe the specific action taken to solve or prevent a problem

Benefit — State the benefits of the action

How to Win Friends and Influence People is one of our favorite books at Buffer. After studying many great leaders, the author, Dale Carnegie, developed this simple three-step storytelling formula that can help you persuade your audience.

Open your story with a personal experience relevant to your point to grab your audience’s attention. Describe the actions you took chronologically, showing that a change was needed. Wrap up the story by connecting the change to its benefits. (This could be a customer’s testimonial, too!)

Example:

I've tried many to-do list apps, and none have ever worked for me. Then I discovered Omni-Focus thanks to a recommendation from a highly-respected startup founder. My productivity has skyrocketed since I started using it, and I now feel calmer and happier at work, too!
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Magic Formula example

7. Dave Lieber’s V Formula

Introduce the character

Bring the story to its lowest point

Turn it around and finish with a happy ending

Dave Lieber is a keynote speaker and the Dallas Morning News Watchdog columnist, who has been telling stories for almost 40 years. In his TED talk, The power of storytelling to change the world, he shared…

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