As the chief blogger on our first blog, Cat’s Eye Marketing, my tagline was Educate, Engage, Entertain. Being a newbie, I watched bloggers and read a lot of different blogs. And I recognized that that many of the successful ones could be described as ‘useful.’
There is nothing wrong with that. It’s a great way to go with a blog. We all need this kind of stuff, things that will help us improve our businesses or our lives.
But over time I came to see that the other part of the equation, the story, is what keeps readers most interested in the things I am educating them about.
They go hand in hand.
Is Storytelling Right for Your Blog?
In conversations with my readers, sometimes they have legitimate concerns about using stories on their own blogs. One reader said this:
“Telling stories doesn’t come naturally to me. I was also afraid that I would turn my clients off if I shared my heart as well as my brain. But I’ll never forget the day when I realized that my content was showing up, but I wasn’t. Since then, I’ve learned that people connect to me, to themselves and to each other through stories. They are looking for a “me, too!” moment that shows that they are not alone in their challenges. Those moments don’t come through facts and figures; they come through stories.”
I used to worry about this very thing when I was blogging for our marketing business. There were definitely potential clients who wouldn’t be comfortable with marketing through stories.
But, funny thing, they were not the ones I wanted to work with anyway.
Using stories to hit the heart as well as the head helped me find my true clients, the ones who had the same marketing and relationship building philosophy that I did.
Still, sometimes it can be a delicate dance, what you share and how much. And opening up in our blog posts can make us feel vulnerable.
Certainly, if it is not comfortable for you, if you fear you are revealing too much of yourself and what makes you tick, if you are pretty sure that your customers or clients want that formal line between you as a business and you as a person, then storytelling on your blog may not be for you.
Because, regardless of what the ‘gurus’ say, storytelling is not for everyone.
I recently read Victoria Mixon’s groundbreaking book, The Art & Craft of Story. While she is talking to writers of fiction, what she says is just as true for bloggers. She explains some of this in the guest post she wrote for my blog, Storytelling for Business Bloggers.
Her message is this: You are unique. Your history, your life experiences are unlike any other person’s in the world. And looking at your own life will teach you how to tell unique stories.
That’s powerful stuff. If you turn the camera on yourself, could you possibly have ways of looking at an issue or problem that that next blogger can’t duplicate? Could your life experiences relate to a post topic in story form, in a way that drives your point home in a unique and entertaining way?
If you see some value in telling stories on your blog, if you’d like to try it but don’t know where to start, here is one idea for a template. Just plug in your own story and you are ready to go.
A 5-Step Storytelling Formula
1. Figure out the point of your post.
This may seem like going at things backwards, but you must know the ending, the theme or point of your post before you begin. It usually can be summed up in a few words or one sentence at the most.
What is the one thing you are trying to say? What one thing will apply to all of your readers, regardless of their background and experiences?
I talked about this on the bobwp blog a few posts ago, but in case you missed it, I suggest that you write it on a sticky note (I like the shocking pink color), put it on your computer monitor at eye level and keep it front and center with each word you write.
2. Pull them in with an interesting hook.
Your blog post title and your opening paragraph are your hook. Picture a reader browsing in a Barnes and Noble store. If the title of the book grabs her (and that’s a big “if”), she will open the book and read the first sentence.
Will she read the next one (and buy the book)? Or will she put it back on the shelf, never to return?
You want your reader to think, “What’s going on here? I need to find out.” There are many ways to pull this off, but making your reader curious or surprised is one of the best.
Example of a Headline Hook:
Why I’m Dumping the Cat’s Eye Writer Blog
If you were a regular reader of my Cat’s Eye Writer blog, this post would make you sit up. Is she really quitting blogging? Why?
This post prepared my readers for my transition from the Cat’s Eye Writer copywriting blog to my newly branded author site, Judy Lee Dunn.
Example of an Opening Paragraph Hook:
The other day I unfollowed someone on Twitter. At first glance, we appeared to have lots in common. He’s a writer, I’m a writer. I thought I could learn something new from him. But then election season hit.
Here, the reader is thinking, “What does election season have to do with anything?” I wanted my reader to stay on the page to find out.
3. Paint an image-rich setting and introduce characters we will care about.
When you are telling a story, the character can make or break your post. Make it someone we can emotionally invest in, someone we will care about. Sometimes the character will be you, the blogger. Other times, it might be your reader.
Example of a Character and a Setting:
There are small towns. There are rural communities. And then there are islands. Islands that have no bridges, only ferries.
Ferries that blast their horns on foggy days. That break down at the worst possible moment, when you have an important meeting with a new client. Ferries that will take you back home—if you show up before the last one leaves the dock, at 7:30 on the dot.
When you arrive just 10 seconds late, the ferry workers in bright orange vests are pulling the thick wet ropes in and locking the gate. You are stuck on the mainland, cursing that ‘careful’ driver in front of you, who chugged along at 16 miles an hour all along the tree-line road that leads to the ferry landing.
You would have made it if not for her.
This was the lead-in to a guest post I wrote for Becky McCray’s Small Biz Survival blog. I was setting readers up for the challenges of operating a business in a remote location and figuring out how to make it work. I wanted the reader to be right there with me on that road, stressing out about whether I would make that last ferry.
4. Set up your conflict.
Your conflict is your problem. What are you helping your readers figure out? It should be a problem they are itching to solve.
This is the part where something happens. Tell us a problem you have had in your business or industry—one that you weren’t sure how to solve.
In this post, Google Said I Died: Will That Be Bad for Business?, the problem was how to control my online reputation when other people with the same name as mine were being talked about on the web.
As the story unfolds, I am at my computer, just minding my own business, when a Google Alert lands in my in-box, with a link to Judy Dunn’s obituary. So my conflict (problem) is this: What do I do when a negative news story about another Judy Dunn hits the web (if dying can be considered negative)?
Example of a Conflict:
Sometimes a Google Alert comes in that wakes you up. Like last Wednesday, when I found out I had died. It was kind of weird because I wasn’t really expecting it. I was just reading along and, bam, there it was: my death notice.
So there we have it: our problem. Now this was an extreme example, and obviously, it wasn’t this Judy Dunn who died, but what do we do if a name alike’s story hits the Internet and people confuse one Judy Dunn with another one?
5. Finish with a resolution that shows the choice your character made.
This is where you reach the whole point of your story—how it ends and what it means for your reader. The best characters go through a change and make a new choice. By the time you end your post, you should leave your readers with how and why you changed your mind, your opinion, or your way of thinking or feeling about something.
Using the Google Said I Died example again, I end with a resolution of the problem. I show the steps I took to manage my online reputation so I could be sure the good stuff I was doing online came up higher in search engine rankings than the other people with my name.
Example of a Resolution:
If you are a solopreneur or small business owner, and people relate to your name rather than your business, it makes sense to keep an eye on the places you are appearing on the web. You may not have died, like I did, but one of your name-alikes might have done something truly dreadful, like embezzling the company’s receipts, or breaking into a family’s house and drinking all the Scotch. Here are some things you can do to separate yourself from them: …
What about you?
Could your business benefit from telling stories on your blog?
What kinds of stories could you tell?