Content marketing builds affinity, engagement and trust with potential and current customers. Unlike direct marketing, which explicitly demands a consumer’s money in exchange for goods or services, content marketing gently pushes the customer down the marketing funnel and hopefully converts them from stranger to brand advocate.
It’s no surprise that storytelling (in particular, visual storytelling) has become a potent form of content marketing because it introduces a human element to the mix. Instead of relying on content forms like listicles, how to’s, etc, storytelling builds engagement through empathetic or sympathetic characters. A character might be inspirational (a paralympian), aspirational (Serena Williams), or even someone we want to help (an impoverished child).
Effective storytelling needs to be easily digestible by your audience, and therefore, marketers rely on traditional storytelling arcs with a beginning, middle and end. A well-produced story will never go out of style, but we have witnessed a generational shift in the assessment of authenticity. Telling a story in real time shows your audience a more authentic view.
What is real-time?
Real-time storytelling can take a few forms:
- Real-time (or near real-time) publishing: The 2018 Women’s March Chicago team deployed 50+ visual storytellers throughout the city, and collected and published stills and video in minutes through their social media channels and the press.
- Publishing a real-time recorded, but not edited, story: Many influencers have been criticized for their hyper-curated social media feeds. Instagram Stories and Snap, then, provide a way to show a more “authentic,” real-time view. These platforms allow organizations and brands to upload visual snippets. Brands become more relatable by editorializing their content through the inclusion of stickers, memes, or crude drawings.
Real-time isn’t an excuse for poor production quality. The audience can tolerate a lack of editing, but poor audio/visual quality can quickly torpedo your efforts.
No seriously, people consume real-time content?
If you’re over a certain age, your conception of real-time content is likely relegated to sporting events via TV broadcasts. But in the past few years, the delivery mechanisms have drastically diversified and the types of content have become more niche – appealing to very specific (but still large) swaths of consumers.
- Amazon Prime broadcasts live AVP beach volleyball tournaments starting with the qualifying rounds.
- Twitch provides a platform for gamers to livestream their gameplay (and more, like ASMR) while building subscribers and collecting monetary donations.
- YouTube and Facebook have provided mechanisms for live streaming for several years.
- Following the lead of many talk radio shows, podcasters are now live streaming video feeds during their shows.
- Festivals like the Red Bull Music Academy have included real-time content to augment their in-person audiences.
- Online education services like CreativeLive entice users to watch lessons live for free, then sell the recorded content for offline consumption.
- Sports teams like the Colorado Rockies transmit photos during games to multiple social media channels.
- Fashion brands like Burberry have started live streaming their seasonal fashion shows (and making product available directly thereafter) to circumvent reliance on traditional fashion publications to show their product. Real-time storytelling allows them to control the narrative.
- The South Korean phenomenon of mukbang is a livestream of someone eating massive quantities of food. Mukbang stars like @eodyd188 have millions of followers.
- The Photo Brigade’s Robert Caplin uses Facebook Live to interview some of the world’s top photojournalists.
- News outlets augment more formal coverage of events with live tweets. For example, MacRumors regularly live tweets coverage of Apple keynote events announcing new products like the iPhone.
- Unboxing videos are captured in real time but often amass the most eyeballs at a later date. It is a great example of how the spontaneity of doing something in real time can effectively communicate a story and build an audience.
As you can see by the examples, real-time doesn’t just mean live streaming video. Different constituents consume content in different ways. Video, photos, tweets, etc can all be used to tell a story and build an audience.
Communicate with your audience in real time
Talk radio is a primal form of real-time storytelling, and provides a good example of how to enable two-way communications. On the radio, the basic template is for the host to go on about a topic for several minutes then allow callers to ask questions or give their opinions. The unpredictability of real-time content can make for compelling listening, like the time host Bob Fass saved a man from suicide while live on the radio.
Real-time storytelling presents many challenges from a production perspective, with limited editing capabilities, lack of retraction mechanisms, etc. But that shouldn’t dissuade you from considering communicating back with your audience.
Celebrities like John Mayer “go live” and have conversations with followers who ask questions or comment via text while Mayer responds via video. His real-time activity augments his regular presence on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and the more traditional music outlets like live performances, album sales and music streaming services. Mayer builds affinity with his audience through real-time interaction in a controlled environment.
Should your organization publish in real time?
The question isn’t whether you should or not, but rather, can you identify which stories within your organization could help expand and reinforce your audience if they were told in real time. If you have a small online footprint, then real-time storytelling might not provide an adequate return on investment. You might be better served with a more traditional online audience building campaign.
On the other hand, really compelling real-time content might rapidly expand your audience. Contemporary tools and apps provide incredibly low cost ways to test marketing ideas, and with proper planning, real-time storytelling might provide a different and significant connection with your audience.
For a deeper look at how brands are navigating demands for real-time visual storytelling, check out The 2018 Report: Engaging Your Audience With Visual Content.