Maximize Storytelling for Online Profit: History & Examples

Keep your audience engaged with storytelling that's adapted to the new rules. Learn how to write content that people will actually read.

Is your audience dropping off? Do they read a few sentences of your post / content and BOUNCE? You haven’t adjusted to the new rules of storytelling. Let me show you how.

Attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. If websites don’t load in as little as 3 seconds, chances are high users will bounce. TV dramas and YouTube Videos are filmed with multiple camera angles and cuts to keep our attention. How can we adjust the long story we need to tell to this new era of quick bites?

When I was young corporate professional I had a supervisor who was just amazing at telling stories in person. Everyone would gather around his desk to listen to him speak. There was a rhythm to his stories… an animation to his hand gestures and he projected explosive facial expressions. Everyone stayed until the end of his stories. All agreed he was a sublime storyteller.

How can we translate an incredible in-person storytelling experience to online? I’ll introduce some background, modern storytelling examples, ways to market your story in real time, and tools to help tell your story.

  • Dramatic Arc / Classic Storytelling
  • Realtime Storytelling in History (Journaling / Freestyle)
  • 21st Century “On the Road” Storytelling Example
  • Realtime Marketing
  • Storytelling Tools

Dramatic Arc / Classic Storytelling

The Story Arc or 3-act format presents a story where a character or a situation moves from one state to another.

  1. You present a scene and / or a character (who/what/where/when). The scene has some early elements of problems / conflict.
  2. Your character changes in response to challenges. Tension rises to a climax.
  3. Situation resolves and story concludes.

We’ve seen these stories over and over – rags to riches, guy gets the girl, etc. Your goal should be to use the elements of storytelling to tell your story in a modern way, using modern tools. Cut through the noise and content firehose of social media.

  1. State your customer’s problem.
  2. Explain what they are missing out on by not addressing the situation. Explain how competitors are addressing the problem and how they are falling behind.
  3. Offer a solution. Your solution which addresses their problems. Provide a call to action to relieve their tension.

You must practice extreme editing. Remove any words that are not essential to communicate your story. There is too much competition to expect users to stay and read long exposition.

Now that we have core story elements and trimmed-down content, let’s think about ways we develop our character of hero product / service.

Character Development

When I think about what keeps me interested in a blog, it seems like it’s the same qualities that keep me interested in books and TV dramas. Plot and character development. (If you are brand and aren’t a “character,” it could be your product that you can focus on and the challenge it faces for market dominance. I think people can route for products and services if they have a good reason to.)

Having an interest in the topic is a given, but often we listen to people who tell the best stories, and tell them with vigor and theatrics.

Be Interesting

Be interesting. Share experiences that are different from the everyday experience. I like watching the show Mad Men – a TV series about the life of a creative director in 1960s New York advertising. As the show progresses you see life through this womanizing man who leads very different lives. In fact, he is not the person he says he is, and the series shows flashbacks that give the viewer glimpses of his past. Viewers want to see how the character develops. In a sense this is what The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald does. It’s what a lot of great literary works and scripts do. How can the average person be interesting?

Have a Backstory

Once you establish quality content on a blog or Web site, people interested in your content often go to the about page. Why? They want to connect with you. As a Web analyst for several large companies, I can tell you the about page is very important for individuals and companies. We all want to connect with people we admire, people we find interesting… people like us… or people we want to be.

Create your backstory:

  • How did you get interested in your blog topic? Explain personal stories… I was fishing with my grandfather when I was a boy…
  • Why do you continue to explore the topic? I find it interesting because these past experiences led me to…
  • What’s your experience? People want to get information from experts. If you’re not an expert, you can still create a great site by explaining that you are learning and documenting your experiences and learnings.

State Your Trajectory

Once people connect with you or your brand, they want to “follow” you. Online this is easy to do with Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. But people are selfish too. We often friend people because they can DO something for us. In a sense online we can ride the coattails of people. If we follow people we think are on an upward trajectory we are likely to write comments and engage.

Everyone wants to get in early on a rising star and “discover” someone. In literature, we route for “heroes.” We also sympathize with them when things get tough. Let people know where you’re going and why they should ride along with you.

Find Your Voice and Tackle Your Challenges

Every good character needs challenges. In blogging, it’s interesting topics and ways of exploring the topic that haven’t been done before. Like photographers say, you can take 50 pictures of the same door, but different lighting conditions can make each photo unique.

The blogs I find most interesting right now are the ones including a mix of text, audio, video, and photos. What better way to document a challenge than with video and text? You get the visuals and the meat with the benefits of search engine optimization. Video increases shares as well. With text, it’s hard to relate to a person behind the words because you get see facial expressions, body language and voice tones. This is where showmanship comes in…


Showmanship can come in many forms. Especially online. When exploring a topic you can demonstrate showmanship through images, video, and audio. Like birdwatching? Maybe create a video of you walking through the jungle to get to the best spot. A lot of times it’s about the journey. Seeing experiences through a character gives perspective. Perspective invites conversation.

Character Development Examples (TV / Print / Blog)

In the past, stories were only passed down through word-of-mouth and books. We now have so many ways to communicate our story. But before delving into realtime marketing and storytelling tools, let’s examine the freestyle method of storytelling. Why is the freestyle method important when the story arc can be effective at telling your story? Creativity. Creativity and variety. It draws people into an adventure and communicates realism. Something that bland corporate brands of yesteryear lack.

Realtime Storytelling in History (Journaling / Freestyle)

The Original On the Road

Jack Kerouac - Storyteller
Jack Kerouac – Photo Credit

People who know me know I’m a big Jack Kerouac fan. I’ve read several of his novels and loved the idea of improvisational storytelling. In the 1940s, it was quite a new method of storytelling. Kerouac popularized it, but the idea came from letters written on-the-go by his friend Neal Cassidy. It was these letters that got me interested in Kerouac and the style of writing.

The freestyle writing was a flow-like state of writing with no editing. It’s as-it-happens writing. In fact, Kerouac used a scroll to type on… there were no individual sheets of paper. I tried my hand at this style using a camera phone and Twitter.

Armed with an iPhone and Twitter, I had the tools to bring Kerouac’s true vision of improvisational storytelling to life – in real time.

Where Kerouac and his motley crew of writers and adventurers only used words, Twitter empowers people today to use words, photos, audio, and even video in real time. And so, my evening started with just that – words and photos.

Modern / FreeStyle “On the Road” Storytelling Example

“Old” ways of storytelling are new again. Living in the city of Houston for several years, it occurred to me that I’ve never taken a city bus to go anywhere. I had this great idea of going “On the Road” with my buddy and ad man, Hal Werner. Well, for a short trip anyway. I planned to take the city bus into downtown Houston. My co-workers were perplexed that I would want to take a city bus, but I told them it would be awesome and agreed to document the short trip via Twitter.


I dashed out Tweets from my Twitter account @KenMorico. Since the iPhone has a built-in microphone, it makes an excellent digital voice recorder, and I was able to capture the city sounds from our bus stop along with our unedited, off-the-cuff commentary.

As the night progressed, I took more photos and wrote more Tweets. The iPhone 4 made a great travel camera… I was able to take photos without drawing too much attention to myself, and at 5 megapixels the photos came out fairly crisp. Using FourSquare (now Swarm App), I was able to check in to places and let people know exactly where I was… creating history in effect.

The Scene and Observations

The bus was a fun time. I thought the bus stop closest to where I lived would be what I needed. Hal explained different. Buses have certain routes, so even though one is closer, it may not take you exactly where you think it might go. Hal used the wonderful Google Maps with embedded bus routes to find our way. The Houston METRO Bus Schedules were horrible and confusing. METRO should really hire a company like [Ken Morico] to redesign their site. Anyways, the people on the bus were interesting. Old, one mentally handicapped, a few pimps, and some fairly normal people. You really notice your surroundings on the bus. With the slow speed of the bus, you see things that you would never notice on familiar routes driving in a fast car.

A man’s night on the town, we visited eateries and bars on a beautiful Friday night in springtime Houston. Downtown has a lot of unique bars and restaurants, like historic La Carafe, Flying Saucer, and Frank’s Pizza.

Kerouac may be dead, and the improvisational style forgotten by many, but I see a new generation of inspired “writers.” Improv is back!

Real-time Marketing

The concept of real-time marketing really blows my mind. It’s what happens when you combine the fast-indexing Googlebot with breaking news and large online audiences. Getting noticed with paid advertising only gets you so far. Injecting your company or yourself in the news in real-time gives you tremendous leverage. It gives you a chance to tell your story. But to play with the big boys and get noticed there’s a problem. You need to rank well in search.

Some large companies can do this because their Websites have been around for a long time and are usually updated by people in the organization who get paid to do it full-time. Successful individual bloggers with good page-rank will almost certainly outrank any small business. New blogs, even with some search engine optimization, will usually drop to the lower ranks in search pages.

Here’s a great video explaining real-time marketing and how it can be done featuring David Meerman Scott:

Having Trouble Coming up with New Story Ideas? Look to Your Past

Content Curation / Ideas

There’s a lot of chatter about content curation versus content creation. Some people say if you’re not good at content creation you should curate content and be active on social media. Content curation has its place — it’s what you should do when you’re not promoting your own content. Don’t be lazy – anyone can create / repurpose content. You might have a content chest you can tear open right now and get a jumpstart.

Be a Content Hoarder

Many people don’t realize they have content hidden away. Oftentimes if there was a presentation of piece of writing I was particularly proud of at work I would save it on my computer. I didn’t have a reason other that I thought at some point it might be useful to me in some way – not in the way it was used for work, but just a different way.

Have you ever written anything down and saved it? Have video, audio, or old school papers? There’s content right there. There’s opportunity to make money off of old content. Even if it doesn’t seem relevant right away. For example, I had a pizza recipe with a story that tied into my hometown and grandmother. It doesn’t directly relate to my blog, but it relates to me as a person, and sometimes people want to know who they are interacting with.

So take the time to archive content you think you have and, going forward, take every opportunity to archive content you create in any form. Curate softly and carry big content!

Learn How to Repurpose Content

There are many ways to repurpose content, but the easiest way would be to take existing textual content and edit it for the the Web and your particular audience. Once you have edited content, you can create a podcast based on that content, YouTube video, SlideShare, etc.

Photos are super easy to repurpose. Who doesn’t have old photos that can spark discussions? Just post and see what happens.

Distribute Your Content Infrequently – Don’t be Obnoxious

I think too many people aren’t social enough when using social media (including me). Instead of sharing links and over-promoting your own work, try setting up a tab in HootSuite to listen to chatter going on in your industry. It’s easy to filter through social media noise when you have power tools like HootSuite. Answer questions.

It’s easier to promote your own work when you help people. I follow some industry leaders that provide very little value on social media. It’s fine to be random at times on social media, but if you’re always off-topic you’ll lose followers… well at least in my book. Some people can get away with it…

Generally 5-15% of the time on social media you should promote your own content according to social media experts like Guy Kawasaki. Seems fair to me.

Help People with Problems – Let Them See Your Content is their Answer

Everyone is happy when there is a win-win. A great goal to set is to create really useful content and convince others that your content can solve their problem. In a sense this is advertising, but with really developed content it’s not advertising — it’s content marketing. I don’t feel sleazy promoting really developed content to anyone and you shouldn’t either. Listen to industry chatter with HootSuite or similar tool and offer to solve problems with your content. When people trust you, you can sell them things. Sell yourself first, then products.


Storytelling is key to getting your message heard. Don’t ignore key storytelling tactics and core structures of storytelling. Tell the story no one walks swipes out on.

If you would like an assessment of content for your business as well as well as a deeper, in-person discussion of tactics to expand your reach, contact me, Ken Morico, Digital Marketing Consultant.

Ken Morico
Web · Ecommerce · SEO · Email Consultant
Fortune 500, influencers, startups. Work with me.
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