iThink | Will you remember this if I tell you a story?

By Owen Cammayo

Human beings are wired to remember stories. The telenovelas and the movies and the novels that entertain us are much more easily lodged in our memory than dry, boring facts. Sometimes you’d be surprised to remember odd or arcane facts or words just because the character in your favorite novel or movie uttered them in one unforgettable scene.

Today, the way we tell stories have become more dynamic. Social media, a technology platform that has pervaded the lives of a large swathe of the population in such a short time, has spawned influencers who are adept at storytelling.

For example, Anne Curtis, one of our lovable and most popular actresses, uses stories in her Instagram posts to give her fans a glimpse of her everyday life, her thoughts, and, of course, the products that she promotes.

Because she has gone to Africa recently and spent almost a month there with her husband Erwann Heussaff for their anniversary, I’m sure her fans learned a bit about hyenas and gorillas and Dian Fossey, whose work led to the protection of gorillas, all because of the stories she told through text and pictures in her Instagram account.

And when she tells little anecdotes about her day and how she used certain products such as a certain brand of lipstick, her more than 10 million followers become a willing audience to her “endorsement”.

As a Public Relations (PR) professional, this is a powerful and useful idea. The ability to influence our “publics” in this era of social media is evolving and must keep up with the times.

Robert Cialdini, a psychology professor and well-known author of the book “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion,” has come up with six principles of persuasion that have served as potent ingredients in successful marketing and communications campaigns:

  1. Reciprocity (people have a tendency to reciprocate favors or gifts)
  2. Commitment and consistency (people look for similar values or characteristics in other people)
  3. Social proof (people tend to decide based on what other people say)
  4. Liking (people like other people who are like them)
  5. Authority (people trust authority and listen to anti-authorities)
  6. Scarcity (people want things that not many people have)

Social proof seems to lend itself to stories well. For me to communicate the value of my product or company, for example, I may need to demonstrate “social proof”. What did other people say or experience about my product or company? What’s their story?

You see this in Amazon’s reviews. Of course you have to take these reviews with a grain of salt. The wisdom of the crowd can be as true as the stupidity of the crowd. So you rely on people you know or people you can relate with.

Another useful checklist is the one from Chip and Dan Heath, authors of the book, “Made to Stick.” They talk about what makes ideas stick in the minds and hearts of people.The authors made up an acronym: SUCCES. It’s success without the last “s”.

  1. Simple — simplicity of the idea is desired
  2. Unexpected — it should grab people by the balls
  3. Concrete — abstract ideas are to be avoided
  4. Credible — authority figures and details are important
  5. Emotional — make people feel something
  6. Stories — stories are better at getting people to act

In one of their anecdotes, they told the story of a man named Jared, who, in the late 1990s, lost almost a hundred pounds in three months just by eating Subway sandwiches for lunch and dinner, and starting an exercise regimen. Subway eventually took advantage of the inspiring story to create a successful campaign that landed them in the national papers, a feature in Oprah, and an 18-percent jump in sales in 2000 compared to flattish numbers in 1999.

More recently, in the Philippines, we have the success of Jollibee with their “Kwentong Jollibee” campaign which went viral on social media. Who hasn’t watched any or remembered some of their heart-warming, poignant stories? The stories they tell are stories that ring true to many of us. And the logical channel to spread these stories is via social media.

Can we do the same in PR to communicate our messages? How can we create stories that stick in this age of social media? How can we package the stories in appropriate formats in this digital world? Are we maximizing the use of stories in our PR campaigns?

And because social media can also be abused, we must ask, Are we using these stories in a responsible way to persuade, inform, educate, inspire? And not to deceive, confuse, misinform, or sow discord?

We all want to hear good, truthful stories that, with the help of checklists and principles, can be made to “stick”. And that’s the exciting challenge for us today. With new media and technologies that enhance the way we communicate, it’s going to be a challenge that will require as much creativity as psychological insight into how we consume little stories we can remember.

The author is the head of corporate affairs and communications at BPI

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