Tag Archives: social media

‘But what’s the story?’ and my most stressful class as a journalism student

(Please don’t look at the end of this post before you read the whole writing! Great, now you are scrolling down. Please don’t! Just read!)

Yesterday it was #WorldStorytellingDay (it’s rather unbelievable that there is a day for nearly everything – it is probably nothing to do with PR people *wink, wink*).  Storytelling has become a buzzword which is probably in connection with the proliferation of digital and social platforms that facilitate storytelling majorly. The rise of social media and the migration of traditional media online have fundamentally changed the relationship between brands and their consumers. They are now more connected and they share a more intimate bond than ever. Consumers now expect brands to entertain them and to be able to feel part of the brand’s story. A brand is not just about products and services any more. It is a media company. It is a whole different world with stories, conversations and a range of visual content.


I learnt the importance of storytelling during my undergraduate studies when I studied journalism in Stirling. We had a tutor who had a 100% no-bullshit policy (excuse my language). He was very strict and very bald with no sense of diplomacy at all – but he knew what he was talking about. Although most of the people were dreading to go to his classes – some left early crying-, I actually loved them. I loved how he pushed us harder and harder, how he challenged us and how good enough was not good enough. Because when you finally got it right, you got it very right and you knew it was a hard-earned and well-deserved recognition from him. Everything I know about storytelling is firmly based on those tutorials.

University of Stirling

University of Stirling

One day we spent an entire 2-hour class with him repeating ‘But what’s the story?’ He was first teaching us to write a lead based on the inverted pyramid model and then he put an Excel table in front of us with myriads of figures – and he asked again, ‘What’s the story?’ Then he put on BBC News with a really high volume to make it even harder to concentrate, make sense of the figures and come up with a story. ‘But what’s the story? But what’s the story? But what’s the story?’, he continued asking, dismissing all our ‘non-story’ story ideas. I think, this was the point when someone started to cry. Eventually, I managed to come up with something that triggered the casual reply of “Hm, that might make a story, actually”. This remark meant that the most stressful – but most inspiring – class of my Stirling career was over as we found a story. That class planted the seeds of storytelling in me. I learnt how to shut the noise out (let that be data noise or BBC News) and how to see the forest from the tree, namely how to make a story. It developed my sense of what a story is and what a good story and a bad story is like.

Although there are many types of stories, as a news story is different from a bed time story that is different from a brand story, the fundamentals are the same:

  • Have a point.
  • Entertain.
  • Get the audience involved in the story (emotionally or otherwise).

According to my Consumer PR tutor, there are five kinds of narratives that can never go wrong catching attention:

  1. The before and after story
  2. The discovery story
  3. Telling secrets story
  4. The 3rd person testimonial
  5. The Us vs Them Saga

All of these can be and are used by brands to catch attention and bond with consumers.  For example, the latter one is well illustrated by Domestos that has a brand story of ‘us against bacteria’.

The story is a powerful one with Domestos being the hero who will save you from the mean bacteria.

Now answer honestly: which part of this blog post did you enjoy the most? Where were you the most drawn in? I bet it was where I am writing about my extremely stressful class with my crazy no-nonsense tutor. How do I know? It was a story.

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A piece of statistics is worth a thousand words

‘A picture is worth a thousand words’, goes the often cited saying but the same can be true for a figure if it is chosen well. I learnt this as during this semester my class held debates about controversial issues in PR. I chose to debate about this motion:

“Social media has helped put the public back into public relations: two-way conversations and content sharing have replaced one-way publicity driven communications and media manipulation.”

The motion is based on Grunig and Hunt’s (1984) four models of PR. They argued that the two-way symmetrical model should be used by all PR practitioners. This has been accepted by the Excellence Theory which is the dominant paradigm in today’s PR world.

As I am always on the look-out for articles and blog posts about PR and social media (just check out my Scoop.it page, where I curate the ones I propose to be the most interesting/useful), I have come across the above notion myriads of times. So my natural instinct was ’Yes, that is probably true’ so I went to support the CONTRA side in the debate. (I know, this sounds illogical – I stepped up on the opposite side because I wanted to perfect my debate skills and the best way to do so is to argue against your beliefs.) I argued so well that by the end of the debate I managed to convince myself that two-way communication has a long way to go until it will become reality.keep-calm-and-debate-on-8

Right now I think that there is a huge gap between reality and the potential of social media for utilising the two-way communication model. The two-way symmetrical model remains, therefore, a normative model as opposed to a positive one. Statistics speak for themselves. I’ll just share two arguments against the motion based on facts.

Firstly, two-way communication on social media has not replaced the one-way model simply because the majority of the people on this planet do not have access to social media. There is a huge digital divide. The number to remember is 61%. For me, it was staggering to learn that 61% of people still do not have access to the Internet, according to ITU. Additionally, of those who have, a lot of people do not have proper social media skills, they do not speak English which is the dominant language on social platforms or simply they just do not care about social media. Brands use Twitter and Facebook the most frequently to interact with their audiences in a two-way manner (if they do at all), yet only 67.66% of Internet users have an active account on Facebook and 43.24% on Twitter, according to GlobalWebIndex. Social media, therefore, is far from being socially inclusive. This is very important to keep in mind when planning a global PR campaign.

Secondly, the basis for two-way symmetrical communication – the one that every PR practitioner should theoretically aim at – is to not only push messages at audiences but to gain feedback and to respond to them so that the interest and preferences of the audiences are served just as well as the organisation’s. A lot of people (if not most of them) are using branded social media as a kind of customer service. They would like to gain information about organisations or they would like to complain about, rarely praise, their services. Yet, based on Socialbakers.com figures response rates from brands on social media platforms are still far from satisfactory – and so the interests of the organisation’s audiences are not served properly. The airline industry is almost there but in the alcohol industry, which is doing the worst, only 32% of posts get a response on Facebook and it is even worse on Twitter.

response rate facebook twitter

So PRs are still far from ace-ing the two-way symmetrical model and it has definitely not replaced the ‘old’ one-way model. This is what organisations need to realise and they should not be satisfied with having social media accounts and posting contents regularly. The devil is in the detail. The devil is in how audiences get heard by organisations on social media.

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