During a class at the Sports Business Institute Barcelona (SBI Barcelona) we talked about creating web content that sells and engages. Program director Diego Valdes listed several techniques that can be applied for writing engaging copy, but the one that stuck with me was ‘telling compelling stories’. As a professional social media manager, I am aware that factors mentioned in the script of SBI Barcelona, such as focusing on key messages, keeping sentences short, asking questions, including a call-to-action, or posting at the right time, are equally important. However, telling a compelling story in the right context has always been my priority.
In an interview with Dan Schawbel (Forbes 2012), Paul Smith, author of Lead with a Story, discussed the seven elements he advocates to turn a good story into a great story. Even though these seven elements are primarily meant to help business people craft stories as a leadership tool, I see the potential to use them for social media storytelling. We will now analyze how the MLS club New York City FC (NYC FC), a franchise of Manchester City FC, went about using the story of David Villa Sánchez, their first ever player signing, on Facebook.
#1 Start with the context
On 2 June 2014, the New York City FC Facebook page posted the very first picture with David Villa Sánchez, welcoming the Spanish superstar to the club. The text was short and told the most important facts (context) of the story: «Welcome to New York City: David Villa Sánchez officially signs as New York City FC’s first ever player. #VillatoNYCFC». The chosen hashtag was a good addition underlining the context of the story.
It is essential for the storyteller – in this case, the club – to kick off strong by leading the audience into the story with the right context. It might seem like an obvious thing to do, but if we look at how AC Milan introduced Keisuke Honda, I claim that the Serie A side could have done much better. The first picture of Mr Honda (that I found in this context) showed him shortly before his medical test with the text, ‘Honda ready for the medical tests’. In my opinion, this is not the most flattering photo and situation.
#2 Use metaphors and analogies
Mr Smith stated, “A well-chosen metaphor can add to the impact of a story, or replace a story entirely, because there are already entire stories attached to those few words in your audience’s brain, waiting for you to tap into. (Forbes 2012)” Here, statements or testimonials by other people involved can replace or work as analogies. In the next couple of days after the signing of David Villa Sánchez, New York City FC posted behind-the-scenes footage of the big move, an interview with Head Coach Jason Kreis, and fan reactions. Such activities did not only give more depth to the #VillatoNYCFC story, but also helped connect the NYC FC tribe on a more emotional level. As Seth Godin wrote in Tribes (2008: 30), “A crowd is a tribe without communication. Most organizations spend their time marketing to the crowd. Smart organizations assemble the tribe.” That is exactly what NYC FC might have achieved with this well-crafted story and its additives: Giving an additional, emotional side-plot to the NYC FC story that unites supporters. The next point, Appeal to emotion, picks up exactly where this one ends.
#3 Appeal to emotion
NYC FC created an infographic that portraits Mr Villa’s successes at a domestic and international level, from winning the FIFA World Cup and the UEFA Champions League to becoming the all time leading goalscorer for the Spanish National Team. Such information, possibly embellished with short anecdotes in video or photo, can (and should) create joyful emotions for supporters.
#4 Keep it tangible and concrete
According to Mr Smith, stories should be kept specific and concrete and they’ll be more engaging and memorable (Forbes 2012). In the same vain, SBI Barcelona state in their Football Communication & Social Media course that if the audience has to make a special effort to read copy, they are bound to ignore it (2014). In my opinion, NYC FC writes its copy as preferred by Mr Smith: tangible, concrete, and in a format that could fit in a tweet. Moreover, the club uses bit.ly short-links and hashtags such as #VillatoNYCFC to keep the story unmistakably.
#5 Include a surprise
In regard to social media, the surprise factor can be created with an information gap. According to SBI Barcelona, ‘An “information gap” refers to the technique of leaving something out of the post in order to grab the attention of the audience’ (2014). Referring to NYC FC and the Villa story, there is nothing that hints towards a surprise. Nonetheless, there is a post that starts with a short quote by Villa: “It’s an honor to be the first player”. The copy then leads to the entire interview with a short-link. That could be regarded as an information gap that leads to an interview, which may bear surprising statements.
#6 Use a narrative style appropriate for [your audience]
NYC FC uses their own, specific tone and voice in their social media copy on Facebook. I claim that supporters and followers can easily get used to how they are addressed by the club. However, as Mitch Joel expressed it, “understanding the intent of the people you are connected to and how to best add value to their experience is at the core [of the story]. (2013: 182)” In our context, this means that the way the content is presented to the audience has to match their expectations.
#7 Move beyond telling your audience a story to creating a scene or event for them to participate in
Besides sharing the moment when Villa signs for NYC FC and everything that comes with it, supporters need to be able to actively play a part in it. On the same day of the signing, the club offered an exclusive David Villa supporter t-shirt. Like that, supporters can be a part of the club’s history.
Or, give your supporters a voice and let them comment on the #VillatoNYCFC story, as NYC FC did:
I truly enjoy following NYC FC on Facebook (and on Twitter, too). The club uses a very agreeable tone and voice, and their storytelling gives followers enough information to keep them up to date with how the story is proceeding. Nonetheless, it does not overload the audience with details that are only interesting to a fraction of followers. Furthermore, certain NYC FC’s content is clearly produced to raise positive emotions among supporters. That creates a stronger bond among supporters, which strengthens the NYC FC tribe. Very well done, New York City FC.