This blog was written by Kayleigh Alexandra of MicroStartups
Over a decade ago, one of the most out-of-left-field marketing characterizations in recent memory hit the airwaves and made a fast impact: Compare the Market’s unpredictably-effective Compare the Meerkat campaign saw a group of meerkats become unlikely figureheads due to some creative riffing on the vague similarity between “market” and “meerkat”.
If you’re not sure why that campaign deserves to open a piece all about character-driven storytelling in the digital era, look it up. The brand went from a generic comparison service to something viable for merchandise, all because the anthropomorphic meerkats with the silly voices were oddly captivating. And while you might not have the budget for CGI-laden commercials, you can definitely use social media characters.
But how exactly do you do it? How do you find or create suitable brand characters and work them into your social media content? Here are some handy tips on this promising tactic:
Choose characters with long-term viability
A brand character is an investment. Choose well, and you might end up with a modern-day Michelin Man — an iconic figure that lingers with your company for decades to come. Choose poorly, however, and the best-case scenario will see your character grab some attention for a short time before being ignored and left to creatively rot.
Notably, this applies whether you’re creating characters or using actual people. After all, if a company happens to have a charismatic manager, it can make that manager a character in marketing videos and messages — but if they’re going to become stale quickly, then you shouldn’t commit too strongly to them.
This is difficult to judge, admittedly, but I recommend paying close attention to the flexibility and versatility on offer. Think about the character’s voice in different situations: would it fit? Could you tell different types of story featuring that voice? Could you convey varying emotions? The more freedom you have, the easier you’ll find it to produce social copy years down the line.
Provide interactivity and encourage UGC
Can you dole out your storytelling in small chunks over time, queueing them up in your social media calendar to save time and effort? Absolutely, and you should to whatever extent possible — but you shouldn’t stop there. This is because a snippet-laden social media story is perfectly suited to ongoing in-character interactivity.
Whenever you post an update to the story, it will attract replies from those following along, and you can engage with them. This will make them even more attached to the story, and earn your brand a lot of plaudits for committing to the character and finding the time to talk to people. And while it’s nice when you can stick to the narrative, you don’t need to take it incredibly seriously — everyone knows it’s just a story, so you can cast knowing glances at the fourth wall.
Additionally, the anticipation of further updates is ideal for encouraging UGC. For instance, if your character is planning a mystery trip (to be revealed later), you can ask your followers to draw pictures of where they think you might be going, or even suggest popular social media figures whom you might be meeting. You can just play with ideas.
Sketch a compelling plot structure
Characters aren’t everything, because they need stories, and those stories need to be decent. The best way to achieve this? A killer plot. Plotting a story from scratch can be pretty tricky, especially if you’re a writing novice. But the great news is that you don’t have to! There are plenty of cheat sheets available to help you map out your plot.
As Jericho Writers explains, the fundamentals of every plot are: character, status quo, motivation, initiating incident, developments, crisis, and resolution (in that order). Add these headings onto the page, jot your ideas underneath, and watch your turn-pager of a story come to life.
When you’ve got a rough plot outline down, don’t immediately try to judge it. Give it time so you can let it slip from your mind, then come back to it and give your honest opinion. Does the plot flow and make sense? Does it come across as fun, or outright stupid? Is it on brand and convey the message you hoped? Have someone else read it as well, and take criticism on board so you can tweak and improve your plot outline.
Have fun with the conceit
Remember: enjoyment is infectious, even in the detached environment of social media. Barring occasional instances in which you’re expected to be fairly serious (times of great national outrage, for instance), you’re free to be quite jocular — and you shouldn’t be using an in-character account to make serious statements anyway.
Here’s the major takeaway: characters have lasting impact because people like them and/or identify with them, and stories don’t need to be flawless masterpieces for that to happen. Just commit to the characters and keep making an effort. That’s how you pick up momentum.
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