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Recently at a conference, someone asked me why the hell everyone in business is talking about the need for this new thing called storytelling in communications and marketing. First of all, I told him, I’m happy that they are finally getting it. Or are they? If they call storytelling ‘new’, they surely aren’t…

Thing is: People, and I specifically mean business people, think that a little bit of emotional music, a couple of real humans and a raw look and feel makes a piece of communication authentic, relevant and, yes, a story. Ever heard a colleague come up with a “great story” he wants to write about, or show you a video that portraits “our unique story”? And once you take a closer listen or look, you hear or see nothing but a paraphrased or moving-image message triangle, patronizing the recipient in 20th-century advertising manner, telling him what to think or feel or, in the end, do. No hero, no drama, no expectation, no surprise, no identification.

The great thing about today: In the digitally connected world, people are getting back to the roots of human conversation, gagging for true, real and surprising story, something outstanding, something new to enjoy and share. Ergo: This whole social media thing is nothing but an extended remix version of an old, very successful song.

Why’s that?

Well, sharing aka telling stories has been man’s unique selling point and leisure pleasure ever since he (or she) could communicate (non-verbally or verbally) – around campfires in the Neanderthal or at medieval markets, at children’s bedsides or you name it. In other words: being social, embarking into (however purposeful) conversations with other people. Sender tells, recipient receives, recipient becomes sender, becomes recipient, becomes sender and so on. Being social is having conversations, and conversations are never one way. In the vernacular we call this: Dialogue. Thereby follows Equation #1:

Social = Conversation

And if this is so, that being social and having conversations is the most ancient human trait we can think of, what makes social media or the so-called web 2.0 so special, so revolutionary? Again, easy: Technology. Whenever mankind creates something big, it’s either mimicry or an enhancement of what nature already has in store. As in the case of the Internet and its second-generation 2.0 version, technology has enabled us to bring human conversations from a personal to a global (and sometimes hence impersonal, but that’s a different topic) level. Leading me to Equation #2:

Social Media = Global Conversation

After all this, the end (or beginning?) of this story (or message?) is no rocket or internet science, it’s mere logic: If we only embark in conversation with people that have something interesting to tell, something we can relate to, something that touches either our hearts or our minds or both, the power is not in great rhetoric or bullet points of a fact sheet. It’s the stories we hear about real people with real challenges, real successes, real failures, yes: real lives. Why should this be different in social media’s global conversations? So in the end comes Equation #3:

Social Media = (Global Conversation =) Storytelling

If this is so – and I get a strange feeling I’m not completely wrong here –, then this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to successful communication and marketing in the 21st century, be it for a company or your own personal brand. Like: What is and what is not a story? Where the roots are and what can we learn from them? What do Aristotle and the Cluetrain Manifesto have in common?

The story goes on … here … soon.