Leadership and social media: Don’t underestimate the power of very small stories

Receding thunderhead at sunset; my Northfield neighborhood, 7/29/10 I was sipping a cup of decaf in my basement office easy chair last night, browsing the tweets in Seesmic Desktop that I’d marked as favorites via Android Seesmic when I was out for a walk around our Hidden Valley Park neighborhood earlier in the evening. (Sometimes when I go for a walk, I focus on my surroundings. Other times, I think/read/communicate, with an occasional glance at my surroundings. Last night it was the latter, as this receding thunderhead at sunset grabbed my attention for a couple of minutes.)

Becky Robinson - LeaderTalk  I reread a tweet from Becky Robinson "Putting together a round-up of posts on leaders and communication. It’s not too late to DM me a link to your post!" and decided to contact her about one of my posts. In it, I noted that she not only writes about the power of storytelling in her LeaderTalk blog, eg, her recent Tell me a Story blog post, but she models it.  Her posts often start out with little stories. Here are 6 from the past month:

I wrote her that she has a very nice touch with these little blog post introduction stories and that very few people do this. I don’t do it often enough myself here on my business blog, though I do better with our community blog, Locally Grown Northfield. (Hence, my concerted effort to include a little story of my own in this blog post. Even coaches need reminders!)

Need proof of the importance of stories? I’m not sure how I stumbled on it but yesterday, Roger Dooley posted this to his Neuromarketing blog, Stories Synchronize Brains:

An ongoing story (so to speak) here at Neuromarketing is the power of stories to engage readers and listeners. Now, there’s new brain scan evidence that shows a startling phenomenon: when one person tells a story and the other actively listens, their brains actually begin to synchronize.

In the How to blog effectively section of my 2005 Leadership Blogging Guide (currently under revision as a White Paper), I write about the importance of telling stories and how even very little stories can be effective in a blog post:

We all have a knack for telling stories in an informal social setting. "Hey, guess what happened to me today?" we say to our family members and friends. Listen to the conversations at parties and you’ll hear a constant stream of storytelling. So the idea is to use storytelling in your blog in much the same way that you use it in informal social settings – but towards a leadership or management goal.

There are levels of complexities to stories and certain elements need to be included, depending on your purpose. But even the smallest incident is more compelling reading when framed with a short, simple story, for example:

  • "I ran into a citizen in the hallway yesterday and she asked…"
  • "My colleague Joe handed me the latest issue of FastCompany this morning and suggested I read the article on…."
  • "On my way home from work last night, I passed the park where…"

Stories at WorkMost leadership storytelling strategies are focused on the why and how of oral, performance-oriented storytelling where tone, voice inflection and gestures come into play. That makes sense whenever there’s a face-to-face audience available, or if the storytelling is to be broadcast.

But written storytelling via a blog can be an effective, alternative delivery method. And it has some advantages over oral storytelling:

  • Your audience-of-many is always available
  • A blog post (via its permaLink) can get easily passed around via the web and email
  • The permaLink of the blog post never dies. If your story turns out to have long-lasting impact, its web address can be linked to indefinitely

Some storytelling tips for a leadership blogger:

  • The real names of people involved can help to make the story. Include them, with their permission.
  • Frame your story with time/date, such as “yesterday…” “earlier this morning…” “last Tuesday…”
  • Describe the place, or at least name it. If you don’t have the time or skill to "set the scene," it can help to use a photo.
  • There’s hardly a blog post that can’t include some elements of storytelling. Imagine yourself talking to a colleague or friend about what it is you’re blogging and then bring that tone to your post.

When people ask me "In a nutshell, what is leadership blogging?" I tell them: strategic, near real-time storytelling.

Oh yeah. Becky did include one of my blog posts in her July Round-Up: A Leader Communicates Skillfully. Nice.