Storytelling and social media: Humans of New York

Have you ever tried to convey a concept with technical terms and jargon? Perhaps you noticed (or maybe you didn’t) the blank stares and glazed eyes as you give a thorough and well-meaning explanation. (I’m looking in the mirror as I type this out, because you are not alone.)

The solution to this problem is so simple: turn it into a story. I get so many questions about social media every week, but I’ve been getting them for years now. I’ve seen and heard so many things that people do, think, feel or misunderstand. I haven’t seen and heard it all by any stretch, but definitely a lot. It isn’t that hard to come up with a story, a metaphor or an analogy. 

I’ve always loved a good story. So much so that I have lost count of the number of nights I have stayed up to find out how a story resolves. When the fifth Harry Potter book came out, I knew when it would be delivered. I planned to be home for that entire weekend because I would finish that book before I had to return to work. 

Stories draw people in like nothing else can.

In addition to loving stories, I’ve always had an interest in photography. I’ve taken thousands of shots; half a dozen or so make the throwaways worth it. After all, a photo is another medium for telling a story. 

Several months ago, I became aware of what has become my all-time favourite Facebook page: Humans of New York. The posts from this page reminded me so much of my friend Kym’s 100 strangers project, Le Mien. (Lara and I were part of the group that was stranger #38 way back in October 2010.) Kym’s ability to capture the essence of a person with succint, yet poignant, captions was so brilliant. In the months I’ve followed Brandon Stanton’s work on HONY, I see that same ability in him. 

As I’ve found out now that I have the newly released HONY book in my hands, this project has had major evolutions over time. There were two changes that - in his introduction - Brandon credits with leading to his success (and a book deal):

1) He joined Facebook.

HONY started out as a website. Searchable by neighborhood, but not particularly popular. Then a friend finally convinced Brandon to set up a Facebook page. A little over a year later, a half a million people were connected to Brandon’s images.

2) He started telling stories.

Well, actually, his introduction says he started interviewing his subjects and sharing their stories. Some of the stories that accompany the photos are as short as one word. Others are lengthy, as with the recent photo of Duane, whose story led many to help him realize his dream of a brother for his daughter.

These two changes are listed here in chronological order, however, without the stories the page’s growth may not have happened as fast as it did. The photos are gorgeous and many times they tell tell a story without any words at all, but the incredible insight into the human condition that Brandon reveals with each one is appealing on a deeper level, particularly when you see or read about hard-earned wisdom, full circle moments, affection, parental concern, geekdom, hope, microfashion, and so many more.

Short or long, the stories drew me in. They are why I follow HONY on Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

What stories can you share with your audience that will draw them in? How your business got started? Challenges you’ve faced? Funny office moments? What about your clients and customers? 

Employee engagement, customer service and social media

Many studies have confirmed that customer service is tied to employee engagement. Engaged employees who are satisfied in their jobs provide much better customer service.

You might wonder what that has to do with social media.

Social media is an ideal venue for companies to show how well they can do customer service. But social media isn’t exclusively about customer service. It’s also about telling your business stories. 

Engaged employees will go out of their way to make customers happy. A couple of examples are:

I drive from one end of Ottawa where I live, to the other end where my car is serviced by an amazing staff that makes it worth every kilometer. I drafted this post before this happened. Minutes before walking to my car, I mentioned my upcoming trip and then found this on my dash. It kept a smile on my face through Ottawa rush hour and beyond.From delivering on a tongue-in-cheek request for a pillow fort to a simple note and a chocolate - enchanting your customers starts with engaged employees.

Great customer service stories can flow from that foundation and give your organization a reason to be proud.

These examples show us a few things:

1) The employees involved in these situations are creative and thoughtful, but more importantly they have the autonomy needed to make the decision to carry out these actions.

2) Clearly they love their job. Clearly they care about the customers. Each instance led to a customer service situation that is a fantastic story that people love to share.

3) It doesn’t take a lot of money or time to give your customers a memorable experience. 

The next time you’re wondering what to share on social media, go have a chat with one of your best employees and ask them if they have any great stories to tell.

Then start getting staff involved regularly:

  • Provide a communal camera for quick pictures.
  • Give them leeway for making exceptions.
  • Reward good customer service. 
  • Help them love making customers happy.

What are some other exceptional customer service stories you’ve heard about through social media?