I used to play a story-telling game where you go around in a circle, and each person provides one sentence to make a story. The first person might provide the setting and theme, the next the introductory sentence, and so on. Sometimes the story never ended, sometimes it never got very far. Most of the time it didn’t even make sense.
In today’s version of the game, I might start with video clips of Buffy Summers doing the fighting evil routine. I post them on Tumblr, and someone reblogs them, mixing in clips of the Winchester brothers fighting Buffy, or fighting alongside her. Someone reblogs it from them, and they throw in some clips of Edward Cullen to take the place of Buffy’s usual opponents. Eventually, we end up with a love story between Dean Winchester and Buffy Summers, trading witty repartee as Edward Cullen turns into dust.
This kind of thing doesn’t happen on Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, Reddit, or Twitter, but it’s a mainstay of Tumblr, the microblogging platform known for the 18-30 year old demographic that enjoys celebrity cats and, most importantly, fandoms. Tumblr was purchased last week by Yahoo! and for at least a week, all I read when I looked the deal up on Google was how Yahoo! wanted to make Tumblr safer for children by getting rid of the amateur porn that, according to the CEO of Yahoo!, made up the majority of the microblog’s content. It wasn’t until last week that someone finally mentioned the actual majority of Tumblr content: fandoms.
But what do fandoms have to do with Yahoo? And more importantly, what does storytelling have to do with social media strategy?
The first half of the word “fandom” is “fan,” and a fan, unless you’re on Facebook, is someone who engages consistently with a concept. Little Monsters are fans of Lady Gaga, “Twihards” are fans of Twilight, and I am a fan of Buffy (in case you couldn’t already tell.) That is why I’m not ashamed to use Joss Whedon’s world as an example: Buffy, though the show wrapped up its final season 10 years ago last week, still lives on. The world of Slayers and Hellmouths has expanded since Sunnydale caved in on its own Hellmouth, because Joss Whedon created a story that existed beyond the TV screen. Likewise, social media is more than brands and articles. What Yahoo! will need to learn now that manages the current World of Fandoms (Tumblr) is how to create stories that stick with a demographic not of customers, but fans. They’ll have to learn how to brand through stories, and not just catchy, but painfully annoying, jingles and catchphrases.
Storytelling is about lasting engagement, not just one-time purchases. A customer purchases and leaves, but a fan consumes and stays.
How do you engage with your demographic? Or better question, what fandoms are you a part of?