1000 Heads

Helping brands’ stories travel further and faster
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Last Friday I got to combine my lit-geek and WOM-geek selves at Digital Storytelling 2010, “an afternoon of inspirational speakers and events for journalists, academics, entrepreneurs, digital experts and students” created by not on the wires and the BBC College of Journalism.

1000heads were very proud to be Headline Sponsors of such an eclectic and intelligent event. Sadly I couldn’t stay for long, but I did catch Ben Chesterton‘s moving presentation of the work he’s doing with Duckrabbit, mashing up audio and photography in the Condition Critical slideshows for Médecins Sans Frontières, which tell some pretty important and powerful tales.

For my braindump I chose to look at how – and if – social media is changing the way we tell our own stories, brands tell their stories, and how the two collide. I hooked my thoughts on four key themes; here’s a quick précis.

1. Comics

I’m a comic geek, and I’ve written before at the Guardian about how I think social media encourages a architectural, multi-media way of storytelling similar to graphic novelists. I find this most powerful when fewer words are used (we’re all fighting for space and attention in the online world, after all), but they are deepened and complexified by their link-rich context. The next level of this 3D storytelling will be mobile-driven augmented reality – the real world glossed with information, irony, images and opinion.

2. Heroes

In social media, we’re all the heroes of our own stories, and we’re uploading fragments of our stories all the time. That’s why gaming is such a natural fit for the space,; the newly released Heavy Rain is the first in a new generation of games where our own decisions and characters determine the plot. Brands are recognising this shift from consumers to creators, from personalising their offerings to put our preferences at the core (from Nike to Mountain Dew) to, in the words of Chris Brogan, ‘making your audience feel like a superhero.’

3. Symbols

Time was, it felt naff to see specific brand names used in a story; a sell-out of the grander symbolism, somehow, But truly the evil queen’s red apple has become the Apple; the purity of the lily has become use of Crème de la Mer; Penelope’s tapestry has become a Moleskine. We constantly and shamelessly use brands to express our identity online – the general has become the specific.

4. Myths

When we don’t have face to face instincts to rely on when building trust, only digital words and images, what do we rely on to capture our attention or empathy? Stories. Brands are realising the importance of building and sharing their own creation and evolution myths, and making sure they feel authentic to consumers. Moreover, they are starting to appropriate our myths – to include our stories in their own, by listening to us and engaging us to join their journey.

A nice example which ties these themes together is that of Isobella Jade, a New York model who tweeted me a couple of weeks ago.

Isobella had read a couple of my online articles, felt a connection, and offered to share her own story, a memoir she wrote on the free computers in the Apple store, and which became a cult success after they invited her to give a public reading in the store and the press picked up on it. We had a digital conversation, and last Tuesday she sent me a copy, alongside clippings and a card – which I duly talked about on Friday.

This little encounter exemplifies ‘the social media tale’. Isobella is the hero of her own grassroots story. The book is written in graphic, scenic chunks. She connected with me through my stories. She uses brands like Apple and Walmart and Vogue throughout the book to define what she is and isn’t; and Apple in turn uses her to reinforce its myth as an inclusive, empowering company. And that story, inherently conversational and emotive, spreads.

There’s so much here to dig into and discuss – there were some great questions on the day we barely got a chance to get into – but I just wanted to throw some conversation starters out there. These kinds of insights are central to 1000heads’ tactics in helping brands to share stories and become part of the stories their consumers share.

What’s your take?

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