About 10 years ago, British writer Christopher Booker penned The 7 Basic Plots, a guide to describing what he saw as the most distilled versions of practically every story ever written. The seven basic plots are: overcoming the monster; rags to riches; the quest; voyage and return; comedy; tragedy, and rebirth. Booker identified these as patterns that arise when we tell stories of our human interactions.

They’re universal, making language a tool, not a boundary. Culture and time become fabrics woven into a story, which is the kind of magic that allows Kurosawa’s Seven Samauri to translate perfectly as the western Magnificent 7 (both are examples of “overcoming the monster”), or Hamlet retold as The Lion King (both tragedies). Imagine petroglyphs painted on cave walls, slowly giving way to painstakingly engraved stone and wood, then, generations later, artfully illuminated parchment codices, then the first roughly printed books. Theater. Radio. Comic books. Film. Television. Podcasts. Social media. Story patterns of human interaction are ancient, and evolve with their audiences, regardless of mechanics of its telling. Stories are media agnostic.

Today, however, storytelling has a new element that rivals the invention of the printing press, or even written language, for radical possibilities in human interaction: instant global interaction. More often than not, when someone uses the phrase “content creation”, they mean storytelling. The last 15 years have seen a tremendous change in how the entire globe views the concepts of a story, and of a brand. Advertising and marketing have had to adapt to the new dynamic by which opinions are informed: daily, interactive storytelling in a consistent, familiar voice and structure. It’s not enough to have jaw-dropping outbound marketing and slick advertising- the dynamics have changed modern storytelling (often found in the format of marketing and advertising) into a dialogue.

The 7 Basic Plots are still just as valid, especially for “content creation”, but the way in which a story is told, reacted to, and retold now requires more consideration than simply which medium to use. The ability to customize the streams of information we are inundated with- what we choose to read, subscribe to, and follow- means understanding the positioning of one’s content in order to be of value to the public. Telling the right stories, at the right time, to the right people, in the right way, is the benefit of understanding the 7 Archetypes for Social Media.

While the 7 basic plots help us construct our stories in a meaningful and recognizable way, the 7 archetypes help us as identities to navigate the new world of self-curated communities and information. The Analyst archetype, for example, is an identity for those who create new data and analysis, attractive to those needing current and specific information.

People who follow the Analyst for his consistent, quantitative voice may also consume the content the Reporter archetype provides: qualitative, experiential information and stories. In a crisis, the Analyst provides numbers and statistics, while the Reporter provides logical insight and real-world application of facts and figures. The two archetypes tell the same stories differently, according to their strengths, and what their audience has come to them for in the first place.

The Curator illustrates this new dynamic where the audience chooses their “performer”: unlike the Analyst or Reporter, the Curator doesn’t actually produce original content, but rather gathers stories from different sources, on different topics, and presents them as a collection, to be digested together. Pinterest would appeal to the Curator, as some 80% of pins are really repins, with very little new content coming into the community. The retweet, reblog and share tools are the Curator’s strongest, cultivating a nuanced identity for his followers.

This contrasts with the Entertainer, who, while also fighting for audience in a self-selecting world, must be able to create original stories, or at the very least, add on to an existing story enough that it is now identified as theirs. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are perfect examples- though appearing on a comedy channel, and adamantly not journalists, several polls show that for many younger people, those shows were their preferred choice for news and current events. The way that the Entertainer crafts, or even just tweaks a story, makes for an entirely different user experience and audience than that of the other archetypes.

The Advertiser shares many of the skills and traits of the aforementioned archetypes- being an expert on a topic or issue, bringing experience (by proxy) to audiences, or skillfully repurposing or modifying existing stories to fit a niche. The Advertiser, however, comes with an overarching agenda for their audience: know my brand and buy X. There’s even a digital vehicle that has evolved out of our online patterns, tailor-made for the Advertiser, called “native advertising”. The primordial elements of native advertising should be familiar: ever seen a Hallmark movie? Or read an “advertorial” in American Airlines Magazine extolling the virtues of visiting Dallas? The Advertiser has always been skilled at cloaking their consumer call-to-action in a story, while at the same time ensuring their logo and name are all over it.

This is closely related to the Mobilizer, who also develops their audience with an agenda, but one of action rather than consumption. The Mobilizer’s goal lies in behavior changes in their audience, and incentivizes this action with stories that provide solidarity, empowerment, meaningfulness and hope. Where the Entertainer tells jokes, and the Reporter presents true-life stories, the Mobilizer tells parables.

Finally, there is the Engager archetype. This persona derives a great deal from the others, using facts, experiences, or humor to craft their stories. The Engager also borrows from the Advertiser and the Mobilizer the ability to further a goal through their audience. An Engager crafts all sorts of stories and content, but they include one specific aspect: the audience is also telling the story. The Engager is focused on connection, as a two-way street, where the audience is more like a group of peers, sharing an experience or thought. This persona is completely reliant on authenticity as its social currency, making the Engager a somewhat rare creature: agenda-driven, but building value out of interactive dialogue rather than one-directional storytelling.

Stories, even if they’re called content, haven’t changed much from ancient Greek Dramas or feudal Japanese kabuki theatre, but the dynamic between storytellers and audience has changed completely. How we interact with each other in telling our stories and the way we make ourselves as distinguishable as Hemingway is from Danielle Steele, or Shakespeare from Dan Brown, is key to success in the social media age. Finding a voice that fits one’s natural personality and needs should always be the first step in building that online identity.

To read more about the 7 Archetypes for Social Media Engagements, click here.

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