Wall mural at Contently’s office in New York

Those Who Tell the Stories Rule the World

Glenn Leibowitz
Aug 16, 2015 · 5 min read

The folks at content marketing firm Contently in New York City believe in the power of storytelling so much, they’ve adopted a Hopi Indian proverb that reflects their mission to create a better media world. It goes like this:

Those who tell the stories rule the world

They’ve even painted it on the wall of their office. It’s the first thing anyone sees when they come in.

I’ve never been to Contently’s office, but I did have the chance to chat recently with Shane Snow, Contently’s co-founder and Chief Creative Officer, about the elements that make a good story.

Shane Snow, Chief Creative Officer, Contently

Shane knows a lot about storytelling. In addition to co-founding Contently (which was recently ranked #100 among the fastest-growing companies in the US by Inc.), he’s an award-winning journalist who writes for publications such as Wired and The New Yorker. He’s also the author of the recent book, Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success.

For Shane, there are at least three things that comprise a good story:

Fluency — Can you get through the story quickly? Are you bogged down in the sentences rather than the ideas? Is it tedious?

Relatability — Is the story something you can personally connect to in some way?

Novelty — Is there something about the story that is surprising or new — even if it is something that is rooted in ancient storytelling templates, themes, or morals that haven’t changed in a long time?

These storytelling concepts work for novels and movies. But what about short-form content like LinkedIn blog posts?

I asked Shane whether the elements of good storytelling can be applied to shorter form content such as blog posts on LinkedIn.

His answer? Absolutely.

As a LinkedIn Influencer, he’s written a lot on the platform and has attracted a large following. He shared two tips for writing posts that will resonate with readers and encourage them to share:

Tip #1: Tell a personal story to connect with readers and convince them to stick around.

“One way people will remember and connect with what you’ve written is through the utility of your content. Linkedin is a place where a lot of tips and education are being shared. That’s where relatability, novelty and fluency come in. Can you get the message across quickly in a way that’s relatable? Is it information that actually matters to me? And is it new - something I don’t already know?

Either that, or you need to try for memorability by telling a good story. A lot of posts I write start out with a story — not all, but a lot of them. I do this because of what Linked is as a community and social network.

I recently saw Guy Kawasaki, the author of 12 books, give a presentation about giving good presentations. Every presentation he does starts with a custom slide of a picture of something from his life — a picture of his kids, his bookshelf, or something like that.

I like to do that specifically on LinkedIn on anything around education or leadership to connect with the audience, because they can be a great source of stories that persuade people to stick around and get to the end and make them more likely to share.”

Tip #2: Find your “set” of people and write something that will be irresistible to them — and ignore everyone else

“In order to stand out on LinkedIn, you need to publish consistently, and slowly build an audience, and publish stuff for people to find when they do find you. But you also need to aim for hits.

And that’s about finding the right audience. A lot of the lessons that you can learn from Buzzfeed are pretty apt here. They’ve figured out how to do that in their own listicle format — which is not necessarily the format that you need to apply this lesson. But in their own format, they’ve discovered a way to make things that are more likely to be spread among certain groups.

What they do is they find a small niche group and write something that everyone who belongs to that group and relates to that identity will share if they see it. So they don’t write posts on ‘10 things that everyone in the world will love’, because that’s a lot less likely to be shared.

Instead, they write pieces like the one a friend forwarded to me recently: ‘15 things that happened to you if you grew up in America with an Asian Mother.’ There’s a relatively small group of people that this has happened to them, but if it has happened to them, they can all relate to the funny things Buzzfeed writes in that article, and they’ll share it with others.

What they do is they slice out their tiny segment of the market and write something that you can’t not click on, you can’t not share if you belong to that group. And everyone who is connected to you will share it around with their friends too.

So that’s the advice I’d give on LinkedIn: find your ‘set’ of people who really need what you’re writing and write something that is irresistible to them — and ignore the broader audience. And that’s the way to generate these hits eventually and build up on these platforms.”

Contrary to what the Hopi proverb implies, I doubt most of us are aiming to “rule the world” with our stories. But I think it’s fair to assume that most of us share the desire to attract more people to read — and share — the stories that we tell.

Telling personal stories that help you to connect with your reader — and writing stories that talk directly to the concerns and interests of very narrow audiences — are two simple yet powerful tips that might help you do just that.

What storytelling tips do you have for getting more people to read and share your LinkedIn posts? Tell me about it in the comments!

Thanks for reading. If you’d like to listen to the complete podcast conversation with Shane, just head over to the Write With Impact website, or go to iTunes or Stitcher.

You can also check out my personal blog or follow me on Twitter @glennleibowitz.

Write With Impact

Go ahead. Hit publish.

Write With Impact

Go ahead. Hit publish.

Glenn Leibowitz

Written by

Inc.com columnist, 4x LinkedIn Top Voice 2015–2018, host of Write With Impact, a podcast to help you become a better writer: http://www.writewithimpact.com

Write With Impact

Go ahead. Hit publish.