Storytelling in Social Media Marketing: Using Storytelling in Science Marketing and Communications

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This blog post that discusses storytelling in social media marketing is the third in a series about using storytelling to promote your science-focused business. Refer to “The Case Study: Using Storytelling in Science Marketing and Communications” for tips on how to ensure your case studies are crisp, concise, and compelling. Review “The Ad Campaign: Using Storytelling in Science Marketing and Communications” to learn how to make even the most industrial products more approachable. 

The Power of Stories

As we’ve shown, people love stories, and what makes stories so powerful is the way they affect our brain’s neurological and chemical processes. According to 20th-century cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner, messages delivered as stories can be up to 22 times more memorable than messages delivered as bare facts. This is true no matter what media or platform you’re using to market your company’s products.

By creating a ‘hero’ figure and developing a narrative arc, or plot, showing how the hero overcomes challenges by adopting your products or services, you can deliver a story that resonates with your readers and connects with them emotionally. The story is, in effect, a metaphor for the reader’s own experiences. Other storytelling elements, such as setting, conflict, and resolution, all work together to support the narrative arc.

Although the most common hero figure in these kinds of stories is a customer — as it is in case studies and ads — stories on social media can also feature your employees, people in your community, or even industry experts whose thought leadership is aligned with your brand. All these stories can serve as emotional triggers that elicit the same response. By utilizing a broader brush to tell your stories through social media, you can build a meaningful, ongoing conversation with your audience.

Why You Should Use Social Media

In a related Cobalt-60 blog post, 10 Reasons Why Science-Focused Businesses Need Social Media, we took a look at the best reasons for integrating social media into your content marketing strategy and tactics. Some of the most compelling reasons for employing social media include spotlighting your team members, providing customer support, collecting feedback, and keeping up with cutting-edge research in your industry. Now that we’ve established why you should use it, let’s look at how you can infuse storytelling in social media marketing and content. The goal here is to connect with your audience by introducing your company’s ‘brand personality’ into the messaging.

How can storytelling work as part of your social media content strategy?

Social media is closely related to your ad campaigns and other marketing efforts, of course, but in many ways, it’s also a completely different animal. Just as with case studies, ad campaigns, blog posts, and white papers, however, content is still the common basic material from which you weave your company’s social media messages.

One of the biggest differences is the amount of real estate you have to work with — the character count limit on social media platforms varies, but it’s typically pretty short. It makes sense, then, that the storytelling elements of your social media content need to be tailored accordingly, whether you’re using videos, podcasts, or text.

And although long-form videos are becoming more popular, it’s advisable to keep any videos to four minutes or less. While videos are probably the most common way to tell stories on social media, it’s still acceptable to create a written story. But because it typically takes up a lot more space then you have with the strict length limits on most platforms, you’ll need a brief ‘teaser’ for the actual post that links to a longer story published on your website or other digital platform. Podcasts can be longer — up to 30 minutes.

To story or not to story?

A vibrant, responsive social media strategy should deliver an ongoing series of consistent posts from several different content threads. Not all of these threads are stories, but as you develop a relationship with your audience over time, you will understand what appeals most to them. For example, content threads could be based on the following themes.

Story-based content — Here are some of the most common ways your content can use storytelling to build your brand:

  • Stories about customers who are facing technical challenges, for example, in manufacturing or engineering, and how your company’s products or services helped them overcome those challenges
  • Stories about employees who go over and above to help customers — and what motivates them
  • Stories about employees who contribute to people in your community in some way to make a difference — and how their values reflect your company’s values
  • Stories that demonstrate your company’s commitment to social and environmental responsibility in the communities where it operates
  • Stories about people in your company’s history, for example, inventors or scientists

Other types of content — Here are some of the most common examples of other types of content:

  • Announcements of your company’s acquisitions, mergers, and executive appointments
  • Awards and other recognition your company receives from key industry organizations
  • Interactive dialogue that engages your customers, invites feedback, and encourages participation
  • An ongoing series of fun and interesting facts about your company, your products or services, your industry — or the science (or even the scientists) behind them
  • Live discussions with subject matter experts and interviews with top execs
  • Polls

Example: MilliporeSigma

Let’s look at an example of a company that has a successful B2B social media strategy. Global life sciences company MilliporeSigma has been recognized by BioInformatics, LLC with its Life Science Industry Award® for best use of social media. According to the company’s press release, “MilliporeSigma engages stakeholders across numerous social media channels, including LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, by understanding the evolving interests of their followers and providing valuable content to those online communities.”

If you take a look at one of MilliporeSigma’s platforms, such as Facebook, you’ll see their strategy is to continually engage their followers through a carefully crafted series of posts that intertwine several main themes, or threads. All of the posts are designed to be interesting and relevant to the target audience, build followership, and connect readers to the MilliporeSigma brand.

In addition to corporate announcements; awards; fun science content such as a DIY Silly Putty recipe; sustainability efforts; community events such as kids making lava lamps; industry events such as scientists with disabilities talking about inclusion in STEM; new hire features; and polls such as which color latex gloves are the best, the company posted a link to a written story about how MilliporeSigma invests in BIPOC-owned small businesses to expand impact in their communities; a video featuring a sales manager whose family was affected by his work; and a video featuring employees talking about their proudest achievements.

MilliporeSigma is a prime example of a company using the 80/20 rule. According to industry experts, 80% of social media posts should be useful to your audience, for example, by educating, entertaining, or offering solutions to their problems. Only 20% of your posts should explicitly promote your business.

6 Guidelines for Effective Storytelling in Social Media for Science Companies

As we’ve seen, your social media can benefit from storytelling, despite the limitations on content length and the many other types of content that should be part of your strategy along with stories. Use these simple guidelines to build your audience with posts that inform, inspire, and engage:

1. Develop a content strategy.

Start by identifying two or more content threads you can use as themes for your posts — for example, one focusing on customer stories and another focusing on your products and services.

2. Use the 80/20 rule.

Leading with stories, try to execute your content strategy in a way that 80% of your social media posts educate, entertain, or offer solutions to customer problems. Use the remaining 20% to explicitly promote your company’s products and services.

3. Engage readers through stories that show rather than tell.

When done well, your stories will organically demonstrate your company’s expertise in that topic.

How Social Media is Different

Whether your life sciences company is a B2B or B2C business, there are several major differences between your social media marketing and your traditional marketing efforts, including:

  • The format of your social media content—from text to videos
  • The variety of platforms and channels available—from Facebook to Instagram to YouTube
  • The enhanced ability to reach discrete segments of your target audience
  • The immediacy with which you can reach your audience
  • The marketing techniques you can employ—from live streaming to  influencer marketing to messenger chatbots
  • The ease with which you can measure your reach and ROI
  • The much lower cost of social media compared to other digital, broadcast, and print-based marketing

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4. Humanize your company and make your audience feel something.

In their stories and in other posts, for example, MilliporeSigma finds ways to inspire their audiences by focusing on the human elements of their brand, whether the humans are employees, customers, or community members.

5. Attract audience attention quickly and keep content short.

In social media, you only have about three seconds to grab your reader’s attention — and you have to work hard to retain it — so keep your videos and text stories short and succinct.

6. Use high-quality imagery to attract your target audience.

Train your readers to expect the highest quality videos, photos, infographics, and other images — this is another way to differentiate your social media posts.

Want to keep reading?

See other blog posts in this series:

Connect with us to learn more

To learn more about using storytelling in science marketing for your science-focused business and how Cobalt helps science-focused companies with all aspects of communications, visit the Cobalt services page or contact the Cobalt team.

As a strategic communications agency serving science- and R&D-driven organizations, we specialize in highly technical markets where complex ideas and information must be conveyed with clarity. Our team includes writers, designers, strategists and content architects, all working together to help you reach — and engage — your internal and external audiences.

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