How companies can market their culture through storytelling

Estimated read time: 11 minutes



Building culture is one thing. Making sure people know the culture exists is another thing. That’s where business storytelling comes in. To market culture is important to attract and keep the right people.

This article discusses how employers and employees can do their part in sharing positive stories about their company, employees and customers. Trust me it will make us all feel better.

I cover:

  • How to spot stories and share them
  • How to use Instagram Stories
  • Nominating your company to amplify stories
  • The tools to share stories
  • Pitch your story to media
  • Quote submissions
  • And how is this helping your company

How to spot good stories and share them

Some people don’t share any of their authentic stories – good and bad – and they have reasons for that.



Good stories – they don’t want to come off as bragging about themselves.

Not so good stories – they are embarrassed and don’t want to feel vulnerable publicly.

These are valid reasons and we should be accepting of other people’s opinions and feelings.

But that doesn’t help organizations who are trying to attract talent. Some of these initiatives are led by HR, some are led by marketing, others by the social media team. The strongest projects are the ones that include all relevant stakeholders from all those departments.

Storytelling cultures break down silos. That doesn’t mean we have added layers and layers of approvals. That would be approval hell. But it means departments work together, are bought in and are pushing toward a shared goal.

Related: What’s approval hell? 

But getting people to share their own stories can be a challenge. Hardly anyone wants to be known for bragging or being a show off. It’s a mindset. I once had somebody ask me to teach them how to be good at self promotion.”Do you mean to learn how to share your authentic stories?”

“Yeah, yeah. Sure. Self promotion through my stories.”

And in this case, that person was even an advocate of authentic storytelling. Whatever we call it, sharing our stories can be very meaningful and helpful, especially through employee advocacy. It can help us recruit the best and then retain them. In the times of the coronavirus it can help us find bright spots – even through other stories.

So when people don’t want to participate by sharing their own stories, don’t give up. Instead reframe what people should share. Encourage employees to recognize other employees and their success stories. 

Ask them to submit the stories or if they want to share them themselves on social media. We should get their permission BEFORE it’s shared publicly.

Sometimes those employees might say: “Oh no, I don’t need the recognition.”

Tell them that their story makes you feel great and that you are proud to share it for that reason and to help the organization shape market its culture.

From my experience, when these points are meant most everyone is willing to let somebody else share their stories. Somebody else sharing our stories is never bragging. It’s recognition. 

Sometimes you don’t even have to reward employees for recognizing other employees. When they mean and feel it they’ll likely do it because they want to. But companies could also consider giving gift cards for participation.

Remember that these stories should show why people are being publicly recognized. Stories that only tell (but not show) what happened that is worth sharing can get readers to tune out quickly.

Paint a picture with your words of how awesome the stories inside your organization are. It makes everyone feel better and more connected and helps build and market culture.

Example: How to paint a picture with words

It’s easier said than done: Paint a picture with words. We all want to write that attention-grabbing intro and see our content spread – because it’s so engaging, people cannot not share it.

When it works, it works. We know. The audience knows. “Hey, (whomever is nearby) take a look at this…” When we paint a picture with words we make an emotional connection with our readers, who feel more connected to the story they just read.

A Los Angeles Times article on female police forensic unit employees reminded me of the importance and power of this. In particular, take a look at this excerpt that kicked off the article:

Gabrielle Wimer was nine months pregnant and working a crime scene when she found the closest thing to a smoking gun for a forensic specialist: a clean, detailed fingerprint.
“I was like, ‘Oh, I got a beautiful print right here,'” she recalled. “And I turned and my belly just wiped it off.”
That was it, she said: “I’m done until I have this baby.”

Now almost 3 years old, Wimer’s daughter is still too young to understand her mother’s job. All she knows, Wimer said, is that it’s for the police. “Police,” she’ll say. “Mama’s work.”
The entire article can be found here.

You can probably visualize how this looked, right? I know, I did. Writing like this is powerful and engaging.

I don’t remember seeing a picture of Ms. Wimer but I had a picture in my mind just by reading the intro. When I got to the crime scene part, I pictured her in a crime scene uniform, on the verge of cracking a case. I was rooting for her, even though the story quickly turned with her belly wiping the print.

I stopped reading, read this out loud to my wife, who was also also pregnant then, and we discussed the story and – to a lesser degree – the rest of the article. Interesting stories have to be shared.

Breaking it down: Paint a picture with words

When we paint a picture with words, we help stories separate themselves from the noise. Stories like this stand out and are:

  • memorable.
  • easily retold by the reader to others.
  • emotional. (I totally felt bad for her. Didn’t you?)
  • getting us interested. We might not care about an overarching, statistical kind of story. But we care about people and emotions like this.

The trick is that when we paint a picture with words that we pick the right words to paint the right picture. Sharing detailed stories about something not interesting or relevant won’t draw the reader in. But picking the right words to paint the right picture will help us tell better and more engaging stories.



Encourage employees

Companies should also empower employees to share stories as much as possible:

  • Hold virtual sessions for employees that offer tips and tricks on how to share stories on social media channels. Oh, and don’t make them lunch and learns. This is not an off-clock activity.
  • Ask people to share those good stories. The channels are endless from Glassdoor to Facebook to Twitter, you name it. That one will likely show up when people Google for directions to your office. I actually left a review and rating for my employer on Google Places before. Also for other companies I’ve done business with – especially when they are not on Facebook or don’t allow reviews there.
  • Recognize and maybe even reward employees for sharing the best stories. So and so is the head storyteller for the month of March because of this fantastic story recognized and shared.
  • If an employee ever shares a less than positive story, approach them and offer help to fix the real or perceived problem.
  • Amplify the stories employees share with the organizational accounts.

The last part of amplification is  backwards to what many companies do today. Marketing writes up some feel good and marketing jargon filled post and then sends them to employees to share across their own networks.

Somebody on social media the other day called that activity “yucky.” I agree. Sharing some markety post doesn’t feel right. And I won’t do it unless I feel like it’s worth sharing.

People should only share what they feel like sharing and what actually fits for their audience and community. My 2017 trip to the Adobe Summit in Las Vegas comes to mind. Adobe invited me out and I was given access to all kinds of activities and behind the scenes information. But I only covered what I thought would be relevant to my audiences and what I personally cared about.

Instagram Stories

One way to share stories is to perhaps use Instagram Stories. Author Corey Walker mentioned on the Business Storytelling Podcast how Stories are taking off and also make sharing easier. People share less than perfect stories on there. Stories that they may not have shared in their Instagram feed where some go for more perfect.

Go interview a teammate about something cool they’ve done. Share a story on how a customer was delighted – even in these difficult times. And even when you can’t name the customers.

Nominating companies or employees

A few years ago I nominated my employer to the Corridor Business Journal’s Coolest Places to Work competition. Once a nomination is received the CBJ sends out an anonymous survey to local employees to find out if the place is really cool.

They ask questions like whether your boss really cares about you and if work schedules are flexible. Among others.

A majority of local employees has to finish the survey so the CBJ can determine if a company is actually cool and not just in the one initial nominator’s opinion.

A great process really. In 2015, the MedTouch Iowa office was one of the honorees and we produced a Top 10 reasons why we are cool video. Very fun.

Public recognition means something. That’s probably why we put so much weight into newspapers writing good articles about us. It’s somebody else recognizing our wonderful story.

So recognition by others is important. And I’ve said before that we don’t become experts by ourselves calling us experts. We are true experts when others call us that. The same is true with awards like this. If it’s just me saying how cool we are, it doesn’t mean nearly as much as when others are saying it and when even more people see it and perhaps agree with it as well.

Public recognition is important. But before we get publicly recognized we still have to live it first.

Additionally, consider nominating employees for awards. And maybe create some internal awards.

The tools to share good stories

The tools are easier and easier and most of us have the most important tool to tell stories in our pocket: A smart phone.

Consider recording:

  • a video or video interview
  • an audio podcast
  • pictures
  • Etc.

The options are there to capture stories quickly. Certainly it still takes time to finalize things and publish them. But getting stories is easier than ever.

FriYays

Another tool is to share good stories internally. I’m a fan of doing FriYays. Every Friday I like to send out a note to the team about great things that have happened. Some shout-outs were small wins that some companies wouldn’t consider recognizing in a note. Others were bigger. Then invite other teammates to add their own shout-outs.

From there, when it makes sense and with permission consider sharing some of the stories publicly.

Pitch your story to media

If you have a good story consider contacting the local media companies and see if they have interest in covering it. Journalists are stretched currently, so keep that ind mind. But they are also looking for positive stories.

Read next: Public relations: How to talk to the media

Make sure you can be available when media picks up your story and wants to talk to you. For example, I ended up going on nine radio stations in the United States and Canada between 5 and 10:30 a.m. to talk about a topic before. Once a pitch is accepted, make sure to be available on the journalists’ schedules.

You can also pitch quotes to journalists that are asking for examples from company leaders.

You can also consider asking employees to leave reviews on the Glassdoor, which is the side where a lot of jobseekers go and review a company.

Read next: Use these storytelling skills to tell better stories for your company

And how is this helping the company?

Sharing positive stories that are authentic has always helped with a company image. That’s not new. When I’ve looked for a job, there are some companies I don’t apply to because of their public image. Some companies I absolutely want to apply to as their brand is strong and stand for something I want to be associated with.

It’s similar when it comes to working with certain brands either as their customer or by providing services to them.

It can help your company project a positive brand image when employees share positive and caring stories. It certainly is okay to have an approval process.

That’s the external impact. From an internal perspective, it can help, too. Teammates can feel more positive and happier despite  the current situation.



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