Entrepreneurs – Do you master online storytelling?

Today that’s become an essential aspect of being an entrepreneur. And so is authenticity. Fortune Magazine senior editor Pattie Sellers explains why in this short video:

Storytelling has become a must for entrepreneurs. All start-ups and businesses have to be able to tell their story on social media in ways that captivate their audience.  Consequently one more crucial skill has to be performed by entrepreneurs. But not to worry, those of you who are not writers can hire one.

Can you write like a journalist?

It’s a new phenomena because in the past there was no need for entrepreneurs to tell an interesting story about themselves and their company that made people want to know more and do business with them.


Have you ever pondered upon that question?

But social media changed all that. Communication is fundamental and it’s essential to convey your brand in ways that works. Advertising in newspapers, magazines and TV commercials is no longer enough.

You have to be able to tell your story the way a journalist or writer  would. Alternatively get a journalist or writer to tell your story to build up your brand on social media. 

If you write fiction you will be caught

To be honest and authentic is more important than ever. Even if you use little white lies chances are high you will get caught. Today it’s so easy to find the truth. It’s hence essential to be consistent and tell the same story everywhere. Not only online but offline. Unless of course you want someone somewhere, maybe a competitor, to catch you and post their findings somewhere on the web. It happens all the time. So don’t pretend you are better than you are.

Do you agree that social media has made captivating storytelling essential for entrepreneurs and companies? Is excellent communication and writing skills more important than ever? Or are you of the opinion that advertising and TV commercials in the right places is still enough for an entrepreneur to succeed? Are you consistent with your brand and make sure the same information, and pictures, come across everywhere? Are you authentic and honest with your branding? 


73 responses

  1. Catarina — good writing is in short supply in social media. I'm glad that I studied journalism in college and began my professional career as a business writer for a daily newspaper. Later I moved into public relations and management positions within large organizations and agencies. But when I began to specialize in social media I returned to my core competency — writing. You can't succeed in any profession unless you can communicate and persuade people to accept your ideas. Writing is at the core of communications.
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  2. Interesting post. Communication is definitely a more important tool for entrepreneurs than every before. Storytelling is a key component, but I'm finding so many blogs of smaller businesses and entrepreneurs have sloppy writing and spelling that it can be a turnoff. If people don't have the skills to write social media updates and blog posts they should hire a professional writer to do it for them. I know of several writers who do this professionally for business clients. The content can still be authentic. It is just polished, as in the case of a diamond to make it more beautiful.
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  3. Hasn't it always been that way? Maybe not to the extent of what we see nowadays because of prolific social media, but people have normally want to know the history of a company before they start supporting it, and people from the company; employees, owners, etc., would have to have some information on hand.

    Interesting post!

    • To some extent. But now you have to either be able to write like a journalist or hire someone who can write you up online. Writing broshures that reach a few people is one thing. Online writing that in theory can be read by the whole world is another.

  4. Hi Catarina,

    Authenticity if you think about it has always been important. It just today if you aren't you are more likely to be exposed. At the heart of it is like personal relationships, be honest and open and you have nothing to fear. It comes back to common sense.

    I do wonder though is those who like storytelling the way she said in the video is primarily other entrepreneurs. Storytelling is one thing, however I am not sure it applies across the board. For example I and yes it is a sample of one don't care about the story of the guy who cuts our lawn. As long as he does it properly that is all that matters.

    At the moment it is a great time for those with writing skills as many of us in business haven't learned how versus those from a journalist background. The same goes for others in the communication field and this will probably continue because unless the Internet suddenly dies, as much of the communication is no longer face to face.

    • True Susan. But in the past companies could get away with white lies, and did. The way I interpret online storyttelling is everything from your profiles on social media to blogs, websites and so forth. Apple and Steve Jobs are great examples of how customers buy a story. You hence have to tell the same authentic story everywhere in ways that makes people want to know more. Agree with you that it doesn't apply to the guy who cuts your lawn. Yes writing skills is important at the moment. But don't forget that the majority of people believe they can write:-)

  5. I think it is important to be able to write and spell in all aspects of life. More importantly in business where you are judged by what you are putting out there.
    I agree whole heartedly with being authentic. Like in life, if I feel that you are just trying to sell me or you are full of "it" then I will walk away.

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    • True Becc. But what you write online can be read by the entire population of the world. And search engines record everything and forget nothing. That's worse than a mistake in a, say, broshure.:-)

  6. With social media, a non-linear aspect has been introduced into storytelling, which in turn makes it harder than ever to engage potential customers. The play between text and images is more crucial than ever. Writing matters so much, and good writing is really indicative of good thinking. To effectively tell a story means the writer/entrepreneur has the ability to create a world people want to be a part of. Too often that's not the case. It always floors me that so few writing classes are required these days.
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  7. I agree with what was said in the video. You cannot tell little white lies and you have to communicate your story. Everyone hates to fail, but in reality everyone does at one time or another and people want to know that. Being truthful actually helps rather than hinders you. Today's social media requires the truth.
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  8. I love the idea of storytelling to communicate the tale of a business (as long as it isn't a tall tale!). Unlike Susan, I will hire a guy to cut our lawn if he tells a better story. In fact, our handyman has a PhD in sociology (he hated academia), and he tells many stories well. That certainly works for me.
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    • Glad we agree about the importance of storytelling online Leora. Great to hear you have a handyman with a PhD. You know Leora with the inflation we have when it comes to education in the future that may be a demand.

  9. I'm not sure that it's just social media that has made story-telling so essential for business. In fact, I remember the best sales people from my early work days well over 30 years ago were always those that could tell a story – truthful – around whatever they were selling. Social media has simply widened the audience that you can reach with your stories and so made it more apparent when you miss the point and/or change your story…

    Story-telling is the way we communicate best, and arguably the way in which we have successfully communicated for the longest – it predates writing, after all.

    • True Guy, but in the past you could "get away with murder" when it came to storytelling – and some companies did:-). Now however, you broadcast your stories to the whole world and the smallest white lie can be found and – also – broadcast to the whole world. And to top it up, search engines record everything and forget nothing.

      Now everyting, even your social media profile, has to tell a story that your target groups like and want to found out more about.

  10. Being a good story teller does not mean that one fabricates something to draw attention. It will lead to a total lack of credibility with all who they come into contact. It can and will destroy a career or business. However, having the skill to tell a good and true story is an invaluable skill. :-)
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  11. Storytelling is very different than classic journalism or writing a press release, I took a creative writing/ storytelling class last semester and the format is very different! Authenticity and the ability to write a creative story that people can trust to be true is essential for succeeding in the business world and I think that it is very interesting that you pointed that out.
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    • Morgan, Pattie Smith is a journalist and what she is talking about is journalistic storytelling. If you get too creative you will end up writing fiction. And that is the beginning of the end of you and your company. So be careful:-)

  12. Authenticity is crucial given this day and time where so many of us get duped. Think most recently: Lance Armstrong. I had to listen twice since more of this was related to authenticity when I listened – not so much story telling. But then I got it, best stories are in a narrative form of some kind. It is the same with public speaking as it is with writing.
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  13. To me it is obvious that you need an enormous amount of money to invest in TV and other media forums e.g. newspapers, magazines, radio etc. to push your product and this fact probably eliminates 99% of entrepreneurs.

    Who can afford to run ads at you local movies theater like Coca Cola where its product is already sold? Pepsi, another zillion dollar conglomerate.

    I agree the internet and social social media is changing everything. My wife and I own a 108-acre vineyard development in Argentina where we sell boutique 5-acre vineyards. To date we have sold nine vineyards, one from a face to face at a Conference, the other eight via the internet and
    five of those seven have never come to see their vineyard.

    I think my point is that your communications with a prospect must also be colorful and authentic.

  14. Catarina, I agree with you that storytelling and good writing is an essential component of building an online presence. Your suggestion to outsource our writing should definitely be considered an investment in our business. Not everyone can write well. It's a skill. (Publishing content with spelling and grammatical errors is the biggest offense to me.) Being on a limited budget shouldn't prevent someone from enlisting help if they need it. Small business owners who need help can consider hiring a student as an intern. That could be a win-win for both parties.
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  15. Social media really has changed the game, and it must be hard if you do not have the writing skill, and are unable to hire someone. I think authenticity is almost more important than the ability to tell your story. As you say, not only can people find out, but it shows through in your presentation, however proficient you are. Finding the right media is essential. Some people are great in print, but would be quivering wallflowers in video. Interesting point Catarina. Thanks for the post.
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  16. I very much agree that social media has changed the game in many ways for companies- including making it essential for them to engage customers and clients in a way that they cause them to take an invested interest in the business. It makes sense that the back story of any company would be compelling to prospective customers, but I don't think its as important as the communication between them is.
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    • Glad we agree Kelly. Started out as a journalist and hence understand what Pattie is saying. Even profiles on social media has to tell a story. A dull profile makes the visitor stop reading. Everything you put on social media has to be written in a compelling, and authentic, way. If not you are losing customers.

  17. Catarina, I am still not familiar enough with social media to make a statement about that. However, being honest and communicating the message of what your business is all about has always been key. I can certainly see that good writing is a must on the Internet, so yes, if you can’t write or tell a good story yourself, you should certainly hire someone to do it for you.

  18. Yes, I’m aware of the need to communicate our stories. I’ve written about that in my blog too. It’s funny, I mention my background in aviation fairly frequently because people remember that and are intrigued with it. Really, it’s all about engaging our ideal clients so that they can learn to know, like and trust us which leads to buying.

    • What problems you have encountered do you bring up? Remember that Pattie said in the video that Fortune will not publish an article about an enterpreneur that doesn't talk about problems he/she has encountered.

  19. It appears to me that whoever is telling their story needs to invest in building a monopoly of trust in order to distinguish themselves from the pack.

  20. Catarina, this post is timely since I am in the process of re-vamping my business website. Was considering an "about us" story on the new page. A video might be interesting to have but I am going to lie about one thing…I'm going to stand on a box so I seem taller.

  21. Right on the money Catarina…and yet there is a lack of skills in terms of writing out there:) I remember the days when any CEO or department head wrote something that went first to a secretary for a real proof read! There is a real danger, now that every employee writes and posts their own stuff, that the story becomes inconsistent! Everyone has a different version of the mission:) As to the white lies…my dad used to always tell me…"Tell the truth! It's the easiest thing to remember! "

  22. Hello Catarina

    It is true that the ways of communication have changed and with social media a lot of things are different now. It is true that one must master the art of story telling and it should be based on truth otherwise as you said that one can be caught and this can bring negative impact on business.

    I was thinking, as you asked about use of story telling by entrepreneurs and TV etc. If I talk about my place Kashmir, in which mostly the areas are still remote, new generation is into social media but old still stick to their TV and Radio and believe what is broadcast from them. So the story is little different there.

  23. While social media may have created new demands for entrepreneurs and businesses it has also given them a tremendous opportunity to get their message out. Before social media, a business had either to try to get some coverage in established media, which for most was very unlikely, or spend lots and lots of money on advertising.

  24. Absolutely. Any business than can captivate a reader I would assume has a much greater chance of turning that captivated reader into a paying client.

  25. I agree that social media has made it (in some ways) easier and now more essential to be able to share your story. Whether you do it well is a bit of a challenge! It’s hard to fake good writing.

  26. Social media has changed everything. You cannot run a business without addressing social media. Marketing has had to change to include this critical avenue. So I agree that social media is a huge consideration for anyone who has a business or wants to start one.

  27. Social media is a must these days and if you want to get the word out about a new business or product it's a great way to showcase it. You do however need to write and spell clearly in all aspects of life. For those that can't always concentrate on social media…social media managers come in handy.

  28. I think if you begin to fabricate things to make your story telling better, you will lose credibility with your readers. Taking the chance of destroying your reputation, career, or business if not worth it just to draw attention.Being a good story teller does not mean that one fabricates something to draw attention. The ability to tell a true story well is an invaluable skill. :

  29. The story telling process is so vital in business. Unfortunately, we sometimes have them removed from us. You end up taking technical writing, which removes the creativity part of writing, and afterwards you need to recapture that narrative voice again. I think social media is allowing more people to be imaginative in telling their story, and the story of their business; this is a very good thing.

  30. You are right, it is only though a good story that people can get that broader insight into what your company is all about. Illustrating the face you put across through stories helps people relate to and understand you better – and Yes! they will see through a false facade.

  31. I totally agree with you. Storytelling is important, social media is vital, and the truth always comes out. Great message!

  32. Social media has taken everything we always knew in PR and amplified them. Good story telling, truth in advertising and strong writing have always been and will always be some of the best practices of the trade. I think one of the biggest challenges of being an entrepreneur is that you have know the best practices of so many trades.

  33. It is crucial and I think that it has contributed to the success of my award winning blog Defrosting Cold Cases. Instead of just adding links to newspaper articles or repeating what the media says about these cases, I tell the story as I see it. You are right, truth is always better. It is too easy to spot whether you are suing your own words or not.

    • Glad you agree. Not sure that good storytelling about a company on its website and social media can replace articles in top magazines about you though. Unless your storytelling is published in, say, Fortune. Sticking to the truth is essential. People get caught lying every day. Honestly can't understand why they haven't understood that importance of honesty in our online world.

  34. Genuine and honest makes for the best story. With so many online outlets, consistency is important. I think there are still a few small businesses in the western world who can get by without an online presence, but for most business a good online story is important.

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