COM011 – Storytelling – Drawing from Documentary

I’m interested in the parallels between good storytelling in documentary film and the challenges of creating a vibrant brand when using social media.

In the documentary world, there are many ways of telling stories. In every case, a great film uses the strengths inherent in the medium of film to tell the story.

The CorporationI have watched documentary films that should have been magazine articles. These films are made up of interviews where people say things intercut with some beautiful and appropriate footage. But all these could equally well have been texts and photographs on a page.

A good filmmaker thinks about where to start the story, what to shoot so that the images best express the content, how to create a mood or an emotion through images, and how to structure the film so that the story intrinsic in the subject engages the viewer and draws them in and through the material.

I think the craft of good storytelling can be useful in building a social media brand. Just as the act of shooting footage with a camera doesn’t necessarily make a good film, so blogging or tweeting in itself will not necessarily create a compelling brand or identity.

Of course, a film has a finite form and a reasonably captive audience, whereas a social media presence or persona is more open-ended. But I think it is an interesting exercise to imagine how storytelling techniques can be adapted to a social media project.

Sheila Curran BernardSheila Curran Bernard presents these ideas about documentary storytelling (

  • Tell a chronological story, but not necessarily in chronological order.
  • Use shots and sequences to tell a story.
  • Present information when it best serves the story.
  • Enter late, exit early.

Ken Burns looked at the same task and broke it down in this way (

  • Find a story that moves you
  • Find the format in the story
  • The drama and the characters are there – find them and let them speak
  • Tell the story your way

Stories We Tell

Many of the key tips in these articles can not only be applied to a social media project but could well enrich it, creating more layers and nuance.

Imagine stepping back and thinking about how to tell your story – creating an interesting hook, refining your core theme, finding the drama in your project or organization, hunting down the interesting characters in your business, thinking about the most appropriate medium to use (visual or text or moving images) and structuring your posts or tweets or input so that they create a story arc your audience wants to follow.

Social media may be a new way of communicating to an audience, but the classic elements of storytelling (that go back well beyond filmmaking) will still be at the core of a good social media campaign.

2 thoughts on “COM011 – Storytelling – Drawing from Documentary

  1. What a analytical approach? The parallels between documentary film format and new social media campaign are very interesting. I agree with your views that the traditional way of storytelling is the core for the good social media campaign and advertising.

  2. Interesting analysis relating storytelling on social media in comparison to documentaries. I agree storytelling on social media has lots of potential of of having two way story telling. This can enrich and add layers of stories even further. While the person telling the story has their view others with social media can jump in and add their textures to it.

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