As fall shadows start to appear on the horizon, it seems fitting to ponder memories of the season past. Curiously enough, it is not the actual content of happiness that we remember, it’s the more indirect perception of being happy, the narrative arc when a sombre moment turned to happiness, or an unexpected plan transformed an ordinary beautiful summer day into a memorable one.
PR and the Act of Perception: How We Identify
The human psychology is wired to perceive changes: the seasons, the diurnal rhythms, our mood, the weekends–more than a smooth, unbroken run, even one of purely happy moments. Those purely happy moments get blurred into something ordinary, an unremarkable, unsung time of stability, perhaps. We tend to skim over, or ignore things that are not different, that do not to appear change.
Not surprisingly, consciously or unconsciously, we humans like to brand things. Branding identifies by differentiating. We like to label things, or give them a name, as we communication scientists will say, in order to identify, grasp, and understand them.
In PR, social media gives us the tools to construct the micro-narratives that give life to the brand.
There is greater truth to that than apparent at first glance. Consider that unless we identify something (by name, by brand, by label, by a narrative arc) it might as well not have existed. By giving it a name, a brand, we give it an identity, we call it into being.
Remember your favorite brands. What makes them memorable?
Branding: Narrativizing Corporations
So it is with corporations. Branding identifies corporations with a narrative–an arc. A grand storyline that carries with it ideologies, personality, a collective memory of human history, tales, values, and aspirations.
“Just Do It” (Nike), “Read. Watch. Listen” (Facebook F8 motto), “People in Motion” (GM), “Think Different” (Apple).
We project our individual selves on the slogan, personalizing, adapting, and recreating it. It is a powerful, subconscious act.
Remember the Orwellian Apple, 1984?
Do you have a favorite example?
PR in Social Media: The Micro-Narratives Shaping our Grand Narrative
For the social media writer, narratives can be amplified into a grand narrative. Jean Francois Lyotard, the French postmodernist philosopher, argued in his 1979 book, “The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge,” that the grand narrative is, essentially, the story of our times.
It is the powerful logic that underlies the age we live in, that frames how we engage in sensemaking, giving meaning to our reality. Freedom, equality, progress, science, are examples of grand narratives that define our 21st century.
With social media, narrative construction, too is a dialogue. We tell the story in a community square, and it is in the micro-retellings that the narrative arc is shaped, filled out, given life. The story travels our village square by word of mouth. And the organization lives (or not) in its many retellings by its consumers. Our postmodern tribe is not so different after all.
As Kenneth Gergen notes, “With these changes, we confront profound questions of value: What is worth valuing, defending, and holding onto in our lives, and what can we abandon in favor of the new and the exotic?” (An Invitation to Social Construction, 2003, p. 2).
Strategies to Use Social Media To Craft the Micro-Narrative
As social media consultants, we want, we create, we stoke, the campfire around which such micro-tellings that create organiztional identity.
We tell our audiences what is worth valuing about us, yet, we realize that once stoked into being, they take on a life of their own. You watch them grow, shape them through your own narratives, create dialogue around key points, shed light on the bright stuff, and hope you have done your best.
Name: Identify your core values
Create: Envision your narrative arc.
Craft: Weave it into the grand narrative of our times.
Engage: Gently stoke the campfire, start conversations,
Differentiate: Amplify differences from competitors that identify the good stuff
Be True: Tell a good, real story
A Grand Narrative for All Times: Good Shall Prevail
During times of crisis, communications grounded in a good narrative arc, crafted into the grand narrative of our age, will only strengthen the organization’s character.
Your crisis communication will illuminate the good, the strong, and the upright values the organization has upheld. And to fall is only human. As humans, we forgive, we understand, we empathize with our humanity.
Lead with your narrative. Infuse it with value, a grand narrative, an identity that is an enduring player in your audiences’ lives, impossible to leave behind or live without.