How to develop social storylines

Are you a generalist or a specialist when it comes to communication? According to Public Relations firm Edelman, one of the most profound trends of the last decade is the specialisation of the marketing workforce.

Edelman storytelling According to Steve Rubel, Edelman’s Chief Content Strategist, we need to become Specialist Generalists, and there are five strategies to adopt, including the need to develop social storylines.

They’ve just released some research and strategies, which I’m going to share with you. It provides guidance on developments that can impact the life-cycle of a story and is well worth a read.

This builds on the Edelman Cloverleaf which was first released in 2011.

One of the things that stands out for me from this new research is the rise of employee voice. LinkedIn is cited as a place which is fast becoming a hub for business influencers, including employee voices.

It also talks about the launch of Google Accelerated Mobile Pages in early 2016, which will speed up and improve the news discovery experience on the mobile web.

Demand for experts

Edelman Hot off the press is The Edelman Cloverleaf Forecast. In a nutshell, the advice is to focus on the macro as well as the micro.

The firm say the growth of digital channels, it seems, has created a huge demand for experts who are deep in the smallest of niches.

Does this match with what you’re seeing and hearing?

The focus of their work is how to extend (or redirect) the life-cycle of a narrative. They say this is going to be one of the greatest challenges communications and marketing professionals will face in the foreseeable future.

Three major trends
There are at least three major trends that are impacting how content is discovered, consumed and monetised, and these will make storytelling even more challenging in the future.

Specifically, these trends include:

  • Media proliferation

    – infinite content, yet finite attention

  • Social personalisation

    – content flowing via the lens of friends

  • Advertising frustration

    – ad blocking, viewability and bot fraud.

The need for marketing jedis
SteveRubelWriting in AdAge, Steve Rubel, chief content strategist at Edelman (pictured) states: “Taken together, (the trends) will make it harder and harder for brands to get their message across. And it creates a need for a new class of marketing jedis – those who will thrive as generalists.

“Specialist generalists, as I call them, are integrators who can see the entire ecosystem as a whole. They are deep at one thing: extending the life-cycle of a narrative via the right mix of paid, earned and owned tactics.

“How does one become such a specialist generalist? It starts with studying how consumption writ large is changing and embracing systems thinking.”

Rubel says this is a topic Edelman thinks deeply and cares about: “While we have deep specialists, we also embrace holistic systems thinking in seeing how different parts of the ecosystem fit together. We build these into our plans.”

How do you know where to start?

“The EDELMAN CLOVERLEAF™ framework guides their thinking. It’s the firm’s holistic point of view on the evolving media and content landscape. The EDELMAN CLOVERLEAF, which first launched in 2011 as the Media Cloverleaf™, has been updated, and you can see it below:



What’s changed and what’s different?

It now features two overlapping spheres of influence – one for platforms and one for publishers:

Platforms are technology hubs where most content discovery now starts. These dominate the digital day and include social networks / messaging services, search engines and personalised news curators

Publishers are groups of content creators. These include traditional and digital-native news organisations, platform-savvy influencers plus content and digital experiences built by brands.

The Edelman Cloverleaf Forecast includes five strategies marketers will need to embrace to ensure their communications’ marketing narratives are discoverable. It’s based on more than two dozen in-depth interviews conducted across all six parts of the ecosystem.

Those strategies include:

  1. Develop social storylines
    Social media is now the primary means of means of discovery. However, news you read is often different from news you say you read. This requires embracing a social-by-design approach to storytelling from the outset that can elevate a consumer’s identity.
  2. Embrace distribution-centric thinking
    This means that brands will need to partner with publishers, influencers and others to scale a program’s digital surface area.
  3. Drive to earned media
    Build programs that create owned media for the primary purpose of driving earned media. Original content is increasingly the “lead domino” that knocks over others and begins a virtuous cycle of conversations.
  4. Create a single narrative
    Ensure that a singular narrative is carved up and hand-crafted to fit in the spaces where it will ultimately be discovered, shared and consumed.
  5. Focus on creating canonical content
    High-interest, high-quality stories that are unavailable anywhere else often will find an audience because it is scarce.

There’s a lot of information that’s been produced by Edelman to help you think through how you can work on “one of the greatest, yet perhaps unheralded, challenges that communications and marketing professionals now face”.

Building on the social storylines idea, the research shows:

  • Social media is now the primary mean of news discovery
  • News you read is often different from news you say you read
  • Journalism is now social currency for billions of consumers
  • This is encouraging the majority of journalists to create more sharable/social-friendly storylines (76% Edelman/Muck Rack survey)
  • Communications Marketing programmes need to do the same in both a social-by-design as well as a linear and logical style.

Here’s the full report:

What do you think of the findings?
You’re welcome to comment below, or Tweet me @AllthingsIC.

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Post author: Rachel Miller

First published on the All Things IC blog 14 January 2016. Updated July 2017.

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