Examples, Tools, and Tips for Digital Storytelling

Megan Smith
Published: Feb 16, 2024
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Ever notice those ads that stick with you long after they've aired? What makes them so memorable? The secret to their lasting impact can be summed up in a single word: storytelling!

In an era where attention spans are fleeting, tantalizing narratives have become the cornerstone of effective and engaging communication. As a matter of fact, a solid storytelling strategy can boost conversions by up to 30%. But while traditional storytelling has long influenced advertising, the current internet-driven age has introduced a plethora of innovative digital storytelling tools you can leverage to increase customer loyalty.

Among all these possibilities, you may wonder: How can your organization pair this artistry with computer-based tools to stand out online? Let's unveil a few valuable insights you can adapt to your specific needs as you attempt to up your digital storytelling game.

What Is Digital Storytelling?

Now more than ever, the internet has become a priceless platform for sharing stories that transcend geographical boundaries and resonate with diverse audiences. Digital storytelling is a dynamic and multidimensional narrative technique that capitalizes on digital elements and mediums to convey compelling messages and generate meaningful bonds. 

Unlike traditional storytelling, which relies on oral traditions, written narrative structures, or visual elements, digital storytelling integrates a diverse range of multimedia tools and components to create a rich and immersive narrative experience. These can include but are not limited to:

  • Images
  • Music
  • Graphics
  • Video clips 
  • Sound effects
  • Interactive elements

Whether it's through content for social media, online promotions, engaging websites, or virtual reality environments, digital storytelling is a crucial part of most contemporary communication strategies. As a digital storyteller, you now have access to a fascinating mix of creativity and technology to enrich the audience's experience when telling your story. 

Elements of Successful Online Narratives

Digital storytelling as an artist or educator vastly differs from digital storytelling as a marketer. Still, regardless of your narrative's intent, it's worth considering the seven elements crafted by Center Berkeley's Center for Digital Storytelling:

  • Point of view. What's your perspective?
  • A dramatic question. What uncertainty drives the piece, and how does it resolve?
  • Emotional content. What issues connect your audience to the story, and how do they emotionally respond to them?
  • The gift of your voice. How can you personalize the story?
  • The power of the soundtrack. What sounds will you use to support the story?
  • Economy. What amount of content do you need to tell your story? What can you cut?
  • Pacing. How quickly does the story move? What are the story's beats and rhythms?

Bear in mind that not every story will have a soundtrack, and other elements may take unexpected forms. However, while developing your narrative, consider some of the above-mentioned factors to infuse your storytelling with a distinctive and engaging character.

Types of Storytelling Through Digital Formats

Using a combination of content marketing and storytelling helps creators, marketers, and communicators stay relevant amid rapidly changing audience preferences and tech trends. Some of the most commonly used formats of storytelling in digital platforms are:

  • Personal narratives: These portrayals provide a firsthand account of specific situations, fostering relatability and empathy. Audiences connect deeply with authentic stories, making personal experiences a powerful tool for engagement.
  • Historical documentaries: This type of digital storytelling takes viewers on a journey through time through multimedia elements. The visual and auditory components enhance accessibility and engagement.
  • Stories designed to inform or instruct: The dynamism of digital media allows for effective knowledge dissemination. It enables you to spread information clearly and efficiently, catering to diverse learning styles and enhancing the educational experience.
  • Interactive stories: Interactive elements enable audiences to actively participate in the unfolding of the story, elevating their experience and heightening engagement. The deeper the level of personalization and immersion of this type of digital storytelling, the more profound the connection between you and your customers.
  • Crowdsourced stories: These narratives draw on the collective intelligence of a group, fostering a sense of community participation and welcoming a variety of viewpoints. In other words, the collaborative nature of crowdsourcing enhances the storytelling experience by creating a shared narrative shaped by many voices.
  • Transmedia storytelling: Spanning multiple platforms creates a cohesive digital content tapestry. This approach enhances the depth and richness of the storytelling experience, encouraging audiences to explore your narrative's different facets across various media channels.
  • Social media storytelling: The expanding reach of online platforms allows you to connect with audiences in real time. This immediacy and interactivity promote a sense of community as your stories unfold within your content strategies.

Understanding various digital storytelling forms is essential for advancing today's content strategies. It ensures an edge in capturing attention, fostering brand loyalty, and maintaining a meaningful presence in the audience's minds. 

Benefits of Digital Stories

Digital storytelling is arguably the best way to stay top of mind in a content-saturated market. When told the right way, digital stories tend to be memorable. In fact, according to cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner, facts are about 22 times more likely to be remembered if they're part of a story. 

Telling your stories online offers numerous advantages when it comes to engaging your audience and enhancing your brand visibility. Some of the main perks of incorporating digital stories into your marketing efforts include:

  • Increased reach and shareability: A compelling social media story is more likely to be shared across diverse platforms, exponentially expanding its reach. Not only does this boost visibility, but it also serves as a cost-effective method to amplify brand messaging.
  • Data-driven optimization: Analyzing user engagement with digital stories provides valuable data insights for both B2C and B2B storytelling. You can leverage analytics to understand audience preferences, optimize content, and tailor future stories for maximum impact. 
  • Decreased ad saturation: Digital stories can help overcome audience advertising fatigue by avoiding the tendency to skim over generic marketing language and images. Instead, stories draw people in by surprising or amusing them and fostering feelings or thoughts that resonate.
  • Heightened perceived authenticity: According to a study by Edelman, 32% of consumers consider lack of trust an absolute dealbreaker when making a purchasing decision. Digital storytelling helps brands build genuine relationships and trust with consumers. The organic and less pushy nature of storytelling aligns with contemporary consumer preferences, enhancing the effectiveness of marketing efforts.

Top 6 Digital Storytelling Examples and Tips

Looking to learn storytelling in the digital era? Here are some key story examples and recommendations to get you inspired:

1. Evoke Emotion through Real Stories

One of the classic uses of storytelling in marketing is to appeal to the emotions of your audience and connect those feelings to your brand. You can write a story featuring fictional characters, or you can spotlight users or the employees of your company. Attach faces to your brand, and invite people into the stories behind those faces.

Authenticity is key here, so make sure to keep it real. According to Forrester, 71% of U.S. consumers prefer brands they can connect with. Genuine stories that reflect relatable experiences are more likely to elicit emotional responses. Whenever possible, use visuals, such as images or videos, to show the emotions rather than just describing them. Visual elements have a powerful impact on conveying emotions effectively.

An excellent example of this is the website of the Utah Health Burn Center. They take visitors on an interactive journey that showcases the transformation that burn survivors undergo. The website focuses on the patients/survivors, highlighting their stories before getting into the history and mission statement of the burn unit. This way, they deliver an inspiring narrative about the journey of burn survivors that hits all the right notes.

Throughout the long-form piece "They Emerge Transformed," the writer Stephen Dark blends the experience of the Burn Center's staff with that of the patients. The message of struggle and hope never wavers, and the result is a very effective piece of content.

While this approach may work particularly well for nonprofits and businesses in certain industries, any organization can tap into its audience's emotions. Just look at one incredibly effective Kerrygold butter commercial. In thirty seconds, the brand turns a household staple into a tale about family love, pride, and traditions.

Pro Tip: Incorporate personal testimonials or experiences from real individuals. Hearing directly from people who have lived through a situation can evoke empathy and a stronger emotional response.

2. Leverage the Element of Surprise

Take audience expectations and overturn them. You can introduce a startling statistic or change up your message, tone, or style. The story should still resonate with your brand values, but a little surprise can grab people's attention or get them to look at your product in a new way.

Incorporate unexpected twists, turns, or elements that deviate from the anticipated storyline. Challenge common expectations and assumptions within your narrative by presenting information or events in a way that defies conventional thinking. This tactic will definitely spark interest and promote engagement.

Nike's marketing genius is a well-established fact. After all, there are only a handful of slogans with the power and longevity of "Just Do It." They have cultivated a brand image that is all about hard work, stamina, and the pursuit of excellence.

This is why their "Play New" campaign is such a surprise. The digital stories it tells revolve around fresh beginnings and discoveries — even when those beginnings aren't exactly pretty or dignified

It's a departure from Nike's traditional messaging, and its key video shows mega athletes getting out of their comfort zones, too. Basketball star Sabrina Ionescu misses a tennis serve. Sprinter Dina Asher-Smith fails to hit a golf ball. Paralympic champion Blake Leeper struggles to connect in the batting cage.

It's fresh and fun, and it turns our expectations upside down.

Pro Tip: Play around with non-linear or unconventional formats. Doing so can disrupt the typical narrative flow, creating surprise through the structure itself.

3. Make Good Use of Your Data

Data probably informs much of your digital marketing already. But you can harness it for storytelling purposes, too. When you strategically integrate data into your storytelling process, you can enhance the credibility, relevance, and impact of your digital narratives.

While it's true that facts are most memorable when situated in stories, as mentioned earlier, that shouldn't lead you to discount their power. Use your data to enrich your stories or even to imply untold stories. For example, statistics about the prevalence of a certain disease can break the heart even without focusing on individual tragedies.

Blend your hard data with visualization techniques, and situate it within a meaningful story. Data storytelling increases the credibility of your narrative, and it engages both your audience's brains and their analytical capabilities. It's also versatile, allowing you to adapt one set of visuals and other narrative elements to different marketing channels.

Oxfam Ireland tells the story of its year in review with an engaging and interactive infographic. The map highlights both the amazing work already accomplished and the demand for such work. It encourages donors by showing all that can be done — and all that is still to do.

Pro Tip: Use data to establish cause-and-effect relationships within your narrative. Demonstrate how specific actions or decisions led to measurable outcomes, providing a logical and data-driven progression in your storytelling.

4. Take a Stand on Relevant Issues

No one remembers the fence-sitters. If there's a controversial issue that affects your community, stand up and raise your voice. Choose issues that align with your brand values and identity to maintain consistency and credibility. Additionally, tailor your approach based on the platform you're using, and use precise language to avoid ambiguity.

Nike also subverted traditional messaging in 2020, responding to widespread racial injustice and unrest with "For once, Don't Do It." The video asks viewers not to ignore systemic inequality or the crimes committed against black bodies.

This kind of digital storytelling can be especially effective when controversy hits your industry. For example, the beauty industry regularly intersects with any number of issues, such as animal rights and representation. One of the most famous ad campaigns of the last two decades is Dove's Real Beauty, an attack on unrealistic beauty standards and the celebration of natural, healthy bodies.

It's rarer to see that kind of thoughtful engagement in a male beauty brand, but Gillette did just that with its campaign #TheBestMenCanBe. Its stories focus on men embodying modern, socially aware values. It encourages men to hold one another accountable for offenses such as bullying, harassment, and all instances of toxic masculinity.

In "We Believe: The Best Men Can Be," Gillette insists that the world has changed and that we need to do better by today's boys — the men of tomorrow. It takes on the "boys will be boys" mentality and features the #MeToo movement, among other social movements. It's short, powerful, and has been viewed more than 37 million times.

Pro Tip: Approach the issue with empathy and sensitivity. Acknowledge diverse viewpoints and experiences, showing respect for different opinions even if they differ from your own.

5. Amplify User Stories

Brands have long showcased real stories about real people using their products. This approach, often seen in testimonials and case studies, adds a layer of credibility and transparency, allowing consumers to see the tangible impact of a brand on real lives. 

If you're looking to incorporate user stories into your brand's digital narrative, avoid embellishing or distorting the user's experience to ensure credibility. This will only damage your reputation and make you come across as salesy and inauthentic. 

Sometimes, the best thing you can do is to sit back and feature the work of others. That's where user-generated content (UGC) may come in handy. After all, true user stories have an authenticity that your best professional marketing can never match. Over 75% of people use social media to discover new brands, and most of them claim UGC is their go-to type of content to influence their decisions. 

UGC is the body of material that your consumers create themselves, their personal stories that feature your brand. It includes reviews, examples of people using your product, and any other recorded engagement with your brand.

The proliferation of digital storytelling tools has helped popularize this type of content. Your users are more digitally proficient than ever before. They create some incredible stories. So why not make life a little easier on yourself?

GoPro sets up six different challenges in which users can participate, submitting their own stories for a chance to be featured and even win prizes. It's a great example of user-generated content.

That's particularly easy for companies who develop the software or manufacture hardware that enables these projects. The technology company GoPro does both, and its GoPro Awards are a marketing streak of genius. Users submit their work for the chance to win prizes and to be featured by the brand.

Pro Tip: Adapt user stories to suit the characteristics of different digital platforms. Short, impactful snippets may work well on social media, while longer, more detailed narratives may be suitable for your website or blog.

6. Embrace Your Quirks for Authenticity

What makes your company different? What makes your people different? Whether you highlight an employee's unusual journey or your brand's offbeat personality, quirks help us to see and relate to both people and companies.

Share your story, whether that's behind-the-scenes glimpses of your processes, work culture, or creative endeavors. This transparency allows your audience to see the human side of your brand, eccentricities and all. When suitable, use humor that aligns with your brand's personality. This approach helps you craft endearing and memorable stories, creating a more lighthearted connection with your audience.

One quirky collection of digital stories comes from a pretty unexpected place. Ernest Packaging takes an unorthodox approach to often-dry B2B marketing with its YouTube channel Cardboard Chaos.

The channel celebrates the strength and flexibility of Ernest Packaging cardboard, and it's a celebration of the brand's creativity and sense of humor. Short videos show people making wakeboards, guitars, snowboards, and drums out of the material. It's weird, wonderful, and makes you remember the brand.

Pro Tip: Tell people about your company’s talent show, your unofficial mascot, or your longest-serving employee. Or combine the last two digital storytelling examples — ask users to contribute videos or photos that show off unexpected uses of your product. You can even turn it into a competition or pair it with a raffle to get more people interested.

What Tools Can You Use To Bring Your Narratives to Life?

Choosing the right tools for digital storytelling is not a one-size-fits-all approach. It all depends on the message you want to convey, your specific storytelling goals, and the preferences of your target audience. Using a blend of the options below will help you create a seamless storytelling experience that enables you to attract a wider audience that sticks with you:

  • Video creation tools: Video is a powerful medium for visual storytelling, allowing audiences to immerse themselves in a rich blend of moving images and sound. Nowadays, several video creation tools enable users to convey emotions, messages, and brand stories effectively. Some of the most popular are Adobe Premiere Pro, iMovie, and Filmora.
  • Storyboarding software: Storyboarding is crucial for planning and organizing narrative ideas visually, ensuring a coherent and engaging flow. Some computer-based tools that enable you to visualize scenes, pacing, and transitions before the actual production are Storyboard That, StudioBinder, and Canva.
  • Data visualization tools: Transforming complex data into digestible and engaging information is vital to enhance your narrative's credibility and impact. A few tools that can help you make statistics more relatable and memorable are Tableau, Google Data Studio, and Infogram.
  • UCG platforms: Platforms that aggregate user-created content provide a genuine portrayal of brand experiences, fostering trust and connection. You can use TINT, Yotpo, and Taggbox for your community-fueled marketing needs.
  • Interactive content tools: Interactive articles enhance audience engagement, making the storytelling experience more immersive and noteworthy. Some platforms that enable you to go beyond passive consumption include H5P, ThingLink, and Ceros.
  • Audio editing software: Well-crafted audio adds depth and emotion to your stories. Audio editing software like Audacity, GarageBand, and Adobe Audition allows you to improve your storytelling through sound effects, music, and clear narration.

Create Your Own Digital Storytelling Ideas

Throughout history, the human brain has naturally responded to narratives and tales. That's perhaps why, in the modern day, the ancient art of storytelling has seamlessly blended into today's digital advertising scene. It lets you share your truth in a unique way and captivate audiences with narratives that not only promote products or services but also forge emotional connections and foster brand loyalty. 

In this era of information overload, the challenge lies in creating narratives that cut through the noise and resonate with your audience. The expertise of Compose.ly's professional writers can help you elevate your digital storytelling to new heights. Let's connect!


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