Q&A: Mike Lichter on social media and the stories we tell

Each week we sit down with Cardwell Beach experts on marketing, sales and business strategy. This week, Matt Hansen interviewed me about my role as Creative Director at Cardwell Beach, about the ways social media is changing the way we communicate and about the current status of copywriting in marketing.

Q: In your view, how has social media changed the way we communicate?
A: Overall, it has made the articulation and consumption of ideas both immediate and disposable. But the most interesting aspect to me is how radical technological steps forward echo backward. The invention of the phone and radio took us back to an oral tradition in storytelling—before the written word was dominant.
Now we see the rise of images replacing words, which is taking us back even further to a time when people were using simple visuals to tell a story, such as pictographs, hieroglyphs and cave drawings. We see that with the rise of emojis and infographics. It’s an interesting paradox: we take these giant leaps forward while also reaching back.

Q: As someone who works with words professionally, how has this image-first mentality changed the way you do your work?
A: I think from a copy perspective, it’s obliterated long-format writing. There’s just no place for it because people largely don’t read anymore; they scan. But I don’t think it’s necessarily changed the way I think. These new tools and mediums just change the ways we communicate, not what we say.

Q: What advice would you give to brands and businesses that are looking to adapt their storytelling for today’s audiences that are on social?
A: I’d start with: don’t tell stories. “Storytelling” is one of those buzzy marketing words that sounded really cool because it made what we do sound more impressive than it is. But like most things about marketing, it was 20% truth and 80% grandiosity masquerading as profundity. And like most of my peers I am guilty of using the word, too—mainly because it made me feel like less of a blight on society—and then one day I was like, “Wait a minute—this is kind of bullshit.” Sorry. My point is this: no one wants to hear your brand story or contribute to it in any way.
Just know your customer, know where they are, know what they want, and hit them with stuff that’s relevant to your brand that you think they’ll find interesting or funny or cool or whatever. Keep it rooted in your brand, but don’t make it about your brand—make it about them.
And always assume that they have less than zero interest in what you have to say. Seriously—less than zero. Assume you’re going to have to deliver a lot of good stuff to get them up to zero interest. If you start with that mindset, you’ll work harder to make stuff that’s actually compelling.

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