Once upon a time there was a website visitor who started reading a blog post about making things up. The reader sat in his office surround by books and files gripped by the words scrolling past his eyes. Surely, it could not be true, he thought. The blog post was telling him not to tell the truth on his own website. The website visitor sat their stunned, staring at the screen with his mouth wide open in amazement. How on earth could it be worthwhile making things up instead of telling people the truth, he thought.
You might be thinking the same as our blog reader – surely I can’t be advising you to make things up on your website. But I am. Honest…!
New research shows that when people read fiction they become much more emotionally engaged with the subject. The researchers used fictional accounts of voters and gave them to people who were due to vote in elections. The people who read stories where the main character was very similar to them actually voted in higher numbers than people who read stories where the characters were remote. In other words, when people read fiction with which they identified it changed their behaviour.
Story telling is an essential component in all communication. Indeed, news media call everything they do “stories” and when you watch TV shows like X-Factor you get the story behind each contestant, which often looks at their triumph over adversity. And what do the judges do? Well they ensure there is conflict – an essential component of a good story. The show may parade itself as a talent contest, but in reality it is a series of stories – and that’s central to its success.
This new research adds to the massive amount of material available which shows how fundamental the concept of story is to communication. It suggests now that by using stories you can change behaviour. If you want your website visitors to do certain things, then telling them fictional stories about what other people have done could help. Of course your stories must be realistic and you need to identify the fact that they are made up (otherwise you’ll generate mistrust once you are found to be lying). But if you use stories then you can increase engagement and produce behavioural changes in your website visitors.
So, for example, imagine you are a business consultant offering management advice. A set of fictional tales about managers in certain situations could well help engage people. Similarly, what if you are an SEO company? You could produce a set of short stories about people desperately trying to get better placings on search engines. Think of them as case histories you make up. Just as long as you make it clear that these are fiction, you can engage your readers and make it likely that they change their behaviour – such as taking that trial of your SEO software or booking an appointment with your management consultancy.
Stories are important, whether fiction or fact, but too few websites use the concept of story telling – much to their detriment.
- How to engage your website visitors (grahamjones.co.uk)
- Can a fictional character take you over? (guardian.co.uk)
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+