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Storytelling in Social Media – Applying the “Improv” Method

As digital marketing and social media strategies continue to evolve alongside consumer behaviors and interests, it is becoming more and more important to publish interesting, engaging, and thought provoking content to keep your brand performance “alive.”

Shared narrative takes centre stage

Sangeeta Singh and Stephan Sonnenburg state in their article, ‘Brand Performances in Social Media,’ that social media brand owners do not tell brand stories alone, but co-create brand performances in collaboration with the consumers. They liken social media interactions to improvisational (improv) theater, in which the consumer’s role in storytelling has shifted from passive listener to active participant, much like an audience member in an improv performance. Brand owners and users in social media interact with one another in the same impromptu and uncontrolled fashion that characterizes improv theater (Singh and Sonnenburg 2012).
In their article, Singh and Sonnenburg present several ideas surrounding their view of social media. I will relate those ideas to recent Atlas Copco social media activity and suggest future actions we may take as a company to adapt to a more improvisational brand performance.
Marlboro Man building a brand's story

The infamous “Marlboro Man”

Storytelling in marketing

A precursor to discussing the improv view of social media, it is important to note the importance of storytelling in marketing. Story indices (locations, actions, attitudes, problems, characters, etc.) create empathy in the listener by providing a meaning and the more indices a story has, the more places the story can reside in memoryand consequently be better recalled (Singh and Sonnenburg 2012). The famous (or infamous) Marlboro man campaign by Marlboro is a great example of strong indices: The location of cowboy country, the character of the hero cowboy, the attitude of independence, and the recognizable music. These all helped to achieve the goal of depicting the rugged cowboy country and a masculine cowboy, and (more importantly successfully engrained this vision and allowed it to be recalled in the minds of millions.

Stories also create or enhance connections with the brand by providing a theme to create conversations  between consumers and brands and among consumers themselves that allow them to fit their own experiences into the brand story (Singh and Sonnenburg 2012). Harley Davidson has been very successful in creating experiences and opportunities for storytelling through events such as organized rides, where customers are able to share their brand related stories with other riders.

Co-ownership of the story

Brand stories have traditionally been managed by brand owners, from content creation to distribution. Social media interactions between brands and consumers is changing this story ownership, from brand owners only to co-ownership with consumers. We have learned in the pinball view of marketing (Hennig-Thurau et al. 2010) that when brands and consumers co-create brand stories, owners do not have complete control of their brands. The brand owner, therefore, has to navigate its brand content through the consumer-generated content to ensure that consumers’ brand stories remain as close as possible to the brand owner’s desired story (Singh and Sonnenburg 2012). It is this awareness and guidance that is imperative if Atlas Copco is to adapt a more improvisational approach to its brand storytelling on social media.

Atlas Copco shaping the narrative

Atlas Copco’s Smart Connected Assembly Roadshow

Our story so far…

Atlas Copco has employed traditional storytelling methods with success in social media in recent years. Examples include cohesive, ongoing stories with multiple posts over periods of time, like Smart Connected Assembly and the traveling roadshow in Europe. These stories stand out with their use of vivid imagery and Atlas Copco employees helping to tell the story through images and video. Another example is a series titled, “Profiling the Experts,” in which key Atlas Copco employees identified as experts in their field were interviewed and asked questions about working with customers, solving their issues, and other topics.
Although these social media examples have allowed Atlas Copco to inform and educate customers about our new technologies, innovations and expertise, there is one key element that is missing: the customer and their active participation in each story. This is important, as we learned from the Harley Davidson example that stories can help build awareness, comprehension, empathy, recognition, recall, and provide meaning to the brand (Singh and Sonnenburg 2012).

What can Atlas Copco do?

What are some ways that Atlas Copco can start to or improve upon our interaction with customers? In social media settings, a brand can encourage consumers’ participation by initiating conversation through seeding (Schau, Muñiz, and Arnould 2009), provoking (Deighton and Kornfeld 2009), engaging, and providing a platform for conversations (Singh and Sonnenburg 2012).
Seeding and provoking can be used together to transmit an idea to customers. For example, Atlas Copco Tools and Assembly Systems might create and post a video about common ergonomic problems in manufacturing on YouTube (seeding), and ask on social media platforms what are the most common ergonomic problems facing customers (provoking). A webpage on our site dedicated to ergonomics (platform for conversations) would be a great place to direct customers to discuss these same issues with ergonomics experts (engaging).

Potential roadblocks

Several potential roadblocks exist in the industrial arena that may present some challenges in a more improvisational approach to social media. First, some customers state that they don’t have the time or interest to participate in social media. Luckily, there are still some who are active – it is our job to engage with those who are active and especially those who are satisfied customers. Secondly, we may come across customers whose corporate policies discourage social media usage and / or association with specific suppliers. That may be unavoidable, though we cannot forget that those customers may still be the less vocal, “listeners” versus the more vocal “actors” in our performance.

A final note

Just as Dove’s Real Beauty campaign started as a story and turned into a co-created performance after several years, it should be noted that many of Atlas Copco’s stories can be told by our company and our customers together in the future. The story of their journey in upgrading to Industry 4.0 through Atlas Copco’s Smart Connected Assembly might be better told (or performed) by both of us.
1. Singh and Sonnenburg 2012 ,Brand Performance in Social Media, Available online at
2. Hennig-Thurau et al. 2010 ,The Impact of New Media on Customer Relationships,Thorsten Hennig-Thurau, Edward C. Malthouse, Christian Friege, Sonja Gensler, Lara Lobschat, Arvind  Rangaswamy ,
3. Schau, Muñiz, and Arnould 2009, How Brand Community Practices Create Value. Journal of Marketing, 73, 30-51.
4. Deighton and Kornfeld 2009,Interactivity’s Unanticipated Consequences for Marketers and Marketing,Journal of Interactive Marketing 23 (2009) 4–10
5. Dove’s Real Beauty, New possibilities for brands created by digital technology .Model 3,
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2 Replies
  • Mark Parent

    January 31, 2018 at 23:27 CEST

    Your post is very thoughtful and engaging. I especially liked your thought process regarding story telling detailing the most common ergonomic problems facing your customers including the customer and their active participation in each story.

    A perfect top and middle of the funnel article, supporting your customers’ needs with real-life examples. I think we can all learn something very valuable from that strategy. Thanks for sharing your wisdom.
    Mark Parent

  • Ruben Diez

    March 7, 2018 at 14:02 CEST

    Great post! it has been very inspirational.

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