RealSelf Talks: The Art of Storytelling in the Digital Age

At RealSelf, our Tasty Tuesday all-hands gatherings are more than a few slides and free lunch. We often bring in smart people to give us quick, fun talks on how to be better workers — and people.

So we were excited to meet Hanson Hosein, co-founder of HRH Media, an award-winning TV and documentary maker, and TEDx Seattle host. A former war correspondent for NBC News in the Middle East, Hosein transitioned out of old-school media to create his own news and content, and he’s now creating a new generation of storytellers as director of the Communication Leadership graduate program at the University of Washington.

When it comes to storytelling, Hosein says that standing out in today’s intense, crowded online world is everything: “It’s insane how much content we’re creating, and it’s happened very quickly.” Now more than ever, he says that the ability to tell a great story is one of the best ways to cut through that noise and connect.

A few of Hosein’s top comments on how to be a sublime storyteller and rise above all that social media noise:

Hanson Hosein presenting at our all-hands meeting.

Hanson Hosein presenting at our all-hands meeting.

The good: How storytelling can connect and build communities.

“It’s about trust, transparency, and how it connects with people,” Hosein says. “[Seattle radio stations] KEXP, KUOW, and KPLU all have strong social bonds. People feel strongly about these orgs.”

The bad: How social media can divide audiences.

“Social media allows us to retreat into our ‘tribes’ that know what we like. Facebook makes it worse. We retreat and we feel good about that, but it makes it harder for us to make decisions if we don’t cross that bridge. The social contract is broken, and we’re not willing to work with people who we don’t share opinions with.”

How social has changed how we consume media:

“Twenty years ago, getting attention was all you had to do,” Hosein says. “There were a set number of cable channels, newspapers, etc. It was easy to get six seconds of attention.”

“Mobile is the most powerful thing in the last few years. It’s brought the world to our doorstep, and we can now connect to people in an on-demand way…. Up to 5 billion GB of data had been created from the beginning of time up to 2003. As of 2013, we’re creating that amount every 10 minutes. You’re competing with all this.”

Three things to keep in mind for great storytelling:

  1. Find opportunities to tell your story.
  2. Relationships emerge from those stories.
  3. This sparks trust, engagement, and action.

Lessons learned from Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz:

“People think it’s all about using technology to connect, and that is the prevailing attitude, but that’s really not the case,” Schultz told Hosein in a video interview. “In any business, it’s more than its product. In different way, we say we’ve evolved to a performance-driven organization through the lens of humanity….”

“As a company as dependent as we are on people, it’s about … how to communicate, trust, and be transparent with people,” Schultz continued. “It’s not about the what, but about the why.”

Hosein’s required reading: 

Kentaro Toyama’s “Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change from the Cult of Technology.” Hosein cited one of the the book’s key messages: “To clear organizational obstacles, the counterintuitive solution in an age of bountiful technology is to focus on building effective human relationships.”

On the future of connectivity:

“Companies like Facebook and Amazon are already thinking #BeyondScreen,” Hosein says. “The idea of using screens as a fundamental way to connect with people is going to be very transitory — I think of them as the CD-ROMs coming before what’s next, an artifact of the age.”

“Technology will be embedded everywhere, not necessarily in screens, and it will affect how we engage without even thinking about it. It will be invisible and pervasive at the same time.”

Hosein signs our "Confidence" wall

Hosein signs our “Confidence” wall

Why great storytelling is essential for companies like RealSelf:

“You’re dealing with a difficult subject that’s been socially stigmatized, but still you’re creating a trusted place where people want to come and share that community aspect,” he says.

“It’s a question of how can you create a new set of social norms and new channels that makes this the right place to talk about these things, and promote people and stories that do a good job front and center to set the right tone. How do we talk and share around this subject? It’s about creating best practices and using your community to leverage that.”

“It’s about people who have a fundamental need, and you’re bringing it out into the open. You’re changing the conversation.”

Want to learn more about working at RealSelf? Meet our new VP of People and learn about her plans to create an even more awesome workplace.

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