12 Creative Storytelling Tips for Your Brand, from Erin Yarbrough

erin yarborough at confluence conference

Erin Yarbrough took the stage shortly before lunch to discuss building connections with your audience through finding new ways to tell a story beyond the traditional press release. Erin is the Associate Vice President for Web Communications, Marketing & New Media at the University of Oklahoma.

Before launching into her top tips, Erin noted that she actually had 53 tips, but would only share 12 takeaways today.

“Here are my top 12 ways, because 53 is too many,” she joked.

Erin’s 12 Takeaways for Creative Storytelling by Your Brand

  1. Silent Film
    Today, 85 percent of Facebook videos are being viewed without sound.
    “Silent films are a huge opportunity,” Erin said.
    Erin shared an example of a silent video OU had done that talked about electric fish – a single 30-second video. The video now has more than 17,000 views.
    Erin advised brands to upload their videos directly to Facebook to reap the most benefits from Facebook’s algorithms. “If you are not uploading your videos directly you are doing yourself a big disservice,” she said.
  2. Quizzes
    “We’ve been taking quizzes since 17 magazine came out – we all know what Hogwarts house we’re in,” Erin said.
    “By the way, I’m Slytherin and Monica,” she added.
    Quizzes can be a really fun way to promote an idea or thing that may not be that engaging on its own. For example, Fortune created the “How Well Do You Know Fortune’s Most Powerful Women?” quiz.
    Brands can use Playbuzz to create these quizzes and increase engagement from their audiences.
    “Lists and quizzes are my favorite because they really create interaction,” Erin said.
  3. Snapchat Geofilters
    The great thing about Snapchat geofilters is they’re extremely cheap for a brand to create. Erin displayed the Snapchat geofilter she created for Confluence on-screen, noting that to geofence the Will Rogers theatre for tw0 days cost only $20.
    Snapchat geofilters can be a really easy way to create brand awareness at an event – when your audience attends the event and snaps a selfie, they could swipe right and find your geofilter – driving awareness of your brand and creating a connection.
  4. IG/Snapchat Takeovers
    Erin agreed with yesterday’s Snapchat speaker, Daniel Russell, that takeovers by just any user is probably not the way to go. Instead, Erin recommends finding really trustworthy people within your organization to take over the Snapchat account for the day. For example, at OU, deans might take over the Snapchat for a day, or professors, to show your audience an “insider look.”
    This is a great way to show all capacities of your brand and give your audience a “behind the scenes” look that will drive their interest and engagement with you.
  5. Flat Lay Photos
    You’ve probably seen them on Instagram: a top-down photo, showcasing your best friend’s party outfit. Or maybe from a restaurant’s Instagram, showcasing today’s lunch special. There are many options available to you in using flat lay photos to visually spotlight elements that your audience might be interested in.
    For a guide on flat lay photos, be sure to check Erin’s Listly.
    Sometimes when you follow brands on Instagram, you’re interested in knowing more about their posts. For example, if you follow Khloe Kardashian on Instagram, you might see her latest post and wonder what brands Khloe is wearing.
    Go to, sign up with your email, anytime your favorite brand posts on Instagram and tags, you get an email with a link to all the brands in that photo.
    This is also great if you are a brand and want to get in on, so you can tag your photos with those different brands. only accepts specific brands, so if you’re not using it, still be sure to tag the brands you use so they can get attention.
  7. Plenty
    Plenty is a great way to drive audience participation. Cross-participation can be a great way to cross-promote content. For example, Plenty gives a portion of its proceeds from its “Going Public” shirt to Oklahoma City Public Schools.
  8. Podcasts
    Podcasts are an excellent way to get attention out about your brand – even if it can be a little tricky figuring out the right format. You can do video podcasts or just audio.
    “Audio only does great still,” Erin said.
  9. How to Videos
    “How-to videos are excellent for SEO – people are always looking for how to do something,” Erin said.
    Create some videos, showing your audience how to do something – but make sure the industry knows that you are the expert.
    A great way to do it is Adobe Spark – Adobe Spark is a free service and an easy way to create slick videos. It’s great for silent videos also.
    People are going to come to you for the content instead of you trying to push it out, so create a video to meet them where they are.
  10. Photo Album Essay
    The New York Times, Erin said, is a great example of using photo essays effectively.
    You can use a number of different platforms for this: Facebook photo albums, Adobe Spark’s web content.
    This storytelling method is very visual – you can cut up an article into smaller chunks. Work with your editor to make sure it works and flows.
    “It makes a very interesting story beyond the traditional story,” Erin said.
  11. Before and After
    Before and after photos are how we make a boring photo fun and exciting to share.
    By showing the before and after, we can catch people who were interested in the history of our product or brand.
    “These do great for photos or screenshots that may be boring in their own right,” Erin said.
  12. Data Graphics
    How do we share this in a way that really connects with our audience?
    “Anytime we share a stat, we’re sharing a fun graphic or photo – something that makes it more exciting than just a stat on a page,” Erin said. So instead of just sharing the Sooner’s winning football score, they might share it over a photo of the team.
    There are a few ways you can do this with your brand. Over is a great app where you can add text over a photo or graphic. Canva also does great for graphics with more of a decorative element.

Remember, these are only a sampling of the many tips for creative storytelling.

To view the full list, visit Erin’s Listly – and feel free to contribute your own fresh ideas to the list!

Connect with Erin on Twitter at @eyarbrough.