Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Corporate online storytelling: for libraries?

I found an interesting read on movements towards corporate online storytelling this week in my Twitter feed. In Elliot's (2012) article for The New York Times, I discovered that Coca Cola is about to rebrand their online presence as an online magazine. In doing so, Coca Cola's new Web site is to reflect its marketers recasting 'communications with consumers as storytelling rather than advertising.' I quote:

'Just as attention is being paid to developing content ...for brand storytelling, an appetite also exists for corporate storytelling.'
Storytelling on Coke's Web site will be 'subjective, not objective...favorable to the brands, products and interests of the Coca-Cola Company.'

'Although the content comes “with a point of view,” Mr. Brown acknowledged, “we want to be a credible source.”'

Coca Cola is also not afraid to make mistakes with their online storytelling and magazine type site. The informant Ashley Brown, director for digital communications and social media at the Coca-Cola Company in Atlanta, states:

“I’m sure we’re going to make mistakes,” he said, “and readers are going to tell us.”

Implication for libraries

I think I am ahead of my time in LIS: advocating online storytelling for library websites when the field's not quite ready for it. Currently there have been moves within library schools to dispense with storytelling courses from LIS curriculum and library education (Sturm, 2010). Further, within LIS, librarians have predominantly seen storytelling as a service to children (Sturm, 2010). This is despite the fact that there is a growing interest in storytelling and the professionalization of storytelling for adults (Sturm, 2010). In fact, there is also growing interest in corporations for corporate storytelling (Greene & Del Negro, 2010). Hence, while business schools are becoming more interested in offering storytelling courses (Marek, 2011), library schools are thinking about getting rid of them altogether.

In my view, there needs to be a course within library schools that will deals with institutional digital storytelling. This is because, in the age of social media and Library 2.0, libraries need to move online and tell their stories. Libraries need to find ways of connecting with their users and potential users in the online world. We need content on our websites and a social media presence that is constantly updated and engaging, reminding our users that we are a channel to credible information sources. Our Websites must now be more like blogs or online magazines, with a constant flow of information. We should not only tell users what we have, but also post commentaries and view points, to represent the information that we have within our collections. In short, we need to take a page from Coca Cola's book on corporate storytelling. If Coca Cola is thinking about becoming a publisher, why not libraries?

Libraries are already telling stories within their walls. We have countless exhibits and exhibitions within our walls and some libraries have taken these and posted them on their websites. However, our practices are all being done without examining the theories of good storytelling, digital storytelling and even the theories of institutional or corporate storytelling. My questions are:
  • Are library professionals equipped to tell good stories online and offline? 
  • Are library professionals able to recognise what stories are worthy of being told?
Storytelling can be fictional, non-fictional or a mixture of realism with fiction as in the case with life writing or organisational storytelling. Libraries can use parables to tell stories that convey a truth about how libraries work. Libraries can tell stories to workers within the libraries or even to the users and other outsiders of the library.  In fact, I have written 3 blogs posts about how libraries can use storytelling to their advantage (See blog post 1, blog post 2 and blog post 3). However, none of these posts even begin to speak to how libraries can use online storytelling to attract library users and engage them in using the library's online or physical services. This is a gap that I am also studying at current.

At least one LIS scholar, Marek (2011) has begun to develop a body of knowledge on organisational storytelling for libraries, though aimed at library managers and administrators (see my blog post on Kate Marek) Hopefully, I will be able to develop a course after completing my comprehensive examinations and research proposal that will also address this issue. For indeed, from the start of my PhD program, my original interest has always been in using the Web and folklore to design a more engaging experience for library users. And so far, I have felt that my extensive readings have equipped me with the theoretical knowledge to do so.


Elliott, Stuart. (2012, November 11). Coke Revamps Web Site to Tell Its Story. The New York Times. Retrieved from:

Greene, E., & Del Negro, J. M. (2010). Storytelling: Art and technique (4th ed.). Santa Barbara, California, Denver, Colorado, Oxford, England: Libraries Unlimited.

Marek, K. (2011). Organizational storytelling for librarians: Using stories for effective leadership. Chicago: American Library Association.

Sturm, B. (2010) Storytelling. In  Bates, M. J., & Maack, M. N. Encyclopedia of library and information sciences (3rd ed.). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press. 

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