By Dan Lamont
A decade ago the buzzword in communications was “brand." The new buzzword is “story.” Unlike “brands,” stories have been with us since the beginning of human culture, but the crackling fire we all gather around now to understand our shared human experience, albeit remotely, is more likely an LCD screen and now most often a mobile cellular device. As we tell that story, it is important to remember we retain visual information far better than text – 6.5 times better according to neuroscientists. So it is not surprising that much of our modern storytelling is in photography and video.
Every day 100 MILLION hours of video is watched on Facebook and 100 million active users post to Instagram. In that digital deluge (of often questionable quality) successfully competing for attention depends on delivering stories that are engaging, compelling, and, given the power of social media, worth sharing. Fortunately, unlike Pepsi and other brands scrambling to gin up authenticity, cause-driven nonprofits usually have truly important, noble, and interesting stories to share.
Here are some thoughts that might make that storytelling more successful:
As you produce your story think about the real needs and interests of your audience. What is the core message you want them to discover and remember in your story? What is the outcome you hope to achieve? Avoid the temptation of too many talking heads and too much self-congratulation. From the Odyssey to Star Wars, great storytellers have known that audiences respond with empathy to great characters and their struggles to overcome challenges. Take your audience on that journey.
Pick the right media tools. Video is the seductive glamour medium du jour and probably will be well into the future because it is so absorptive and easy to share. While the emotional impact of good video storytelling is hard to beat, the iconic images that burn in our memories are still photographs (think raising the flag at Iwo Jima, et al). Complex ideas are still best explained by text, and data really becomes comprehensible if delivered as interactive graphics. Each medium is a tool with its own purpose in a broader communications plan; so the smart strategy is to simultaneously plan and produce content that can be used across the spectrum of your media capabilities.
From a production perspective video, is the most complex form so it leads the way. Interviews are often the narrative spine of a video story and the transcripts of those videos can be great source material for text/print pieces. Given modern camera technology, excellent video and stills can be captured by the same device and can serve both print and broadcast/webcast needs. Audio tracks can become podcasts and those marvelous "After Effects" graphics can become infographics in text pieces on your site and in public presentations. The efficient use of media assets should support the core aims of your organization across distribution channels and over time.
Understanding effective advocacy storytelling is an experience-based skill. Owning a camera that can shoot video or having experience writing ad copy, though useful skills, do not necessarily enable one to create a compelling and authentic story. Authenticity and sensitivity are the foundation of credibility for cause-driven organizations, so as you seek collaborators to help tell your story look at what they’ve done before. Do those stories move you in a way that you hope others will be moved when they experience your story?