The EU Referendum – proof of the power of storytelling

I’m banging on about storytelling again. Because I believe a momentous decision has just been made because slightly over half of the UK adult population believed a story. That story might be true. It might not. I very much doubt that all of it is true. Much of it might have its roots in truth. But….

You see, the Leave Campaign bus had a slogan on the side which said “We send £350m a week to the EU: Let’s spend that money on the NHS”. Nigel Farage made a speech in front of a poster saying “Let’s spend money on the NHS; not Brussels”. This morning he has said that nobody promised the EU money would be spent on the NHS. You see, not all stories are true. But some of them are powerful enough to make people believe in them.

I watched a TV programme recently about the guy who debunked Yuri Geller and several evangelical Faith Healers. Even though their methods were publicly shown to be fake, after a brief glitch in their popularity, most went on to resume their careers. People wanted to believe that what they were doing was real more than they wanted to believe the facts. The story won out over the reality.

So, in the face of myths, we have to tell the real story and we have to get people to want to believe the reality more than they want to believe the myth. People believe that all social housing tenants are cheating scroungers because of “Benefits Street” and the like. They believe that having any kind of ambition in life is setting yourself up for a fall because that is a recurring motif in TV Soap Operas.

So, some of the stories we have to tell, in ways that that engage people, are:

  • Social housing is necessary for social cohesion and a balanced society;
  • Some people need benefits because they can’t work either permanently or temporarily;
  • Collective community actions can improve people’s lives;
  • Some people can and should be able to improve their own health and wellbeing if given support and access to resources;
  • WIthout immigration our economy would collapse;
  • Ethnic and social diversity is a social good and enhances all of our lives
  • Older age is not “God’s Waiting Room”.

And those of us who believe in these ideas, or work in organisations whose existence depends on them, need to tell these stories ourselves. All the evidence suggests that no one else is going to do it for us.

I am passionate about the power of Digital Storytelling and I want to help all organisations and individuals to gain the skills and capabilities to tell their own stories to the world. If you share this objective, and just need a little help getting there, please get in touch.

Why You Should Use Digital to Tell Stories

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It’s about 3 years now since I first started calling myself a Digital Storyteller. I was far from the first to do so, but I’ve come across very few people who work largely in the non-profit sectors who do so. Most of the others who have adopted the title have been journalists or marketeers. My own evolution came about through a gradual realisation that the people I was training in using social media in the public and voluntary sectors were often failing to put their new skills into practice mainly because they thought they didn’t have a story to tell. So, I shifted my emphasis away from the physical mastery of the tools and towards helping people to find the stories they were going to use those tools to tell.

The non-profit sectors are still not taking full advantage, however, of the opportunities digital tools now give us to tell our stories. If you look at how the big brands do it, it is clear that they have always told stories, whether it be via TV advertising or otherwise, about why they should be part of your lives. It’s how good marketing works. And consider politicians. Their key aim is to tell a story about how they see everyone’s future, and to get voters to buy into that story enough to want to vote for them.

The past six years have been a struggle for many non-profit organisations, with Government-led austerity meaning that funding has been declining while, often, workloads have been expanding. But the cuts have not fallen evenly across the board, with some sectors being protected, and others even being successful in getting planned cuts reversed. This is because these sectors and organisations have greater public support. Like the brands, the public buys into their stories. On the other hand, the mainstream media has often been cheerleading moves to downgrade and cut funding to some sectors, by producing reality TV programmes which degrade and stereotype the people they support. Thus programmes such as “Benefits Street”, “Skint”, and “On Benefits and Proud” all contribute to the story in the public’s mind that certain groups are undeserving of public support and thus taxpayers’ money shouldn’t be spent on services that cater for them. Another case in point is how the EU Referendum debate has been dominated by issue of immigration. This has become the story to the exclusion of most of the remainder of the multitude of issues which the EU deals with.

But the fact is that, when the people actually understand what non-profit services do, their support for it increases. I often point to the case of Dave Throup, the Environment Agency Officer, who gathered a cult following on social media, at the same time that the Agency he worked for was getting a kicking in the media for failing to save the country from floods. This occurred because Dave was telling the story of the great work he was doing on the front line by tweeting about it. It is much easier to love passionate individuals, working hard to help people, than it is to embrace faceless, corporate entities like the Environment Agency. This is why it is so important for non-profit organisations (by which I mean public, voluntary and social enterprise organisations) to tell their stories. And there are three stories we should all be telling:

  • Our personal stories: who we are, what we do, and (crucially) why we do what we do;
  • Our organisational stories: the history of the organisation, its role in society, how it does what it does; and
  • Our client stories: how what we do makes people’s lives better.

All of these insights into what organisations do can be vital in contributing to public perceptions of what we do. But perhaps the most important is the latter element. It is obviously in an individual’s interest to promote what they do, and in that of an organisation to present the best possible image. But, as the best brands have discovered, customer testimonials are the most powerful stories as they don’t have vested interests in being positive about the goods and services they receive. Client stories, therefore, need to be front and central of any digital storytelling strategy.

Social media has become central to millions of people’s lives. This trend shows no signs of abating, in fact, as demographics previously resistant to it recognise its value, it is reaching into new areas of society all the time. And people using social media are increasingly getting the majority of their news and information online. The big brands are all there competing for attention, and telling their stories to the world. But still, far too many non-profit organisations are leaving the field clear for mainstream media organisations and politicians to tell negative stories about what they do. Can you afford to let this situation continue? I think not.

If you would like me to help you with your organisation’s Digital Storytelling strategy, please get in touch.

#HousingDay 2016

Can you believe that this year sees the fourth #HousingDay, the event which has now become a fixture in the annual calendar? #HousingDay is 24 hours when staff and tenants in social housing take to social media to celebrate their work, lives and communities. This year, the event is on the 19th September.

I’ve sort of made a tradition now of organising high profile stunts on the day designed to try to bring the world’s attention to the work that social housing is doing. In 2014 I did the #Housing Day Roadtrip, when I drove 800 miles visiting social landlords up and down England and Wales to highlight their great work, and in 2015, I did the #HousingDay NewsRoom when I was joined by some doyens of the social housing sector to live stream hourly news bulletins about what people were doing for the day.

This year I want to do something that is a little more ambitious. In fact, it might be a bit too ambitious, but I am putting the idea out there to see if there are any takers to help me make this happen.

One of problems that I think besets the social housing sector is that it is guilty of talking to itself rather than to the outside world. #HousingDay is, of course, an attempt to break out of that self-perpetuating bubble, and I think it does that to an extent, but not to anything like the extent that is necessary to make a real difference. And, by make a difference, I mean get widespread support for the sector such that it becomes impossible to impose damaging laws on it, starve it of resources, and make stereotyped TV programmes which demonise tenants. I think we are still a long way from a position where we might achieve these objectives.

2016 is the 50th Anniversary of the broadcasting of the TV programme “Cathy Come Home” the play that did so much to raise the profile of the housing crisis of the time, and which led to the founding of Shelter and many of the housing associations which exist today. That was a real breakthrough moment, and it is perhaps no coincidence that the current housing crisis has caused director Ken Loach to come out of his self-imposed retirement to produce a new film.

So, this is what I want to do on #HousingDay 2016. I want encourage people involved in social housing to organise Housing Film Shows, and I want these to happen in as many towns and cities as possible. I want “Cathy Come Home” to be on the bill of these shows, along with any other housing-related films people can think of. In fact, I want to challenge the social housing sector to make its own films about its work to show alongside “Cathy”. It would be great if each town and city could have its own unique film to show on the day.

But more than the film shows, I want this to be a major opportunity for the sector to talk to others outside its boundaries. I want everyone who organises a show to pack the audience with people who live and work in social housing, but I also want them to invite as VIP guests:

  • local MPs
  • local councillors
  • the Chief Executive of the local authority
  • local business representatives
  • the editor(s) of the local newspaper(s)
  • the editor(s) of the local radio station(s)
  • local and regional TV news
  • local celebrities

And I want organisers not to take “no” for an answer. I want us to move heaven and earth to get as many influential non-housing people there as possible, and I want each show to be a high-profile, media-friendly event.

Can we do this? Is it too ambitious? I hope not. Your comments welcome below. And get in touch if you want to help organise shows.

 

Unlocking important stories

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Yesterday I ran my 4th Digital Storytelling session with the Riverside Group. The first three sessions were with Marketing and Communications staff in Liverpool. Yesterday I worked with a group of managers who are closer to the frontline at their North East Office in Gateshead.

As I often find,  in this workshop as in others, people frequently preface their remarks with disclaimers along the lines of “I’ve got nothing to say”, or “no one is going to be interested in my story”. And you’d be surprised how often they then go on to prove themselves wrong. My point is that everyone is unique and every individual has something to say which will be of interest to somebody.

The latter part of yesterday’s session focused on getting participants to have their first stab at making a video with their smartphones. Again, people were very self-deprecating about their prospects, “I’m not at all creative” being the most common complaint. And then they all went away and made really good films.

Everyone has a story in them. Often it is just case of giving them the confidence to express it.

I made some of these points in my Social Media Masterclass at the CIH Scotland Conference in Edinburgh last week. And here is a video interview I did at that session. If you’d like me to help your colleagues unlock their stories, please get in touch.

Let your staff be your ambassadors – a takeway from #wgt16

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Today I attended the first We Nurses Get Together (#wtg16). It was a great event to be present at, and I’d just like to congratulate everyone involved in making it happen.

During the afternoon I was part of a group that were looking at developing enabling social media policies. Quite a few of the members of the group expressed their frustration that their organisations were still frightened of social media and were blocking staff from using it at work. We explored why this was the case, and management fears of people saying the wrong things and causing a scandal were pretty high on the list.

And yet, one of the group was from Morecambe Bay NHS Trust, an organisation which has experienced more than its fair share of scandal, none of it social media-related. And as part of this Trust’s fight back from its dire position, it is now encouraging all its staff to be active on social media, and to tell their stories about the good work they are doing.

So, there is a real contradiction here. Those organisations which have not experienced scandal are preventing their staff from accessing social media in case they cause one; whereas the organisation that has been through scandal encourages its staff to be open and transparent. This is because they recognise that their staff are their greatest asset and that, by using social media, they can harness their individual and collective voices to place the good work the Trust does before the public. As I said in the session; too many organisations claim their staff are their greatest asset while treating them as if they are a liability. If you really want to get the best out of your staff you need to give their voice free reign, and turn them all into ambassadors for your organisation.

I think this is a really powerful argument to put forward to any managers who are still being reluctant to let their staff use social media. Tell them to consider what is the worst that can happen if someone makes a mistake on social media and could it be worse than any of the things that happened at Morecambe Bay. In the scheme of things, scandals caused by people’s actions on social media are few and far between, but the positive stories of hardworking people wanting to make a difference are many, and they deserve to be told.

Please get in touch if I can help you develop your social media strategy.

Catching up with the Sociable Company

Today I had a long Skype chat with Karen Adams of Express Telephony. You may recall that, a couple of years ago I did some work with the company on its social media strategy.  Two years on, they continue to to deliver a great service to their customers despite the limitations of the inadequate telecoms infrastructure which continues to hold them, and the rest of the country back.

Karen told me that her husband and business partner, Martin, is off to Cornwall shortly to set up the home of a company director with the tools she needs to manage her London-based company remotely. I am intending to work with them to develop a case study of this project as it demonstrates the increasing reality that, in the age of the internet,  location is no longer important to how you do business.

It is frustrating, however, that the country still lacks the infrastructure to realise the full potential of such modern possibilities.

Men in Caring Professions

Our ageing population, plus some other factors, has placed a heavy strain on the UK’s social care system. And it has become increasingly apparent that a particular facet of this strain has been the lack of men prepared to work in frontline caring roles. It is not always the case, but in many instances people prefer to be cared for by somebody of the same gender, especially when that care is intimate in nature.

As you will know, I am passionate about storytelling as a device for influencing behaviour and shedding light on neglected issues. So I have teamed up with the National Care Forum and Skills for Care to begin some work on collecting and disseminating stories from men who work in caring roles. We will be helping them describe what they get out of their work, set out pathways into the professions and progression routes through them, and communicate the reasons why more men are needed in the sector.

Next Monday, January 18th, we will be gathering at Skills for Care’s London office to interview a number of men on camera. If you would like to be part of this day, please get in touch. But there are other ways of collecting stories, and, if you would like to tell your tale, but can’t get there next week, get in touch any way, and I’ll talk to you about other ways you can contribute.

Please help with this worthwhile initiative in whatever way you can.

Preparing for the #HousingDay NewsRoom

I am really excited and grateful to Lewisham Homes who will be sponsoring the #HousingDay Newsroom.

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And I am even more excited that I will be joined in the NewsRoom not only by the guys from Resource, who, of course, are the people who bring you CommsHero, but also by Social CEO, Lisa Pickard from Leeds & Yorkshire HA, founder of #HousingDay, Adrian Capon, of Yorkshire Housing, Jenny Osbourne, CEO of TPASCaroline Chapman, from InCommunities, Beckie Kinsella from Plus Dane, and Hannah Jowett from Leeds Federated HA. But don’t worry, there’s probably room for you, if you still want to come along.

We’ll be curating and amplifying the best content from the day, as well as regularly live streaming news bulletins. And, of course there will be regular live linkups with our sponsor, Lewisham Homes.

I have been particularly impressed with Lewisham Homes’ Humans of Lewisham project, which has taken its inspiration from the world famous Humans of New York to celebrate tenants and their lives in photography with accompanying text. We’ve been discussing this in the Digital Storytelling sessions I’ve been doing recently with Riverside Group, and we’ve agreed that this model provides a fabulous format for telling positive stories about tenants.

And, as the theme of this years #HousingDay is #proudtenant; celebrating the lives and achievements of social housing tenants is exactly what we will be doing.

Announcement: – The #HousingDay NewsRoom

Sponsored by Lewisham Homes

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#HousingDay is approaching fast. The annual opportunity for people who live and work in social housing to celebrate what they do and show the world the positive sides of their lives and work is now in its third year, and, in 2015, it falls on Wednesday 18th November.

This year’s #HousingDay theme is “Proud to be a Tenant”, and social landlords are being asked to work with tenants to celebrate the positive aspects of being a social housing tenant and provide a platform to counter all the negative mainstream media stereotypes.

For #HousingDay last year, I ran the #HousingDay RoadTrip when I drove over 700 miles visiting social landlords from Leeds to West Kent and South Wales to highlight some of the great work they were doing. The trip was sponsored by Documotive, software supplier to the sector.

The RoadTrip was great, it was invigorating, inspiring, and educational. But it was also exhausting. So, this year, my plan is different…. and static.

For this year’s event, I am planning the #HousingDay NewsRoom. I am going to get together with some other social media users to run a news room which will curate, highlight, and amplify some of the best content coming out of the day. There will be an hourly, live-streamed news bulletin running through the events so far and providing a high profile platform for great stories emerging on the day.

I am already very grateful to the support of Comms Hero founders Resource for agreeing to provide the base for the NewsRoom at their offices in Leeds. What I need now is other social media users with an interest in social housing to come and join me on the day to help run the NewsRoom. It will be a lot of fun and we will all learn a lot. Come and join me in Leeds on 18th November.

A momentum is building from year-to-year and each #HousingDay can be more prominent and high profile than the last. Help me make the NewsRoom a success and contribute to the best #HousingDay yet.

Digital Commonwealth – More Proof of the Power of Storytelling

Last Thursday I travelled to Ayr for the final event of the Digital Commonwealth project. I have really enjoyed working on this project, led by the University of the West of Scotland, which used the Glasgow Commonwealth games as a hook to encourage school children, community groups, students, and individuals to tell digital stories about themselves, their hopes and aspirations, and about their relationship with the Commonwealth.

If you haven’t seen it yet, the project documentary film is at the bottom of this post, and this provides a really great overview of what digital storytelling is about.

One of the key parts of Thursday evening was when some residents of a sheltered housing complex in Rutherglen were given the opportunity to read some of their own poems and stories, and to sing songs which they had contributed to the project.  I found this extremely moving, and it further reinforced my view that storytelling is vital to older people’s health and well-being. There were some really poignant and moving stories being told, and almost all the people involved started the process by asserting that they had nothing of interest to say. That is rarely the case as Digital Commonwealth has proved.