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.

Councillors and Social Media – Could They be YouTube Stars?

2016-02-12 10.04.45This is my second post on my takeaways from this year’s #notwestminster event. It may not be the last.

This was the second #notwestminster event, and there have been numerous other events with a similar slant, principally #localgovcamps over the past 8 years or so. It is tempting to think that we will always see progress as time passes, but I fear that this is not always the case. And in this instance, there is a field in which I think progress has stalled, or maybe even taken some backward steps, and that is the use of social media by councillors.

Councillors as Youtube Stars

Someone like Cllr. David Harrington from Stockton-on-Tees is living proof of why councillors should be making effective use of social media. More of that, including a video interview below. But, before that, at the Friday, Local Democracy Makers’ Day, I pitched an idea that I have outlined before, namely, how can we make Youtube stars out of councillors?

As I have written elsewhere, I am a firm believer that non-profit organisations need to make much more use of online video to engage with their customers and service users. There are now people who are making millions from YouTube videos; their audience is mainly young people, they are mainly young themselves, and their subject matter is normally pretty frivolous. But that doesn’t mean that this experience cannot be translated to a more serious area. And the benefits of Councillors engaging beyond the “usual suspects” of the politically-engaged, the campaigners and those with an axe to grind, has to be self-evident.

So, on Friday, we formed a group to work on how Councillors can use video to engage with their constituents, and I think we came up with something quite interesting, with possible applications beyond local government. The solution we came up with was a tool which would allow councillors to publish a map of their ward populated with videos about issues in particular locations. Lucy Knight pulled the tool together and published it immediately on her blog here, while I conducted a video interview with Cllr. Mike Jordan to give us some content to display. The video interview is posted below. It’s worth a watch as it gives some insights into how floods have been dealt with in Selby and North Yorkshire.

It’s a very rough and ready tool, but sometimes the most simple things are the best. I think this, if developed further, could be the basis of an engagement platform, providing opportunities for councillors to use video to engage their electorate. And it could be opened wider to allow local residents to publish their own videos on it in an effort to get something done about local issues. Please get in touch if you are interested in helping to develop this tool further.

Councillors and Social Media

And so to the wider issue of councillors using social media. I conducted the interview below with Councillor David Harrington because I was very struck with what he had said about how his councillor caseload has increased greatly as a result of his high profile on social media. A few years ago there was funding avialable to run programmes like this one which had quite an influence on increased uptake of social media on the part of local elected members. But, as austerity has bitten, funding for things like this has dried up. I think that is a great shame, and I’d be very interested in running some social media training sessions for councillors if either funding could be found, or if councillors themselves might be prepared to pay a modest amount to attend. If anyone can help with this, please get in touch. I’d be interested in the views of elected members themselves as to whether they would attend such sessions and how they might be funded.

Humanising Systems

I woke up this morning to yet another example of what goes wrong when systems fail to perform as collectives of humans. There have been far too many of them to catalogue, and many of these failures are intensely painful to all involved, so I don’t intend to go into them here. The latest story was about attempts to replace the Liverpool Care Pathway end-of-life care system in the NHS with something a bit more personal and tailored to the needs of the individual. The previous regime was a prime example of bureaucracy replacing common sense and compassion, which has been all too common a feature of our lives for too many years.

I firmly believe that organisations work best when they function as groupings of human beings and when those humans are allowed to react firstly as people and secondly as bureaucrats. Many of the systems failures we have seen come about when people tick boxes rather than using their feelings, empathy, compassion, and judgement.

In recent times I have attended an event at which health and care professionals attempted to communicate their aims to engage the public in their work using PowerPoint slides with type too small to read, and one which even included an Excel Spreadsheet; and I have visited the offices of another organisation charged with public engagement which resides in a building at the far end of an industrial estate remote from public transport routes. Both of these are, to me, symptoms of systems failure. The thinking that led to those situations was wrong, and they lead to decision-making which is unhelpful.

And I wonder if it is a coincidence that the people who use these methods also don’t use social media in their work. Just as they hide away in their offices in inaccessible locations and couch their “explanations” in impenetrable language, they continue to shy away from modern methods of communication and transparency.

There are many laudable, conscious, efforts going on to promote transparency and “working in public” through social media, including the “Social Organisation” initiative in Leeds and the Bromford Lab in social housing. In many other cases, individuals have pushed the boundaries through their own personal use and have seen positive public reactions.

To me, there has to be a role for social media in breaking down the old, damaging consensus, that faceless bureaucracies are the most efficient kind of organisations, and leading the way to a new acceptance that transparency and human reactions are the best ways of getting things done. Social media reveals people’s motives, makes them open to scrutiny, and it helps them find like-minded people and supportive colleagues. This has to be a better way of doing things.

What do you think?

 

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.

This was not the social media election you’ve been waiting for

Several times during the General Election campaign I expressed my frustration and annoyance that the main use of social media by politicians seemed to be to tweet grinning selfies of themselves and their campaign teams accompanied by anodyne messages along the lines of “another great morning on the doorstep”. Apart from the fact that I never once saw anyone admitting to a difficult morning on the doorstep, I really don’t think this is a good use of social media at all. I have tweeted this to some politicians, and said it to others face-to-face. The response was usually that they considered this to be a good tool for proving to people that they were working hard on the ground. I disagree.

My alternative was to urge politicians to tell stories about what people said to them on the doorstep. I think this would be a much great contribution to political debate. And I have urged politicians to use social media to tell their own stories. Someone who did this was Naz Shah, the ultimately successful, Labour challenger to George Galloway in Bradford West. She told her story in public, and I think the public warmed to her as a result. Instead, most politicians prefer to pump out prepared versions of the party line. As Stephen Waddington has already suggested, this was not the social media election you have been waiting for.

A particular point of interest is that the Labour Party claimed to have had 5 million doorstep conversations during the campaign.  5 million conversations; just think of the stories that could have come out of those conversations if they had been prepared to tell them. And yet, despite 5 million conversations, they still didn’t see the comprehensive defeat coming. How does that work? Maybe they weren’t conversations at all. Perhaps the way politicians behave on social media is a reflection of how they operate offline too. If so, that is a measure of the challenge ahead, for all of them.

General Election 2015 – Touring the Polling Stations

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It’s a matter of extreme frustration to me that the benefits that digital technology is bringing to all our lives are seemingly not allowed to touch the world of politics. And so it is that most of us will pick up a piece of card which came through the letterbox a few weeks ago and trudge off to a drafty school hall to place a cross on a piece of paper.

I think younger people in particular find this ridiculous, and it is a reason why many of them don’t vote. We need secure, online voting, and we need it well before the next General Election.

So, to highlight this absurdity, I have decided to spend a substantial part of this General Election Day touring the 10 nearest Polling Stations to my house. And I’ll be doing this on foot. I expect to have to buy a new pair of shoes by the end of the day. I’ll be recording my reflections on the way.

Watch out for the updates, on my Twitter account.

See you later. And, whoever you support, or don’t want to get in. Vote!

Here is the map of the polling stations. It is on Google Maps at https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=zPzr7KA767V8.khe9J9CRM4Dk

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Why I won’t be joining your Twitter Thunderclap

This is by way of explanation to the many people who ask me to join their Twitter Thunderclaps.

If you don’t know what a Twitter Thunderclap is, it’s a service whereby you can encourage people to sign up at a website, and then all the accounts which are subscribed send out the same tweet at the same time. It is used in support of campaigns.

I won’t be joining it because I hate it. I constantly tell people that social media is about being social. It’s about conversations. What happens when there is a Thunderclap is that people’s Twitter timelines get blitzed by hundreds or thousands of identical tweets. To me, this is a blunt instrument. It’s like loads of people running simultaneously into the room where I am and yelling at me. And what does it achieve? Only the people online at the time the Thunderclap goes out see it. The rest miss it completely. I suspect that only reason it persists is that most of the people who participate don’t actually see what happens. They are too busy doing other things.

To me, the essence of social media campaigning is engaging people in conversations about your cause. It is about building up momentum through posting different kinds of content over a period of time. It is about being engaging, being human, and being entertaining. I believe Thunderclaps are the antithesis of this. So I won’t be participating. And, I hope you will consider the impact of yelling at me in this way before you sign up for your next Thunderclap.

 

The First Digital Makeover

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Well, we did it! The first Digital Makeover is complete. Helen Reynolds and myself are offering organisational Digital Makeovers in which we go in and try to reach every part of the company with some digital magic over the course of 2 days.

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We had a great time working with some wonderful people at Yorkshire Coast Homes. The feedback was fantastic, the energy of the staff and board members we worked with was infectious, and it all carried us through the barrier of tiredness which hit us towards the end of the second day. We even managed to fit in a great Tweetup on the Monday evening, which allowed us to make further contact with some of the Scarborough digital community.

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Here’s the Storify of the 2 days http://sfy.co/a0Lbe

Having done one, we are desperate to do more. It’s such a fantastic way of working. If you’d like us to visit you next, please email us at enquiries@powerplayers.info