How (and why!) to Design Strategic Storytelling Campaigns

by: Felicia Pride

I started out in book publishing, pre-Kindle. My life’s dream: change the world one book at a time as an independent book publisher.

That aspiration shifted as things started to change in my beloved industry, including the nature of what a book could be. I realized that my ultimate attraction was story, not merely format. I began teaching around the same time and in recognizing the three dominant learning styles — visual, auditory, and kinesthetic — it became clear why some people wanted to consume stories on a big screen, some on a small screen. Some people wanted to hear their stories and others wanted to directly participate. I became open to the possibilities of story and how it can be used to reach people.

My agency Pride Collaborative focuses exactly on that — using strategic storytelling to help organizationsdeepen their relationships with communities and audiences. By using strategic storytelling as our foundation, we’re able to create campaigns and media projects that focus on genuine relationship building, achieve specific goals and that utilize a range of activities including narrative development, content creation, digital media making, and live experiences.

The image to the right is from the Me @ 30 campaign. In conjunction with NCNW, we co-created Me @ 30, to effectively engage Black college students around HIV/AIDS. Through a content-based, youth-centered hybrid campaign, we encourage college students to think about where they want to be at 30, and how their choices will influence their journey there. For this campaign, as for all of our campaigns, we combined digital media and traditional engagement strategies; we used video, social media, web, event programming, and a street team to engage our target audience.

Storytelling is getting a lot of attention these days and rightfully so. We are all storytellers. It is one of the most effective ways that we communicate with one another. Consider the past week alone: how many stories have you told friends, family, or coworkers?

In my young storytelling days, we didn’t have terms and tools like transmedia or Zeega. Technology has changed the way in which our stories are collected, shared, and measured.

But with great power, comes great responsibility.

The most innovative and effective storytelling adheres to traditional techniques; the core of what makes a good story is not sacrificed for the sake of technology or novelty.

On May 4 in Washington, DC, we’re hosting StoriesLab, a half-day exploration into the possibilities of story that’s co-presented with the Center for Social Media at American University. Our aim is to nurture community, and provide ideas, inspiration, resources and training, because when we consider the potential of storytelling to engage publics, it’s important to be strategic. (NOTE: NAMAC Members receive a 10% registration discount to StoriesLab with discount code NAMAC1)

So, before developing that digital story or transmedia campaign, ask the following:

What is your goal? 
Too often, storytelling and media projects are developed without a clear goal in mind beyond, “we have something to share.” Go deeper. Consider, what change do you want to make? This is also the why question. Why are we doing this? Don’t be afraid to change course if the answer isn’t sufficient.

What is the story?
What are the elements – message, plot, conflict, characters – of this story?

Who is your audience and what do you want them to do?
Specifically define your audience and consider what you want them to do after they engage with your story. Also define the role you want them to play in your story. Think: call to actions and participation.

How will you tell the story? Which tools/platforms will you use?
There are so many ways to tell a story and platforms to use, including many emerging storytelling tools that are both creative and low cost. These considerations also impact the length of your story.

How will you share this story?
Often this question is considered too late in the process or is simply answered by, “we’ll upload it on YouTube.” Or, “We’ll tweet about it.” Not good enough. Instead, think through a distribution plan.

How will you measure impact?
Measuring impact is something that should be thought about at conception. And this is a concept that Jessica ClarkAIR media strategist and StoriesLab speaker focuses on in her work. Often, we think about impact too late or we use metrics and data that don’t align with our goals.

How will you continue the story?
If this is a discreet story project, how does it fit within your organization’s overall narrative? Connect the dots and look at the dots as ways to build, nurture and deepen relationships with stakeholders so that they are motivated to take the actions that will help your organization advance its goals.

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