Storytelling can help organisations stand out from noisy Twitter and Facebook feeds. The better we tell our stories, the more effective our communications to engage, inspire and stand out from others will be.
by Tom Gannon
You often see blogs and hear people at conferences sharing what makes great social media content and reflecting on why posts went 'viral'. They talk about content that's relevant, timely, shareable, relatable etc. Storytelling has long been a hot topic in comms and for millions of years stories have helped us to build relationships and make people care. Christopher Booker wrote about 7 basic plots which I think apply well to content and comms and are useful in helping us connect with audiences to have a positive impact on our objectives. I recently discussed these with a colleague and thought we can use Booker’s 7 plots to frame our comms and content, see my thoughts and examples below:
👹 Overcoming the Monster - This can include heroes, villains and confronting challenge. We can use the power of story to bring to life strategic priorities like ensuring people are healthy and safe, our towns and cities are well connected and thriving and the economy is growing and benefiting everyone. Our heroes are obviously our staff, carers, volunteers and the services they help to provide, they can be the source of some amazing stories which link back to our objectives, they also act as credible messengers. I work closely with Public Health so some key challenges for me include the health harms we're trying to prevent and manage, like smoking, obesity and antibiotic resistance. There’s villains too and our Trading Standards teams work hard to expose fraudsters and those who threaten the safety of the public which contributes to people feeling safe and provides opportunities to create content that people want to share.
In times of crisis, like when the Beast from the East and Storm Desmond struck, we really see this story play out and the importance of comms can help to keep people safe and informed (see below under Tragedy for more).
💲 Rags to Riches – Riches isn’t the best word to use in local government given the financial challenges we face! But we are occasionally lucky enough to announce grants and investment. Transformation and capital programmes both fit well here, things like care home modernisation, infrastructure improvements and new facilities for service users, communities and staff. As council's move to become more commercial, maybe we'll create new stories here.
🔍 The Quest – Showing how we serve our residents, businesses, communities and other organisations to deliver the best services possible, demonstrating our purpose, impact and value. 'Doing more with less' is another quest we're all on and engaging our stakeholders in this quest is vital if they're to understand our priorities and the difficult decisions which need to be made.
‘The Quest’ is an area of real opportunity for comms professionals, many councils are great at bringing their service delivery to life and showing the impact. People connect with people, not companies, so humanising ‘quest’ stories is a strong tactic if they’re to resonate with the audience. We should all make ‘The Quest’ a priority and share our stories regularly, think #OurDay but every day.
🛳 Voyage and Return – Strategically our voyage is the journey we’re undertaking to achieve our objectives and we should be taking our audience on it, stories help to maintain engagement and keep people informed. Taking this literally we keep people moving, we maintain 4,908 miles of highways - the 4th largest road network in the UK. Think roads (and repairs), buses, gritting, community transport, volunteer transport, in Cumbria we even have a ferry which is used by commuters and tourists and is doing great things telling its story on Twitter.
😂 Comedy and happiness – If humour is used well it can be a real winner but how often do we really get the opportunity to inject humour in our communications? In my experience it’s rare, which maybe brings opportunity to make these stories stand out even more. In terms of happiness, libraries, community services and settings, marriages, birth registration are all part of our remit and there’s so much potential to promote these services and share happy stories to support our thriving communities. I was speaking to one of our Area Managers last week who was sharing all the amazing work going on in a local library, we weren’t aware of any of it and it was crying out to be shared.
😓 Tragedy - Storms and times of crisis often bring tragedy and comms becomes even more crucial during these times, fortunately tragedies are rare but bad news travels fast and it’s vital people are kept up to date and informed so they feel safe. There’s opportunities for proactive comms here to show how we increase resilience across our areas and mitigate potential tragedies, these stories can help to alleviate people’s fears and provide reassurance.
🙌 Rebirth - Social care, adoption, fostering and health services all strive to improve the lives of vulnerable people in our communities. There’s potential for stories which are empowering and reassure our communities that they’re in safe hands. These are some of my favourite stories and I’ve been lucky enough to share many of them through working with our adoption, fostering and health and wellbeing services.
I'm sure many other public sector bodies could map out their own examples and opportunities at both a strategic and tactical level. It would be great to see what you have – or come up with – so please share your lessons here.
Tom Gannon is communications officer at Cumbria County Council and you can connect on Twitter at @TomGeeTweet
Image via Tyne and Wear Archives and Museum