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Storytelling in the Digital Age: A Guide for Nonprofits Paperback – June 6, 2017
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Of course, storytelling is as old as humankind. For thousands of years, stories were the primary way that we transferred knowledge and culture—and for some societies, they still are. Cave art, stone tablets, parchment, and the printing press were game-changers—they allowed us to document our stories and make it increasingly easier to convey those stories to others. And more recently, information technologies and social media have become even more powerful game-changers in that process.
As a vice president of Arthur D. Little, Inc., the international consulting firm, I was responsible for the design and implementation of the corporation's first global knowledge management initiative. It was in that role that I met Steve Denning, one of the modern gurus of storytelling in the business world. Storytelling has been on the radar in corporate America for two decades now—especially since the Denning published “Springboard: How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organizations” in 2000. Storytelling rapidly became a formal, proactive, strategic activity in many organizations, one in which staff and management were actively trained. And more recently, social media has become a major vehicle for communicating and discussing stories.
As Julia points out, there has been hesitancy by nonprofits to adopt storytelling. But, as she says, with a better understanding of storytelling and increased knowledge of social technologies, a shift is underway. Combining storytelling with social media tools is a great way to gain exposure, connect with stakeholders, recruit supporters, and secure donations.
Personally, I have seen that shift in two large, national nonprofits that have used storytelling to help a Board understand the meaning of strategic initiatives, and to support a development function in its fundraising activities. And a third uses storytelling as a prime component of its service offerings. While embracing storytelling and social media is moving more slowly into the ranks of medium and smaller nonprofits, the shift is inevitable, and Julia’s book should prove a valuable asset to nonprofits ready and willing to take the plunge.
In the first part of her book, Julia does an excellent job in making the case for storytelling – why it is important, how to become a great storyteller, and how to develop a concrete plan to advance a storytelling program.
The second part tells how to develop an arsenal of stories. Julia describes the different kinds of stories that nonprofits tell, and the places where stories can be found. She also discusses how to move from simple stories to “great” stories—stories that have a strong call to action—and how to overcome common challenges in storytelling.
The focus of the third part of the book is on how to promote stories. In five chapters, Julia discusses websites, mobile strategies, blogs, email, social media, and video. In fact, part three and its chapters can stand on their own as valuable resources for anyone who wants to leverage these technologies. For example, in the chapter on creating a website, Julia presents a set of Ten Commandments that should be followed to ensure success. While the discussion in these chapters is in the context of storytelling, the content is relevant to a wide range of communications initiatives.
The final chapter covers a critical element in storytelling—and any similar program: how to develop solid metrics and to measure results to build a successful, sustainable program over time.
The book includes a set of five valuable appendices that provide templates and a checklist for different aspects of the storytelling journey. And in strategically placed callout boxes throughout the book, Julia succinctly covers topics including tips, principles, caveats, and real-world stories.
To quote Julia, “great storytelling is the best way to capture the attention, as well as the hearts and minds of your supporters. Using modern digital tools…is vital in the quest to get your stories in front of a critical mass of people.”
In this age of ever-shortening attention spans, you may worry that your digital strategy must involve flashy technology and near non-stop tweeting. Fear not! In her new book, Storytelling in the Digital Age: A Guide for Nonprofits, Julia Campbell will disabuse you of these beliefs, offering up practical guidelines to find a social media strategy that is right for you. What’s more, she keeps the focus on the very best engagement tool out there: your stories.
Before jumping into what Campbell calls “the shark infested waters of social media,” she lays out a number of different actions organizations large and small can take to create and collect their stories. Only after you have a good storytelling strategy and good stories, Campbell asserts, is it time to think about using digital tools to promote and publish them.
In the second half of her book, Campbell makes the formidable process of digital storytelling feel accessible and, dare we say it, fun. From determining which social media platforms your target audience uses to encouraging your supporters to post their own stories, you will find step-by-step instructions and real-world examples that will get you feeling inspired to dive in.
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