Telling compelling stories on social media will keep your audience returning for more. At May’s virtual Social Media Breakfast, Love Wisconsin representatives took SMB attendees behind the scenes to show the winning process they use to create their popular stories.
Maria Parrott-Ryan, executive producer; Megan Monday, Love Wisconsin co-founder and board member; and Tom Kuplic, board member, shared their experiences with the digital storytelling project. The organization, in partnership with Wisconsin Humanities Council, celebrates our state, our lives and our shared future.
In 2016, Love Wisconsin ranked in the top 5% of Facebook accounts throughout the world by engagement.
SMB attendees learned how to find diverse storytellers (even if they’re shy), conduct insightful interviews, craft stories and visuals, and follow an ethical process.
In this divisive time, the nonprofit builds empathy, explained Maria. Efforts support its mission: “Love Wisconsin uses storytelling and technology to bring about a more connected, compassionate and engaged Wisconsin.”
Megan shared that Love Wisconsin, founded in 2014, initially tried different formats. Initially, they conducted 20-minute interviews or told stories through videos or other kinds of content. But the current serial storytelling format drew the most engagement. Now, Love Wisconsin tells stories over three to five days featuring storytellers from throughout the state.
Tom began with Love Wisconsin shortly after it was founded. He’s helped define the brand strategy and build audience groups based on qualitative data. He analyzed Love Wisconsin Facebook insights to see what content model and approach drew the most engagement.
Through its stories, the organization wanted to find influencers who would share their stories.
Input from focus groups revealed that stories would help build connections. Family members, for instance, may disagree on hot-button issues. But a compelling Love Wisconsin story could help bridge those divisions.
Love Wisconsin adheres to a process of:
If there’s a secret sauce to Love Wisconsin’s success, it may be empathy. Through an analysis of Facebook comments, the staff is “getting a deeper and better understanding of why some stories are incredibly successful.”
When looking for stories, Maria said Love Wisconsin looks for “ordinary people doing incredible things.”
To encourage diversity, the organization selects stories that reflect the following six themes:
- Our land
- Tradition and culture
- Resilient voices
Stories cover many types of diversity, such as racial, ethnic, gender, age and geography. Love Wisconsin seeks stories from throughout the state and not just in the major metropolitan areas.
After a storyteller agrees to the format, Maria begins the interview process. First, she conducts a pre-interview with the storyteller. She learns more about a person’s story and gets a sense of an individual’s personality. That helps her prepare for the formal two-hour interview.
Maria uses the following techniques to encourage storytellers:
- Plans open-ended questions, such as “Tell me the story of…” or “How did you feel when…”
- Creates a comfortable space for a conversation
- Records the interview to minimize note-taking
- Allows the storyteller to talk with few interruptions
The story runs for three to five days with accompanying photos. “Photos are so essential,” Maria said. A welcoming shot of the storyteller introduces the first segment of the story series to readers. The goal, she noted, is to “get people’s attention and draw them in.”
A professional portrait photographer helps with the process. Megan took photos in the early years of the projects. Typically, photos show the storyteller in their home or in the area around where they live.
Editing the Stories
Once Maria completes the interview, she begins the arduous task of editing the long transcript into the three-to-five Facebook stories. Each segment, while related, must still stand on its own for visitors who may only read one part.
Maria may have to draw out life stories for some individuals who aren’t used to talking about themselves. Others may be great storytellers and she ends up with way too much information. “I always end up with more material than I can use,” she said. “I have to distill the stories with an editor’s eye and storyteller’s eye.”
She identifies strong themes that came out of the interview. “Which stories draw out the themes?” she said. “If a story doesn’t fit in with the themes, I leave it out, even if it’s good.”
As part of the process, Maria looks for “the evocative details that relate to the story as a whole. They paint a mental image in people’s minds.”
Megan reported that many stories reflect the hero’s journey described by author Joseph Campbell. The hero sets out a quest, runs into struggles, meets a mentor and then overcomes difficulties to find success.
Storytellers who share their experiences with Love Wisconsin open themselves up for public scrutiny. The staff wants to make sure that they know what they’re getting into.
They choose storytellers “who can speak from their scars, not their wounds,” explained Maria. “We prefer not to tell the story of someone who is really struggling at that moment in their life, because people in the middle of tough situations are even more vulnerable to the exposure that sharing their stories on social media brings.”
Following are other considerations:
- Let the storyteller know what to expect, such as where the story will be published, how comments will be handled and the editing process
- Make editorial choices that are true to the person’s experience and intentions
- Let the storyteller review the story prior to publications
When you’re crafting your own stories for social media, keep these concepts in mind:
- Think about whose stories you want to tell, why you want to tell them, how you’ll tell them, and how you’ll share them…
- …but don’t be afraid to experiment and make changes along the way based on audience reception & data.
- Use data to guide your experimentation with content types and format, help you determine your optimal content model, and target audiences.
- Producing a well-crafted, engaging story requires the skills of an editor.
- Compelling visuals attract attention, set a tone, and help you tell the story.
Love Wisconsin also believes that when you tell stories about real people, you have ethical obligations to represent them fairly and honestly.
Special thanks to the presenters, Maria Parrott-Ryan, Megan Monday, and Tom Kuplic, sponsors, volunteers and all in attendance.
At the program, SMB featured Gather X for its Nonprofit Spotlight. Gather X provides community and resources for young adults (20s – 30s) in the Madison area. They recognize that it can be difficult for this age group to find connections, especially for individuals who recently graduated from college, are new to the job field, or new to the area. Members now meet virtually.
Don’t Miss SMBMad in June – Join Us in Your Slippers!
The June 17, 2020, session will feature “Building a Brand from Scratch: A Case Study” with Jason Klein and Kuba Kryzostaniak of Forward Madison. June’s event will be streamed online via Facebook Live. Learn more at smbmad.org/events.
Leslie Blaize wrote this post on behalf of Winbound, a content marketing firm specializing in manufacturing and industrial clients. Winbound provides an all-in-one content marketing package specifically designed for small marketing departments.