The trend to use storytelling as social media strategy is growing. One of the reasons for this is the ease with which content can be produced and shared online. But content by itself doesn’t make the story. In fact, many organisations are now over-producing content to keep up with the frenetic pace of discussions online. This strategy isn’t sustainable in the long term. Nor is it suitable for meaningful engagement. For the past couple of years I have been working with museums and media organisations in the UK and Sweden on this theme. In this post I explore some of the common barriers to effective storytelling and the approaches we have used to overcome them.
Storytelling is an act of collaboration, different points of view make a good story
It can be tempting to appoint storytellers to do the job of storytelling. Sounds pretty obvious. They could be individuals within the organisation or audiences online. But not everyone is comfortable in this role. As storytelling is a subjective term it can also create expectations, which in term could become barriers. We had a discussion on this topic at a recent even in Stockholm that included participants from over thirty cultural organisations. A few curators highlighted the difficulties they faced in getting members of the public to share their stories about objects posted on the museum’s social media accounts. Later on, members from a communication team said the same about curators.
These experiences highlight the pressure people face when they are asked to tell stories. What is the context for a personal narrative in both cases? So we tried an alternative approach during our discussion. We placed a commonplace object – a jug of water on the table. Instead of asking participants to share a story we asked them to give an opinion about the jug. People were forthcoming with these. One person remarked on the design. Another mentioned the jug is never half-empty nor half-full. It is always full, you can see the water but you can’t see the air. Once we collected all opinions, we used these to create several versions of a story about the jug until we arrived at a narrative that everyone liked. Storytelling on social media should follow a similar approach. It needs to be collaborative activity that takes place on a shared virtual space.
Where do you shine the spotlight?
This brings me to another common barrier that prevents effective storytelling online. If it is a collaborative exercise and begins with people sharing opinions, how do you begin the conversation? There is no doubt that museum professionals are deeply passionate about their subject. But can be hesitant when it comes to sharing their opinion on a public social network. Understandably, they may feel exposed and subject to unnecessary scrutiny. This is where social apps and websites offer a unique advantage in allowing you to play with the format and structure of the narrative. It removes the spotlight from an individual, yet retains an authentic voice.
This is an approach we tried with a curator from the Beaulieu Motor Museum as part of a one-year project to develop new strategies for effective storytelling. The museum has recently acquired a collection of images of caravans and charabancs. These images have powerful associations with key moments in British history over the past 100 years. Behind the scenes, the curator had an extensive bank of stories and anecdotes, but was uncertain about creating a first person voice to share these on social media. After a bit of experimentation on Twitter we decided to use Storify. This website allows you to build stories by assembling content from different sources, which includes content generated by other users. This approach helped the curator create stories in a voice that she was comfortable with. The format removed the pressure to demonstrate expertise and authority and allowed her to be playful and invite participation. Over time people started responding to this approach by sharing their own stories. This in turn generated an interest in the collection with people offering objects and support in kind or through volunteering. This is a powerful example of how stories can produce more than engagement on social media.
Storytelling is not a new concept. But storytelling on social media in its broadest sense is a new way of working. It is important to define a clear context. Putting collaboration at the heart of this process creates an empathetic approach.
We will explore social media, storytelling and culture change at the Digital Identity seminar series on 17-18 March. The sessions are hosted by Museum De Lakenhal in Leiden, The Netherlands. The two day sessions in Leiden will be hosted by Museum De Lakenhal. The Museum defines itself as a network organisation and states that co-operation in its genes.
The sessions are open to cultural sector professionals. This includes museum curators, programme managers, heads of digital, marketing and communications teams, and independent practitioners. For booking information and to find out more about the Digital Identity seminars, please visit the Museum De Laknehal Website.