Digital Storytelling and Effective Advocacy
Humans have been telling each other stories for much, much longer than they’ve been tweeting on smart phones. It stands to reason, then, that wrapping potential activists or contributors around a coherent narrative is integral to effective advocacy and engagement campaigns.
In many ways, technology has made telling a story easier than ever. But the sheer volume of stories broadcast and ways to do so has created enormous challenges for advocates looking to cut through the modern digital static.
This week, the Rockefeller Foundation released a summary report of a study it compiled of digital storytelling methods for advocacy groups. It gathered input on effective uses of narratives through digital technologies from roundtable discussions and interviews with a range of figures in journalism, entertainment, marketing, nonprofits, business, government and academia. The foundation will workshop report recommendations to create a storytelling-supporting platform for charities and groups it supports.
The study revealed gaps in both organization’s capacity to craft compelling stories consistently and to measure storytelling’s effectiveness with target audiences.The major reason advocates’ storytelling efforts often fail, the study found, was because of a lack of strategic thinking in developing a narrative. Organizations “often dive into storytelling without articulating clear goals, understanding the interests and motivations of target audiences, or setting measurable objectives,” report author Jay Geneske noted.
One of the causes of this failure is a lack of investment in capacity. Too often, organizations don’t hire people skilled at producing high-quality content. Differences between the myriad of platforms available to tell stories, meanwhile, often scatter the message incoherently.
On social media platforms, Geneske writes, “users expect to be engage in dialogue, rather than treated as passive recipients of messages.” Organizations have to respect the behavioral norms of authenticity, transparency, and listening on such platforms.
The report suggests better staff training for in strategic planning, analytics monitoring, and content production as ways to improve storytelling. It also suggests that technology that unites different storytelling platforms could help cash-strapped organizations.
Obviously, if the solution is to hire former journalists to do this kind of work, there’s no shortage of labor supply out there.