It’s time to come clean. Earlier I said that not every story is put down in writing, and in a sense, that’s true. We can tell our stories through alternative mediums like video and photography. When it comes to our online digital media strategy, however, writing is going to pervade everything you do. And with good reason: writing is still the most effective way to communicate ideas across distance and time. It’s been this way for 3000 years, and even more so the last 500. While we may be seeing drastic changes in communication and connectivity, there still hasn’t been an effective replacement for good writing.
With that in mind, we should think of writing as part of our complete breakfast. It’s the main course, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get powerful results from other mediums as well. We’ll cover a the most popular alternative mediums, but first let’s start with writing.
Writing is the foundation of your online presence. The big idea is that your audience genuinely wants to hear about your organization and the work you are doing. They want the background info, the juicy details, and the DVD extras. They want the whole story and the story is best when you tell it.
Think about your potential audience and how you’d like them to interact with your organization. If you want a long-term, committed audience, you need to provide something substantial for them to return to. If you want them to spend more time interacting with you, give them more to digest.
Writing is still the most cost-effective content you can create because it only requires a word processor and a decent command of your language. Services like Freelancer and Upwork offer low-cost copywriting, but as your organization grows in resources, you can turn to more unique voices to help tell your story. Engaging, long-form writing can add a level of legitimacy and professionalism to your story that a tweet or a status update simply cannot.
Be sure to take action from the beginning by recording any usable text, links, or thoughts, that might make it into your story. Use collaborative Google Docs if necessary to collect everything in one place. If you’re planning on telling a story of an ongoing project, for example, check in every week and write down a few key ideas or concrete descriptions that might be able to help you later on. Make lists of interesting facts and shareable quotes from sources.
Be organized up front and methodical with how you collect and generate your writing. Sure the focus is one long-form landing page that will exist on your website, but these other snippets of text can be used in supplemental materials, previews, and social media blasts later on.
While writing may have a low entry-point, photography is a large step up in terms of resources you’ll need to invest. Writing can be generated from anywhere at anytime. Quality photography on the other hand really requires someone to be in the right place at the right time with the right camera. Luckily, the third part of that equation fits in your pocket.
According to the latest technology specs, a post-2015 smartphone from either Samsung or Apple (and possibly others as well) is now able to compete with a DSLR in terms of quality. Of course, it takes more than megapixels to make photography on the level of art, but in terms of getting a decent quality shot with a professional look, a smartphone camera does the job pretty well.
The camera is really only half the battle. You still need someone to be in the right place at the right time. What’s important is to spend time before you start writing your story to brainstorm a list of ideas that you can capture along the way. Make a shot list for each group or region of your story so that you can document as much of it as possible. Think about getting candid shots of any team members, shots of the workspace or the wherever ‘the action is’. By the time you’re ready to start promoting and publishing your story, you may want to use this photography in social media blasts, marketing materials, or just embed them in your writing. It’s better to plan ahead and have too many photos than too few, and although this method of documenting your entire process may feel foreign or awkward, you’ll be thankful when it comes to generate your digital media.
All of this is not to undervalue the benefits of hiring a professional photographer whenever possible. No matter who we are and how nice our iPhone is, a professional photographer brings experience and expertise that we simply don’t have. A professional not only knows how to get the best shot, but they know how to formulate unique ideas and perspectives and actualize these concepts professionally and efficiently.
There’s a trend out there that believes adding video is the future of the web. Giants like Facebook and Twitter are jumping on the video bandwagon and interstitial videos are the largest money makers for YouTubers or app developers who use services like Google’s AdMob.
The largest hurdle with videography is its cost- video directly reflects cost in quality. While the smartphone camera has made incredible growth in quality, giving us all access to 4k video in our pockets, there’s actually something more important than video quality – audio quality. A video recorded without proper audio equipment cannot convey the level of professionalism that most viewers have come to expect after the vlogging boom. Audiences will be much more forgiving of glitches in video quality than audio quality because bad audio takes away from their understanding. Bad audio gets in between you and your audience and undermines their trust in you.
If you plan on going the video route in house, feel free to use the cellphone camera, but spend a few dollars on some audio proper equipment. You don’t need to spend a thousand dollars or build a recording studio in your office. Just one simple piece of gear can take your video to the next level.
Beyond the Basics
We’ve covered the big three, but it’s important to know that there are many other options to consider as you build the scope of your story beyond simply writing. Here’s a quick list of other mediums to consider when sharing various aspects of your story. Be warned that many of these may require more investment into resources, specialized personnel, or possibly some freelance work.
Audio/Podcasting – It may sound weird that the 10s are the decade of audio-based content (as opposed to the 20s – 50s, the Golden Age of Radio), but the ways in which technology has reinvigorated audio is remarkable. Your audience may be searching for a story during their morning commute or while doing household chores, and on-demand audio has really filled that gap.
Interactives – Look no further than NYT’s captivating piece on Greenland or Paul Ford’s What is Code for Bloomberg to see the effective emotional value of combining video, audio, and writing. Immersive editorial experiences, usually the process of months of work, can become flagpole features that make headlines and draw users to your site for years to come.
Graphic Design – Sharing information in graphic form, through concepts like animations and infographics, can create something instantly sharable through information-based networks like Pinterest and Facebook. As you formulate your story, think about any quantitative data that can be turned into supplemental charts and graphs.
eBooks/PDFs – Generating an audience of subscribers can sometimes feel like an exercise in futility, which has lead more websites to start offering free eBooks and PDF downloads in exchange for email addresses. Generate a quick how-to guide or a list of resources that can provide value to your audience. Even transforming your long-form story into a sharable PDF is a valuable resource that your audience would be happy to download for later use.
As we think about each project, with its central story and emotional core, we should be taking the time to plan ahead and document everything in our process and our subject’s process. Every story has the potential to exist in all of these mediums simultaneously.
Ultimately, our goal is to acquire a stockpile of assets that support our story, certainly textual resources like quotes and interviews, but also photography, video, audio, and more. As we move forward through the story-writing process, we can began to filter some of these assets out through our various platforms, like Facebook, Instagram, and more. However, we must keep in mind that our most valuable platform is our website. Stay tuned for Part 3 where we’ll discuss the importance of having a landing page before we start sharing content and how to pick the best content for the right platform.