The most important ingredient to successful digital media is storytelling. It’s not analytics, it’s not content, it’s not new social networks or conversion rates or newsfeeds. If you want to motivate people to join your team or advocate for your cause or learn something new or donate resources, there needs to be a meaningful narrative that inspires them and that they can use to inspire others. The secondary goals of a successful digital media strategy include, among other things, reaching the right audience and designing for efficiency. Telling an honest story- the primary goal.
Wrapped up in the story is your call to action – sign up here, donate there. What often gets overlooked is that whatever the desired action is should be explored and exemplified within the story itself. If you’re trying to encourage people to help others, you should be telling a story about someone helping others more than it should be about people who need help. In that way, the best viral media is positive and proactive. The best stories have individuals who take action– action that can be replicated as the story itself is replicated.
If we’re looking to gain an audience, don’t tell a story about suffering, tell a story about determination and redemption. This doesn’t mean we ignore or gloss over whatever problem we’re trying to solve- we’re not out to hide conflict. We want to highlight conflict, but good vs evil is infinitely stronger than evil vs good. We don’t need to hire fiction writers or comic book artists to create this cosmic battle. As you’ll see, this sort of conflict-resolution exists every day in the work that you and your organization does, and it only takes a strong sense of story to bring it to your audience.
How Do We Tell Our Story?
Practically speaking, how do we create and share our stories in the digital landscape? With the overwhelming tidal wave of online innovation and evolution, we often feel as though we’re getting left behind, maybe treading water or just unable to keep our heads above the waterline of new things. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, Snapchat, Medium, Talkshow, and on it goes. If it seems like these new social media outlets are cropping up faster and faster, it’s because they are. That’s not going to stop. There may be a few stalwarts that stand the test of time, but overall social media will follow the typical technology path – continual iteration and innovation.
Ignore the white noise of the media and return to your anchors: your organization, your mission, and your story. Stop looking at digital media in terms of quantity and return to quality. The struggle for quantity is a losing battle. There’s always someone willing to pay more for content farms and link aggregation. Skip the quantity game entirely because the only points scored are clicks and views. A strong digital media strategy doesn’t care about clicks and views as much as it cares about inspiration and action.
All too often we find ourselves looking at an editorial calendar and wondering how we’ll ever generate our obligatory content quota- one blog per week, one facebook post per day, one tweet per minute, and so on. That’s the quantity-mindset. Websites, blogs, social media accounts, those aren’t stories- they’re platforms. To understand the difference, let’s look at the three key aspects of digital media and how they interrelate.
Breaking Down Digital Media
In order to understand quality in digital media, we need to do is separate our terminology- stories, mediums, and platforms. Each plays a key role in your overall strategy when understood in context.
Stories are our central idea, the catalyst for the theme and call-to-action we want to present to our audience. The story comes from the experiences of your organization, from the day-to-day work to the partnerships you build. S
Mediums (not to be confused with Medium.com which is not a medium) are the wrapper for our story. We may want to tell our story in long-form writing or a quick interview, we may want to use photography or video to tell our story. We may want to use a combination of those things to tell a story, but the medium is where the story moves from a concept to something concrete.
Finally, platforms are the distribution channels we have at our disposal. Platforms used to be television, books, and newsprint, but are now more often social media networks and news aggregaters. But don’t conflate new with important or powerful. Two of our most important platforms are some of the oldest-standing elements of the internet- the personal website and the email newsletter. Platforms are wide and varied, which is actually a good thing. Each platform is best for a particular aspect of our story, and the platform is what enables our story to make it to our audience.
The Backwards Approach
The problem with the editorial calendar approach as we use it now is that we’re starting at the end: we’re starting with our platforms. We’re looking to build regularity in our Facebook wall and Twitter feed. We hear about Snapchat and try to drum up some interesting ideas. We look at the next three months on a calendar and start to feel as if we’re trying to fill a hole that can never be filled.
The paradox of digital media is that there’s never enough content and yet there’s already too much. With this backwards, platform-first and calendar-first view, we see empty spaces where there should be meaning- we see an insurmountable problem.
That’s not to say that there isn’t a time to go directly to your platform, such as engaging with your audience, responding to comments, sharing valuable links, etc. But that’s secondary to our real goal of original, sharable storytelling that points our audience towards action. We should also note that, like platforms, editorial calendars have a place as well. Unfortunately, the editorial calendar is too often used as a spur, digging into our sides to drive us forward, instead of a saddle, giving us comfortable place with a view.
When we strategize by starting with our calendar and our platforms, the natural tendency is to then start putting pressure on our mediums. We look at our schedule of Instagram posts and realize we need more photography. Or we look at our blog and realize we need more long-form content. When we move from platforms to mediums, we end up trying to filter everything to fit a certain pigeonhole. This story sounds interesting but can it fit into 140 characters, or I’m going to spend a week generating photography to stockpile our Instagram account, and so on. I’ve been in that situation plenty of times and you end up fighting against a never-ending tide of time. You’ll never have enough and you’ll never have exactly what you need. You end up endlessly generating content to fill out some made up demand instead of telling your story.
Imagine you had a friend who called you every day at precisely 3pm. Some days she had something interesting to tell you, a funny anecdote from her office or a reaction to last night’s episode of Game of Thrones. Some days, however, she really didn’t have much to say. She calls you and starts to tell you about her day, but it was ho-hum and her story meanders without much of a point. She brings up last week’s Game of Thrones, but it feels forced and kinda repeats the same points as last week. At what point are you just going to ask you friend to maybe stop calling so often? At what point do you want to unsubscribe?
Continue reading about your Digital Media Workflow with Step One – Find The Story.