The irresistible power of storytelling for organizations

“Good stories surprise us. They have compelling characters. They make us think, make us feel. They stick in our minds and help us remember ideas and concepts in a way that numbers and text on a slide with a bar graph don’t.” Read more

#WritingTips: The first question to ask before you write

Here’s a quick scenario: a nonprofit communications department realizes that its organization’s website lacks engaging stories, a key element to any effective communications strategy. “We need more stories!” declares the communications manager.

Following this declaration, the senior communications officer quickly tasks Bob the intern with writing an engaging piece. Bob, new to the nonprofit writing game, is somewhat perplexed: “Where do I start?”, he asks himself.

Bob should start by asking one important question: “What do I want this story to achieve?”

Before writing any nonprofit story, or any story for that matter, it’s essential to clarify the objective of the story. Is it to mobilize funds? To raise awareness about your organization’s mission or strategy? To get people engaged on social media? To get people to volunteer, vote or attend your event?

Whatever the reason, the story will be made all the more effective if the purpose is clarified from the start, including how it ties in to your overall communications and content strategies.

If the purpose of the story isn’t clear, and if it does not fit into the grander scheme of things (i.e. your strategies), you shouldn’t be writing it. Writing aimlessly prevents you from writing well and undermines what the story can achieve.

Writing for his Empower Nonprofits blog, Jeremy Koch explains how this can negatively impact on your audience:

“Put simply, if you don’t know what you want your audience to do after listening to your story then they’re not going to know what to do either.”

Read Koch’s article to explore three ways in which the intention of your story impacts how you tell your story, and why this matters.

Great writing tips for authors, bloggers, columnists & journalists

Writing for, Andrew Griffiths provides some excellent writing tips for authors, bloggers, columnists and journalists. This is all based on experience writing 20 books and 3,000 articles over 20 years!

My favourites include:

  • Always visualize a person who is your ideal niche whenever you write
  • Don’t waste a whole session on a piece that isn’t working
  • Keep an anecdote and story list
  • Figure out when you write your best words

Check out all 10 tips here

6 practical strategies for content promotion

Simply creating great content will not guarantee engagement – you have to promote it! After all that hard work, you have to get it out there, to the right people. However, gone are the days when you could effectively promote your content by tweeting multiple times a day, posting in multiple Facebook groups, and using lots of keywords.

So, in today’s hypermediated world, what are some good strategies to promote your content? Writing for the Content Marketing Institute, Aman Thakur offers some ideas.

1. Leverage a proven blog post template

“Some types of blog posts usually outperform others no matter how much time you spent creating them. If you manage to leverage those content types, you can easily get those crucial traffic numbers,” says Thakur.

Suggested content types include:

  • Expert roundups
  • Infographics
  • Resource-focused posts
  • In-depth guides
  • Long-list posts
  • Original research

2. Build and ask a list of sharers before publication

Before publishing, build and ask a list of sharers if they would like to share your content.

“An unsolicited email that links to something is straightaway deleted,” adds Thakur. “However, when you build a list before publication, you’re just asking the person whether he or she is interested in your content.” Find out more

3. Share with communities

This strategy is made even more effective when you target smaller community sites, like Quora.

“When you focus your content promotion on smaller community sites, you get a competitive edge. Their audiences are narrower in interest but active and focused,” says Thakur.

4. Drive traffic using cheap ads

If you can’t afford Facebook or Google ads, cheaper options are available. Find out more

5. Retarget visitors to grow your email list

Grow your email list by using retargeting ads on platforms like Facebook. Find out more

6. Build links to the content

Get content managers to link to your content through link roundup sites, by pointing out broken links, or by helping them update outdated articles. Find out more

Featured photo source: Platform4, Flickr Creative Commons

Social marketing: Can it tackle the ‘super wicked problem’ of climate change?

There are problems, and then there are wicked problems – and then there are super wicked problems. Many researchers and academics will say that climate change falls in the latter category.

My interest in climate change was reinvigorated while browsing through the programme for the upcoming World Social Marketing Conference on 16-17 May. Climate change is a key conference theme, with various paper presentations and a panel session devoted to the issue. Leading up to the conference, it’s worthwhile to explore the role social marketing plays in addressing the super wicked problem that is climate change.

The super wicked problem

I became refamiliarized with the phrase while listening to a great Re-Quilibrium podcast on social marketing and climate change. In the podcast, researcher David Meiklejohn first defines a wicked problem as a difficult problem with no easy solution – a problem that is harder to define and harder to end cleanly than a ‘tame’ problem (read more). Smoking is one example.

Meiklejohn then explains that the emergence of climate change as an issue created four additional complexity factors that went beyond those defined for wicked problems. As a result, academics began defining climate change as a super wicked problem with the following additional complexity factors:

  1. There is a limited time to respond. Example: With weather hazards growing in frequency and intensity, and increased community vulnerability linked to climate change, we need to act now before the issue becomes too overwhelming to tackle.
  2. They are caused by those seeking the solution. Example: Many of us fail to take practical actions to address climate change, though we may believe that it is a problem.
  3. There is weak or non-existent central authority. Example: Government action is affected by declining public trust and fluctuating levels of support for climate action and policies.
  4. We discount future benefits gained from taking action. Example: We value the current benefits of fossil fuels over the long-term benefits of renewable energy sources.

Is social marketing a super wicked solution?

Meiklejohn explains that from a policy perspective, climate change solutions tend towards large policy changes that can impact whole populations. But when it comes to social marketing “that’s more difficult, because we tend to work downstream – we don’t tend to work at a high policy level…we tend to work much more directly with the populations that we have contact with.”

Thinking about the four complexity factors is therefore a very useful way to develop better social marketing interventions targeting climate change. Meiklejohn recommends that such programmes should not focus on what people think about the issue, but rather what they do, or actions that they can take or are already taking.

“People say one thing about climate change and one thing about sustainability but they do very different things at times, and ultimately we’re going to be judged on how effective we are – we’re not going to be judged on whether people remember the brand of a programme, whether they remember the message of a programme – it’s got to be about what did they do.”

Meiklejohn supports using segmentation to look at specific group behaviours and lifestyles in the target population that can impact on climate change, as opposed to a broad approach that tries to get everybody to act in the same way. “The things that we do are very different across the population, and they all contribute to climate change, but we may not recognize them as doing so,” he says.

A key challenge social marketers face may be that many people are indifferent or even actively hostile towards the climate change discourse, and they may therefore not identify with the brand being communicated in a given programme. So, how do you win these people over? Meiklejohn stresses that programmes need to go beyond branding campaigns or a one-size-fits-all approach, to framing the issue in other ways:

“You might have some people that are actively hostile to the idea of climate change but are not actively hostile to the idea of reducing their energy costs, and therefore solar might make a lot of sense to them from a purely financial point of view. Once you get them to put up solar, you might have an in to be able to talk to them about other things.”

Solar energy

Photo credit: Kaspars Dambis, Flickr Creative Commons

One interesting example from Meiklejohn’s podcast is an approach in the United Kingdom addressing the fourth complexity factor: discounting the future benefits of taking action on climate change. The Behavioural Insights Team examined approaches to encourage consumers to purchase more energy efficient dishwashers and washing machines. These products are better for the environment but are more expensive than less energy efficient models. However, the lifetime running costs of the efficient models tend to be lower. To get around the initial sticker price differentiation, BIT worked with department stores to include lifetime prices on these goods, encouraging customers to purchase the more energy efficient models (read more, page 147).

As Meiklejohn’s podcast proves, social marketing can be a very useful approach for addressing climate change, though pundits continue to debate its usefulness given its limited scale and scope. Nevertheless, it remains a tried and tested approach for fostering the real behaviour change that is so sorely needed for sustainable development.

Featured photo: Asian Development Bank, Flickr Creative Commons

Original article published on the International Social Marketing Association website