Organizational Storytelling

Organizational Storytelling

Two weeks ago we posted this piece about the power of story in our lives, how the brain makes decisions based on our emotional response to variables, rationalizing the numbers afterwards. As individuals, we love stories and good storytelling. How can we represent our business, nonprofit, or community group via storytelling? But is this different from organizational storytelling?

Yes. And no.

When a story is shared, the audience feels the story. Our whole brain is activated, and meaning is extracted. The meaning of the story comes from the personal connection the audience feels when their listening to the story. And when a story is well told, their able to feel not just connected to the story, but to the storyteller. –Jennifer Aaken, in The Persuasion and Power of Story

Yes: we’re completely different as individual entities, despite what the Citizens United ruling has done for litigious purposes. You can’t have a relationship with a company in the same way we do with people.

No: BUT organizations: businesses, nonprofits, and community groups are made up of  people. In fact, these exist because someone had a passion, desire, or reason to offer a product or service to others. That is the context for you to tell your story.

5 Ways to Tell Your Story

1. Why do you get up in the morning and do this?

People often get involved in a business or service effort because it strikes a cord in their very being. For instance, I got involved in social media for organizations because of my previous work experience and education. Having worked with college students for 11 years, connecting with them on Facebook became a necessary part of my job. When I transitioned out of that career to do a masters in Inter Cultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary, I became more passionate about how social mediums shifted the power of interaction back towards individuals. We could now talk to each other, learn from each other, and organize around causes towards more beautiful things! The public square was again becoming the town square, where the market was set up, people gathered for business and connection, and understood that life was happening in the community of relationships.

As I’ve talked with some clients, money is the primary reason. I understand that; it’s also part of my choosing this profession once I left school. (There’s not a great deal of money in the institutional church, much less for my “unusual” skills/interests/passions.) However, what lies behind or alongside of your need to have an income? One past client is a robotics engineer, and loves to create accessible robots for children. He’s now moved on to smartphone apps, where his unique background and passion have allowed him to discover and exploit the physics of smartphones in ways I never could have imagined for interactive apps.

Why do you get up in the morning and do this?

2.Telling their story is telling your story.

We’ve already mentioned that it’s people that make up organizations. One of the first things I do when I’m investigating an organization is look for their people on their site. First, it’s significant if they have their staff/team listed, who is listed, and how. Remember, social media create a transparent window to view you with. If you don’t list your staff, what does that say about your org? Why are they invisible, because your org. culture keeps staff unseen? Is it a security or privacy reason? If they are, is it everyone? And how? We can tell if you’re a hierarchical or egalitarian organization, if you care about your own staff and their stories or not. Ok, sidebar over. [steps off soapbox]

That being said, include your staff names/pictures in your effort. Interview them. Share members’ work accomplishments and successes, your new hires, and sad goodbyes (for those not leaving under unsatisfactory terms). I have a friend who recently left the coffee industry as one of the nations leading barsitas to do social media with an international firm. I’d be sharing the story about how he makes coffee for his colleagues and staff!

Telling the stories of your staff may be about an individual, but it is organizational storytelling nonetheless.

3. What are the stories behind your products or service?

This may be closely related number 1, but it deserves a bit of attention. One client I advised is involved in birth mom and adoption services. Although she is an employee in a larger organization, she’s started a nonprofit because of her passion to care for this population of folks. Specifically, she wants to create a shared living space for birth moms after they’ve given birth. She’s noted a gap in the care for these daring, beautiful, women, and recognized a service to fill the gap.

Why is your service or product needed?

4. Craft your product stories. (New Carrie video.)

Telling your organizational story could be specific to a product, or the broad range of your services or products. This piece is brilliantly done on multiple levels; it was a story for those who encountered it in real life, and it’s a story for us as viewers.

Organizational Storytelling

5. Pick the right place to tell your story.

This is a strategy, or tactic’s piece. Every social medium has demographics of users in a macro sense, and with you in a micro sense. In other words, Twitter in the U.S. is most used by young, urban, African Americans. However, you may decide to use it as customer service, which may dictate your micro user base as white, professional, women aged between 40-55. You also wouldn’t write a 500 word update about the new cancer research center Facebook, you’d post it on your blog. (Though you’d probably share the story on Facebook, yes?)

6. You don’t have to tell all your story in every post.

This is connected to number 5. Share pieces of your story on each platform, crafting which piece of your story goes where, and keeping in mind who you are, your clients are, and the mediums you use to engage with them. I struggle sometimes with the need to tell the whole story, in every post. But the beauty of social media is that organizational storytelling is part of the conversation. Conversations are just that: an ongoing dialogue where we discuss, share, and interact over a given period of time.

This list is not nearly exhaustive! What are things you would add, or have found helpful?