How good are you at telling your social story?
Take a second and think about it. What kind of response do you get from people who’ve just heard about your work?
I’ll bet they smile, nod and say lovely things. Is that enough?
I’ve met hundreds and hundreds of social entrepreneurs, each of whom is fanatically passionate about one particular issue. Having seen the full spectrum of entrepreneurs, many of whom are pitching for money, it’s become clear that there’s a shortage of good storytellers.
Here’s a few practical things to think about to get improve your storytelling:
Assume your audience does not initially understand the problem
You’re fighting two issues here; either they don’t know about the problem, or nobody has explained it to them in a way that overcomes their cognitive dissonance. For example, every smoker knows the health risks, but carry on regardless. They hear you, but it doesn’t change their beliefs or behaviour. Your job is to change their mind, to bring clarity and urgency to your social mission. This means you have to bring a new angle to the problem, something that startles people.
Helpful, Relevant, True
Before you say something, ask yourself if it is helpful, if it’s relevant and if it’s true.
If it’s not helpful, shut up.
If it’s not relevant, wait for a better time.
If it’s not true, or if you wouldn’t want someone calling you out on it, shut up.
Focus on emotions
Kevin Roberts wrote in Lovemarks “Reason leads to conclusions, while emotions lead to actions”
If you create something that shakes people at an emotional level, you compel them to help, and enable them to share your story with others.
Build a sticky story
In the excellent book Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath lay out a formula for creating stories that stay with people. The essence of their work is the acronym “SUCCES” which stands for:
Tell stories about individuals
“One death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic”.
I can’t believe I’m writing a post that quotes Joseph Stalin, but here we are.
Focus in on one person and how your audience can help or empower them. Names and faces are much more memorable than numbers and graphs.
Create an actionable solution
Your story should have a call to action, something clear that your audience should now do. Simply complaining that “Our education system is broken, let’s petition the government to fix it” doesn’t count. Give people something they can do that will help, and will have something in it for them (a good product, a positive experience, a souvenir of the charitable work they funded, etc.)
Make something remarkable
Your story is the starting point, not the end. Once you’ve used your story to get people in the door, the quality of what you’re producing is what determines whether they stay.
If you’re a café, it’s the quality of your coffee. For a service business, it’s the user experience and the results. For a charity, it’s your newsletters and reports; did you do great things with your money?
Repeat customers are your most valuable ones. If your customers leave straight away, you create more work for yourself acquiring new ones, which is expensive. If your work is truly great, customers will do the advertising for you.