I recently bought a new car – a 50th anniversary edition of the Ford Thunderbird convertible. I love the retro look and feel, but the one perk that I didn’t anticipate was how this car solicits stories. Yesterday I dropped off some used clothing at a donation center and the volunteer told me a story about the summer before he entered the Army when his neighbor offered him a free convertible T-bird. It’s fun to see the sparkle in their eyes as these “strangers” share their stories and, by doing so, allow me a glimpse into a special moment in their past. But it’s important to remember that these people would have never shared their stories if I hadn’t been driving the artifact they connected with – the T-bird. Organizational artifacts can act as the launching pad to foster storytelling among your stakeholders.
Organizations need the power stories can bring, especially given the hyper connected media environment we operate in today. “Storytelling brings alive the activities of the organization and makes their issues real and urgent for current and potential supporters,” wrote Beth Kanter and Allison Fine in their book, The Networked Nonprofit.
As metrics become more accessible through easy-to-use dashboard tools, PR practitioners, even in small firms, are better able to scrutinize social media effectiveness. More thorough analysis of social media demonstrates that content alone is not king–relevance and relationships truly reign supreme. Relevance and relationships are the embodiment of storytelling. There is a heightened credibility when stakeholders share their story about your product or organization with their friends, colleagues or family members.
An artifact is typically defined as human-made object of cultural or historical significance. In PR, the challenge is to know your audience well enough to be able to identify an artifact that has meaning for your publics and suggests authenticity. Once you identify the artifact, here are six tips to make the most of the artifact-stakeholder encounter:
1) Be humble. Don’t be afraid to show your ignorance. This is especially true if you are new to the organization. By asking loyalists or long-time stakeholders to give you some background information on the artifact, you are affirming their identity as an important person in the life of the organization or brand. Soliciting this information on an open online forum, such as Facebook or Twitter, can propel the conversation into more social networks.
2) Probe. People respond to rich description in stories - it fosters authenticity and heightens listener engagement. If you use the artifact, but feel your stories are falling flat…put on your journalist hat and probe, gathering details as if you were writing a feature story. In a social media, use the public reply or comments section to dialogue with the storyteller, taking care not to ask anything too personal.
3) Encourage sharing. Depending on your product or organization, offering an incentive for a story about the artifact can sometimes motivate people to share, but it may not always be necessary. Affirming the value of their personal story may be sufficient. Again – knowing your audience will help you decide the best encouragement for your organization.
4) Tap into trends. Throw back Thursdays, Flashback Fridays and other social media memes can be good testing ground to introduce artifacts and ask stakeholders for their stories about them.
5) Dig in company archives. Prototypes, early product drawings, writings from founders, old photographs, or even old ads can sometimes jog memories. (Anytime I see a vintage Apple Macintosh Portable computer circa 1989, I can't help but tell stories of writing my thesis using the first "portable" computer–all 16 pounds of it!)
6) Go beyond social media. If you discover natural storytellers who are particularly adept at sharing their story online, ask permission to contact them offline. With some encouragement from you, they might be willing to participate in a video or other content creation, or even help you develop a live experience with the artifact.