Cosmic

The #1 Mistake Social Impact Organizations Make in Their Digital Storytelling

If your social impact organization isn’t getting digital engagement, you're likely making this common storytelling mistake. Learn how to draw supporters in.

Eric Ressler
July 27, 2021
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The best stories are ones that change the world. They evoke empathy, compel new thoughts and ideas, and inspire action. They strike an emotional chord. And if you’re a social impact organization, they drive engagement that thrust your cause forward.

Unless, of course, they don’t.

If your social impact organization struggles to see the fruits of your digital storytelling labor, you could be making a common (yet fixable) mistake: You’re making your story all about you.

You see, waxing poetic about what your organization does best (or always bringing everything back to Y-O-U) is not the effective engagement method you think it is. And it’s not really the main thing your audience wants to hear.

To seize your audience’s attention, urge them to take action, and convince them to become part of your community, you need a strong emotional hook in your storytelling, and you need to make your supporters the hero of your story.

Here’s how.

Shifting Your Social Impact Organization’s Storytelling Away From You

Navel-gazing is ubiquitous in social impact organization storytelling. That’s because of a pervasive assumption: Everyone already cares about your cause. (Who wouldn’t care about protecting your region’s population of pollinators, right?)

As a result of this commonly held belief, your organization may lean heavily on your merits and “how we do it” in the stories you share. Anything to justify what your organization needs: support.

Instead you should focus on why people should care about your cause in the first place.

It’s normal — and alright — for your organization to be excited to talk about what you do best. But organization-centric messaging isn't enough to gain traction with your target audience. After all, in today’s attention-and-algorithm economy, you can’t assume you already have people’s attention. You need to capture it first.

A guaranteed way to do that? Make them feel something by focusing on the why behind your cause and who your cause ultimately impacts.

A strong emotional hook captivates your audience and keeps them coming back for more like nothing else can.

Traveling the well-trodden path of talking about what your organization does or how you get the work done doesn’t cut it anymore. But shifting your focus outward does. This means that across your digital channels — your website, email, and social media — you need to tell your story differently.

Follow the Honeybees

Here’s a good example. After being charmed by a cute video on your Twitter page of honey bees doing the waggle dance, a potential supporter becomes curious. Maybe bees aren’t scary after all. They click a link that takes them to your website.

Once there, they dive into more details about honeybees and other important pollinators (your who) — and why they’re threatened (why your organization fights for them). And, most importantly, your website makes your supporters the hero of your organizations story, and plots a clear path for actions they can take today to get involved. They take multiple meaningful actions through your website and digital channels, are inspired to spread the word, and committed to joining you in the fight.

It’s Time to Plug Emotional Storytelling Into Your Digital Marketing Plan

Emotional storytelling sparks something primal in us. Putting a face to an issue is humanizing. Bearing witness to the tangible effects of an issue makes it that much more dire to solve.

Deep within us, we all desire to be part of the solution. Infusing your storytelling with heart and soul awakens that desire within your audience.

The simple fact is, emotional social impact marketing works. People are more apt to pay attention when they feel something and can see themselves as part of the solution. They’re more likely to read an email newsletter that tells an inspirational story about someone down the street whose life was changed. They’re more likely to open a link from your Instagram post with a curiosity-piquing fact about why taking action is critical. And they’re more likely to engage on both of those occasions because you evoked an emotion.

That emotional hook is what leads them to everything else about you.

6 Tips for Telling Emotionally Infused Stories Across Your Digital Channels

While there are no hard and fast rules to social impact storytelling, there are some key practices to keep in mind. Because your time is precious — and so is your audience’s — every output of content counts. Here are six ways to make the most out of every heart-tugging story you tell.

  1. 1.
    Stay positive. Gone are the days of using sad or alarming images and stories to guilt your supporters into contributing to your organization. There are so many good stories to be told — inspirational, motivational, uplifting. Your audience will better connect with the success stories rather than the doom-and-gloom.

  2. 2.
    Talk about your community. Focusing your storytelling on how your community makes a difference can make all the difference. To be fully invested in your cause, people need to be able to see how their involvement could possibly move the needle. Talking about your community will subsequently grow it, inspiring existing supporters to move up the engagement pyramid and new ones to join the fray.

  3. 3.
    Make your impact story tangible. Your audience may scroll past a statistic lacking context. But they’ll stop if there’s an interesting story behind it. Social impact stories with statistics are a one-two punch: They have an emotional hook and are backed up with data that prove your organization can walk the walk.
  4. 4.
    Think outside the blog article.There’s a viral trend going around on social media challenging people to "tell me X without telling me that you're X" – like "tell me you're a middle child without telling me you're a middle child". Or "tell me you worked in customer service without telling me you worked in customer service". It’s onto something: You don’t have to explicitly tell a story to get your point across. In fact, sometimes you don’t need any words at all. Pick an evocative image or a poignant video to share that will grab hold of your audience and make them want to learn more.

  5. 5.
    Always have a strategy. You need a purpose behind every story you share. Simply putting out a touching tale with no call to action or link back to your website won’t do you any favors. Your audience needs to be able to take something with them — a new fact to share with their friends, an actionable task, or a volunteer slot. Regardless of where you’re sharing your stories, there should always be a link back to your digital hub for your supporters to find more information.

  6. 6.
    Don’t forget to follow up. Everyone likes when things come full circle — your supporters included. When you successfully mobilize them to take action through one of your emotional stories, your work to connect with them doesn’t stop there. On the contrary. Let your community know just how much of a difference they make. Put the focus back on them and why their involvement pushed your latest goal past the finish line.

Your cause is one that deserves attention. But you’re talking in an echo chamber if the only stories you share revolve around your organization.

To gain steadfast supporters, you have to meet them where they are. Tell stories they want to hear. Only then will they learn you have much more to say — and they have much more to do.

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