To Tell Your Members’ Story, Think Like a Journalist

Your members are doing important work every day, but their stories often go unheard or unseen. To better engage and deliver deeper value, a former journalist and storytelling expert explains how associations can “grab the narrative.”

It’s no secret that associations are starting to look a lot like newsrooms [ASAE member login required]. Storytelling is quickly becoming an in-demand skill, and as my colleague Emily Bratcher pointed out earlier this week, there’s even an association-produced whitepaper on how to do it well.

Which is why I think it’s interesting that at ASAE’s 2018 Marketing, Membership & Communications Conference later this month, there’s a workshop on how to think and act like a journalist.

This Executive Leadership Workshop will be led by Dan Bennett, who for 30 years was a professional journalist and features writer in Southern California. He is now a communications professional and the founder of a consulting agency called StoryGrip, which helps mission-driven organizations to tell their own stories.

“What I learned over the years was that storytelling presents opportunities for calls-to-action and direct engagement,” Bennett says. “An organization telling its own story is one of the most powerful ways to get members, community partners, or national partners on board.”

There are plenty of examples in which associations have tapped into emerging communications channels, including Snapchat, to make members feel like they’re part of the story.

“Any group that can record the stories of their organization should do it,” Bennett says. “It could be your PR person, but it could also be an intern or a vice president—somebody who can tell stories of human impact.”

Start Your Story at ‘The End’

It takes a skilled storyteller to “grab the narrative” and keep the audience focused and engaged, according to Bennett. And, while it may sound counterintuitive, effective storytellers always start by thinking about the end first.

Bennett suggests setting a goal before going out and collecting footage or conducting interviews.

“Your goal might be to recruit more members or get members more work in their field,” he says. “You need to work backward and figure out what are the stories that lead up to that goal.”

Once a goal is established, you will then need to find story sources. This is where crowdsourcing can come in handy. Something as simple as an online form can be used to collect story ideas from your members.

Or you could crowdsource like the National Confectioners Association did and ask members to submit videos. Just be sure to make the ask early and the process easy so that members can contribute as the story is happening.

“What a lot of associations do is get to the end of a project and say, ‘Wow, we should document this,’ but it probably would have been better if they had been doing it all along,” Bennett says.

Explore Easy-to-Use Storytelling

Thanks to technology, there are several easy-to-use techniques and platforms that make it simpler than ever to tell stories. The first thing any organization needs is an editorial planning calendar, Bennett says. A spreadsheet or online calendar can be an easy way to track an editorial project from start to finish.

“From a newsroom perspective, it’s thinking about the story, doing the interview and research, putting together the story together—whether it’s video, print, or digital—maybe all three, and then finally dissemination,” he says.

One current tool that’s helping to drive traffic to both publishers and brands is Instagram Stories.

“Instagram is on the rise, and it’s really easy-to-use as a storytelling tool,” Bennett says. “You can shoot video from your phone and transfer it to your story. I like it because visual storytelling and video is our future for all kinds of communication.”

As with any storytelling tool, you need to use Instagram wisely. Too often, Bennett sees associations posting Instagram photos from a conference with people standing or sitting in a room. While a full room may look nice from an events perspective, it doesn’t really add anything to the narrative.

Instead, he says, use Instagram’s video or live video to stream a speaker who is saying something meaningful at the conference.

“People love feeling like they’re part of the story,” Bennett says. “You can tell it to them live and follow it up later with human interest stories.”

What storytelling techniques or platforms are you using to tell your members’ stories? Please share in the comments.

(Mihajlo Maricic/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Tim Ebner

By Tim Ebner

Tim Ebner is a senior editor for Associations Now. He covers membership, leadership, and governance issues. Email him with story ideas or news tips. MORE

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