This is part 1 of our two part interview series with United Way of Greater Portland.
United Way of Greater Portland created the LIVE UNITED storytelling library (LUbrary) in 2011 to create and share stories that bring people together and distill the issues affecting their communities. It is a resource for the community, funded by the community. Each entry in the LUbrary is a strategy to build a better world. Jessica Esch and Suzi Piker draw the pictures, set up the cameras, capture the audio, and piece it all together to find the story. But the end result belongs to everyone.
Today Jessica Esch is here to share her tips and insights for digital storytelling.
In developing the LUbrary, how did you and your team decide what stories to use?
Jessica Esch (United Way of Greater Portland): Our story selection is determined by necessity, strategy and timeliness. The LUbrary is filled with stories that balance organization need and seize particular moments in time.
This year, the LUbrary has devoted considerable time and attention to a year-long Greater Portland is My United Way series that features audio, visual, and written stories. This series airs the first week of each month on local radio stations. These pieces support an overarching marketing campaign that showcases United Way’s unique role in the community.
By contrast, we are nimble enough to create timely pieces like the Happy Spring story illustration that was conceived on the way to work on the first day of spring, designed before lunch, and shared on all of our communication channels that afternoon.
Sometimes our stories are big and formal, and sometimes they are short and sweet. But they always strive to convey the positive feeling that we’re better together and that improving the Common Good takes all of us.
Content marketing seems to be a big part of LUbrary. What content marketing strategies have worked well for you? What have you learned along the way?
Jessica Esch (United Way of Greater Portland): Invest the time and thought necessary to make your content stand out. We rack our brains to tell compelling stories then spend as much time puzzling out how to get people to take notice so they can engage with them. For example, we leveraged the year-in-review aspect of annual reports to create eye-catching, one-page illustrations that are easy to read and absorb.
It is easy to think that your work is done when the video or the illustration has been brought to life. The reality is that a final product ushers in a whole new type of work. More and more of our time is spent trying to figure out how to capture people’s attention so our stories can do their work. We go directly to individuals and organizations instead of waiting for them to come to us. No matter the social platform, UWGP is there.
If you want people to see your light, you have to show them where the switch is.
Visually illustrated stories are not something we see a lot of in the non-profit space. When do you find that this form of storytelling is most effective?
Jessica Esch (United Way of Greater Portland): We all make assumptions about the things we see. Illustrations can take some of those assumptions off the table. By helping keep these biases at bay, the listener can hear what is being presented. A good example is the LUbrary video about General Assistance, a program of last resort for people facing crisis in Maine.
In addition, because illustrated stories are unusual, they distinguish LUbrary content. People remember our stories because we distill complex issues in accessible and memorable formats. Given the volume of information we navigate each day, illustrations make people pause and, hopefully, listen.
What are your top 3 storytelling tools and/or tips?
Jessica Esch (United Way of Greater Portland): Short is the sweet spot. People are busy. Most LUbrary stories range from 1 to 4 minutes. It is a noisy world and you stand out based on the quality of your work. Give everything you can to make your content pop: from concept to dissemination.
Ride the wave. No one expects a Valentine from United Way on Valentine’s Day. Joining existing conversations and timely events are great ways to amplify your content. For example, this month we created this LUbrary illustration for Attendance Awareness Month to tap into a time of heightened online attention.
Think bigger. The LUbrary was always intended to be a resource beyond our United Way. We keep our branding to a minimum and strive to make the stories evergreen. We know nonprofits and community organizations are strapped for time and resources. The LUbrary is a way for us to help build community capacity. If others use our stories to address common concerns, we all win.
Jessica, thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and insights in today’s blog post! I especially love your tip about “riding the wave” – a great opportunity for every organization!