“The truth about stories, is that’s all we are,” wrote Thomas King, in the opening to his CBC Massey Lecture (p. 1).
This has always resonated with me – as a person curious about others’ stories, an avid storyteller consumer through books, podcasts, TV, and movies, and someone striving to be a storyteller.
When it comes to creating great digital content, it’s like any content. It has to involve a good story.
The content for my organization that I’m embarking on creating will be more personal than it has been before. It will be focused on what motivates our team, our partners and supporters, and how our partners and supporters’ work and lives have changed for the better as a result of working with us.
I also want to tell stories about what we know and what we imagine to be possible in creative and fun ways. If we are to persuade people that the paradigm shift we’re striving for is possible, worthwhile, and the best path forward then we have to demonstrate that – while also avoiding making it about the challenge, about the change, about the need.
I would like to create an environment where I am a vehicle and platform for other peoples’ stories – that I can nudge them to tell their story (or a story), assist them in crafting it, and provide an outlet to share it.
This will take effort, practice, and coordination. But really all we need to do is be ourselves.
King, T. (2003). The Truth About Stories. House of Anansi Press.
The greatest challenge my organization must overcome is becoming comfortable with the fact that the change we seek is generational.
We may not see significant impacts of our work today because it is for the next generation and the next after that. This is the challenge of embarking on a societal paradigm shift like we are. It’s an internal challenge for the organization because the reality of this can affect the team’s motivation. Naturally, everyone likes a win. What we consider to be a ‘win’ requires a reorientation of our mindset around ‘success’ and ‘completion.’
Because the work we do will never be done – and it will take all of us.
The nature of the work being generational can also be an external challenge. Funders and leaders can function in a short-term rotation of expectations. Communicating and proving the value of our work today – for tomorrow – is challenging because some supporters want to see goals achieved right now rather than that all-around terrible phrase of ‘moving the needle.’
We balance these challenges with our mission and vision by demonstrating our impact on as many communities and sectors as possible today (small or big), while also building shorter-term projects and programs into our long-term agenda. This way, we remain creative and motivated internally, while illustrating our value and impact externally – all while staying true to our vision for future generations.
I am striving to be the me who fosters and encourages creativity, thoughtfulness, tenacity, and is of use to my community so that I’m improving the lives of people around me.
And I don’t know that anything I do makes me stand out, but if there were they might be these:
Learn, Move, Create
Every year I learn a new sport/movement practice as well as craft. The former has included ballet, rowing, and lacrosse. The latter has included cross stitch, sewing, and embroidery. With this intention, I get to fall in love with new things, challenge myself, learn from others, meet new people, develop skills (recover or realize existing ones), and be in a place of humility.
Read, Share, Repeat
I read all genres with a goal of 30+ books a year. My only rule is to limit the number of books I read by straight, cis, white men (we get enough of their content everywhere). I share a quick thought about every book on social, which allows me to share stories I love (and some I don’t) with people I love.
Work, Rest, Reflect
Work, Rest, Reflect
I work hard in my personal and professional life – and there’s often a blur between the two. I do what it takes to get things done. I’m trusted to imagine, communicate, and support our organization’s work and I love the aspects that brings people together. I try to rest when I need to and reflect in an ongoing way about whether I’m making the greatest impact I can and what areas I need to strengthen or see differently.
Because at the heart of my life, what I’m most proud of are my relationships.
2. His content is consistent, visual, entertaining, and timely:
Reynolds shares consistently, but with high value. His content is entertaining and relevant, and often short videos. Last year he and Will Ferrell started promoting this year’s new holiday movie, Spirited, by jumping on the Grace Kelly TikTok trend.
3. He uses his relationships – without it feeling used
Tactically, Reynolds leverages his relationships and online ‘bits’ (see: Hugh Jackman now co-starring in the next Deadpool movie) to promote himself, movies, and businesses. The reason why this works is that it doesn’t feel like a tactic – the relationships are, or at least feel, genuine.
4. While content is created and curated, there’s openness:
There’s a sense that you know Ryan Reynolds personally through what he makes. He includes the high school he went to in his LinkedIn profile and his personalized Aviation Gin email on his Facebook profile.
Ryan uses his personal brand to promote his businesses and movies – and even owns a content creation company to do this (that’s meta – no, not that Meta). For example, here’s a Mint Mobile ad that combines honesty and humour to sell itself. And then here’s another, for his television software company.
In my professional role at a non-profit organization, part of my responsibility is to articulate our work and communicate opportunities to our audiences through:
Posters and brochures
Website (and more).
The list of content is long because what we’re communicating is big and we’re sharing it with a big audience. We need lots of lanes for different people.
We can’t be all things to all people
Communicating in the context of our organization can be challenging because – at one point or another – our audiences have included almost all residents of our province.
So we break our audience down by sector for our umbrella initiative – while also striving for our vision and what we do to resonate with community members who don’t see themselves as part of any one sector.
While for some communicators, demographic details of target audience(s) are key, it’s the psychographic characteristics that are most important to me because we’re offering a vision and opportunities meant for all.
Something for everyone: Communicating with audiences based on what they need
Below, I’ve outlined our sectoral audiences, some characteristics of what they’re trying to achieve that is relevant to our work and what we can offer them, and communication that is important to them.
Business owners and champions
Trying to foster a culture of work-life balance for teams
Promoting the province/their community as a great place to start or move your business
What works: Testimonials from other business who have worked with us that describes the benefit to their work and/or team.
Decision- and policy-makers in government
Driven to improve the quality of life in their communities
Seeking information to propose evidence-based change
What works: Briefing notes and short reports about data that is relevant to their responsibilities.
Staff of impact organizations (aka non-profit organizations)
Advocating for policy and program change to improve peoples’ quality of life
Applying for funding to support their initiatives and work
What works: Infographics and online platforms to access data they can cite in funding and program proposals.
Educators/researchers at academic institutions
Designing class assignments that use local data
Looking to inform their developing and ongoing research programs as well as apply for project funding
What works: Peer-reviewed publications by other researchers who have used local data as the source of their analysis.
What’s worked for you?
Communicating with multiple audiences requires an effective strategy and thoughtful approaches.
Do you have any advice for communicators whose audiences are big and cross-cutting?
To communicate well, you’ve got to know your audience inside and out.
Knowing your audience enables you to create valuable and relevant content by understanding their perspectives, needs, and knowledge. Build trust – and community – with your audiences through a strategy of listening, responding, and storytelling.
What target audiences am I talking to?
“You talkin’ to ME?”
Analyzing your target audience(s) includes identifying their demographic characteristics (e.g., gender, age, etc.) and psychographic characteristics (i.e., why do they want your product or service?).
Most people will have more than one target audience, and each requires different communication styles and can be found in different places (geography) and spaces (online).
How do I get to know my target audience?
Social and active listening
Social listening is joining the online conversation as an observer. This looks like reading your competitors’ – or, collaborators’ – social posts and blogs, and reviewing Google Trends and hashtags related to your brand/work.
Always keep up with online conversations, so you aren’t a step behind. For example, how can you join in on a trending meme in a way that’s relevant to you?
Active listening looks like responding to all comments and questions, plus asking your audience questions (e.g., ask them about their questions for you, what kind of content they’d like to see, etc.). This is interactive and helps you share relevant information.
For example, a poll on operating hours may lead to changes that make your service more accessible or your product more profitable by making it more available.
You may also be surprised by what you learn – what if you have an audience you don’t know about?
From target audience to trusting community
Trust takes time
You aren’t just providing a service or product; you’re supporting your audience, offering solutions, and building a community.
Building a community means striving for one where people feel they belong. We need to see ourselves there and feel heard.
The more perspectives going into your product or service, and how you’re talking about it, the more likely that what you’re putting out into the world will resonate with more people.
And while brands have their lanes, you only need to ask yourself how you can support your audiences from where you are – with whatever folks might be facing – because if there’s a will, there’s a way forward.
For me, living la dolce vita included attending my childhood friend’s glamorous wedding
…and my 102-year-old grandma’s funeral.
A Lake Como cameo
If you didn’t see House of Gucci, you can watch this birthday scene at Lake Como’s Villa Balbiano – the wedding venue where my friend and her husband said, ‘I do.’
Lago di Como is an area so beautiful I repeatedly joked it proves we’re living in a simulation.
Our days there included a bachelorette, a welcome party, and the wedding itself.
My fellow bridesmaids and I spent the day with the bride leading up to the ceremony and celebration. As guests, friends and family experienced a fairytale and after drinking and dancing the night away, we left with full hearts (and hangovers).
No tears in Tuscany
From Lake Como, my husband and I traveled to Tuscany. Florence was our beautiful and historic home base, steps from its famous duomo. After cycling and sipping through Chianti, our favourite day was in a tiny hilltop town called Fiesole.
During dinner, we couldn’t look away from a lightning storm above the Tuscan countryside.
That same day, my grandmother passed away peacefully, surrounded by four of her children and holding my mom’s hand.
In hindsight, the side-by-side of that day – my family at home, us in Fiesole – is striking, both in awe of a force of nature.
The rush of Rome
The city was dense and the air close, but I was determined to live out our Roman holiday, walking from landmark to landmark, even though I’d just learned I couldn’t share the stories with my grandma later.
So I packed up my grief, and we took in the Colosseum’s history, Vatican Museums’ art, and tastes of Trastevere in a blur.
Finding home in La Spezia
La Spezia provided deep breaths of salty air. We walked through this doorway to Cinque Terre and found: Il Puin. The osteria’s warmth and sense of home was such a relief and release we went back after hiking from breathtaking view/town to breathtaking view/town in Cinque Terre.
We spent the following day swimming at the base of Manarola and at Monterosso’s beach before settling in for my grandmother’s funeral from afar.
It had come quick because of her end-of-life wishes, and we laughed and cried as my uncle Zak (remember him from Florence?) hosted a small circle of loved ones to honour and remember our family’s matriarch.
There’s more to Parma than pasta
We left La Spezia with closure and comfort for Parma. We toured the countryside to taste the spectacular and specific regional food from family-owned businesses – Parmigiano Reggiano, Prosciutto di Parma, and balsamic vinegar – before flying home, nourished by friendship, love, and pasta with plans to return as soon as we can.