COM0014: Blog #7 – The art of storytelling

StorytellingStorytelling has been practiced for thousands of years and has been crucial for the human race in many ways, especially in education and culture. We’ve adapted the way we tell stories – some long, some as short as a 140-character tweet – but stories themselves haven’t lost their significance.

In a world that has become so saturated with stories, it’s more difficult than ever for yours to be heard (and even more so to ensure that it’s shared amongst others). So how do you make sure your digital content stands out? Tell a story that your audience wants to hear and that will guide them to act, even if it’s as simple as clicking the “share” button on Facebook. Get to know your audience on a number of levels: their likes and dislikes, their hobbies, their age, gender and culture. And get to know yourself or your company: what are your goals and what do you want your audience to do after reading your content? These elements will help guide your content. Your stories should be a marriage of what you want to accomplish and what your audience is interested in.

And don’t forget that stories can be found anywhere. Everyone’s different and has their own story to tell or a different perspective on a story you already know. It’s important not just to focus on getting to know your company from a business perspective, but getting to know the people who make the company run on a daily basis and the customers who use the company’s services or products. That’s where the best stories lie – the human side.

Craft your stories in a way that will catch your audiences’ attention – make them believe, make them feel and make them act. When it comes down to it, remember to be honest, be transparent and be human. And never stop telling your stories.

COM0014: Blog #6 – When three become one

At Carleton’s Teaching and Learning Services, we’re one big family. But, you wouldn’t know that at first glance.

Our department is made up of three units that work together to support the university’s teaching and learning activities: Carleton University Online, the Educational Development Centre and Instructional Media Services. But these three groups are spread across campus with offices in different buildings, making it difficult to keep the internal lines of communication open.

And sometimes it can be an even bigger challenge to communicate this fact externally, to our clients, who for so long have had no concept that these departments are even linked, when in reality, we’re so interconnected.

Let’s say you’re a faculty member who wants to design a blended course. Sure, you need to come to the EDC and speak with an instructional designer. But maybe you want to create an introduction video for the course. Well then, CUOL is the place to be. And if you ever run into a technical issue during the in-class portion of the course, the IMS team is there to help.

Each department has a role to play and so many people are involved in making a project come together. Now it’s just a matter of communicating that fact.

But, we’re working on overcoming the challenge. This past year, we created Teaching and Learning Services as the umbrella group and the link that ties all three departments together. We’re really making a push in all our marketing and messaging to ensure that everyone understands that while we each bring our own skill set to the table, one thing we have in common is a genuine passion and dedication to making a difference for Carleton’s educators and students.

Have you ever faced a similar situation? What techniques did you use to try to overcome the challenge?


COMM0014: Blog #5 – Christina Inc.

As a communications officer by trade, you would think it would be pretty simple for me to come up with a personal brand. After all, my job duties require a lot of writing and marketing. But, if anything, I feel like I face an even bigger challenge because I am competing with other exceptional writers. We all work to promote and market certain products or services, so we can all transfer those skills and promote ourselves.

So what makes me stand out? For one, I graduated from one of the best journalism programs in the country at Carleton University. Going through the honours program improved my writing tremendously and, when it comes to journalism and communications in the working world, so many people don’t have that formal training behind them.

But I think my most noteworthy trait is my Type A personality. I’m passionate, driven and a perfectionist, not just when it comes to my work, but to every aspect of my life. I’m very organized (and, admittedly, pretty anal), so I stay on top of my tasks and never miss a deadline. Ever since I was a kid, I was never ok with just scraping by when it came to my marks in school or in sports. I wanted to be the best at everything and refused to settle for average. These personality traits translate well to my chosen career path.

From an experience perspective, I have a fairly diverse background that makes me versatile. I’ve done communications work for an animal welfare organization, a few sports organizations and I’m now working in higher education. I’ve developed communications strategies and a variety of digital and print materials, written countless press releases, feature stories and content for marketing collateral, and managed my fair share of websites. I’ve held apprenticeships with Rogers Sportsnet and CFRA News and even had the chance to cover the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup for the Canadian Soccer Association.

When it comes down to it, my education, personality and experience combine to make communications a perfect fit for me.

Christina Atallah, Type A comms officer extraordinaire.

COMM0014: Blog #4 – WestJet soars in social media

When I think about some great B2C marketing campaigns that I’ve seen recently, one company that really stands out is WestJet.

From their “owners” days to their more recent Christmas miracle campaign and salute to women in aviation, WestJet has made an impression as a caring and customer-oriented business.

The company uses social media, especially Twitter and YouTube, as a way to connect and interact with their customers. They’re also connected on Facebook and Instagram, where they focus more on contests and promotions, including pushing out pictures and videos of travel tips to gorgeous destinations.

Their social campaigns seem to be working, especially on Twitter, where they have 317,000 followers, almost double the following that Air Canada has. From a customer service perspective, one thing I really appreciate, which I notice more and more companies doing, is posting the hours they’ll be online. WestJet tweets when they sign off each night and provides alternate contact information. And when dealing with complaints, they don’t just apologize, they ask for details so they can follow up.

They also make some pretty smart decisions on social. Do you remember the cold weather delays at airports early in January? WestJet posted a video message on social media apologizing for the delays, explaining what the company was going to do to help the situation and letting people know where to find more information. I think that was a more personable alternative to a written message and apparently others agreed. The video received a number of understanding comments from customers, which was impressive given the stressful situation they were faced with.

When it comes to flights, for the most part I’m looking at price, but I think that customer service is becoming pretty important after some very negative experiences with some airlines. I’ve never had any major issues with WestJet and have always been greeted with a smile. And, to me at least, their presence on social media reflects the in-person interactions I’ve had with their staff.

It’s important to highlight that it’s not all positive. I noticed a tweet from a customer a few days ago stating that WestJet is too busy to reply to emails, to which the company replied that they’re 3-4 weeks behind. So it seems like, while they have put a lot of focus on responding to customers in the social world, they may have let some other more traditional methods of interaction slip.

I know you can’t be all things to all people, but do you think it’s appropriate to delegate a large number of resources towards the all-important social media world, even if it means letting some of your other customer service areas slip?

COM0014: Blog#3 – Discovering Carleton’s teaching and learning community

A major step in creating a social media strategy for my department (Carleton University’s Teaching and Learning Services) is to analyze our target audiences: faculty and instructors.

Luckily, Carleton houses some demographic information on its academic staff, so after some research I was able to find out that our faculty is approximately 65 percent male and 35 percent female. About 44 percent are aged 45-59, while 32 percent are 30-44 and 24 percent are over 60. And as far as education levels go, all have post-secondary degrees, with the majority holding a Master’s or PhD.

When it comes to the psychographic side of things, based on my research and experience, Carleton’s educators are a mix of leaders and followers. They seem to enjoy learning from their colleagues, but also like sharing their own ideas and experiences. So when it comes to strategies that would be effective in communicating with them, I think it’s important for us to get them to reflect about their own teaching experiences and engaged in discussions about what others are doing.

A perfect example of this was a Tips for Teaching campaign that really worked well for us recently. We solicited the teaching and learning community to submit a tip that could help others with their teaching and posted a different piece of advice to our blog each day in March. The click-through rate to the teaching tip page was the highest for any campaign we’ve ever done.

As far as tools go, many educators seem to be on Twitter and Facebook, but one of our best vehicles is our blog. Getting faculty and instructors to contribute and share their ideas has worked for us in the past. Teachers like to teach, so why not get them to teach each other?

The one thing that I always question is how to target two audiences at once? Surveys don’t seem to get very high response rates at our university, so how do I know how educators who are 30-44 like to be communicated with versus how those who are 45-59 prefer to be addressed? And if there’s a big difference how do I know which approach to take? Have you ever faced a situation like this? And if so, how did you deal with it?

COM0014: Blog#2 – Forget everything you think you know

When it comes to storytelling, the most important lesson I learned is to throw everything you were taught about essay writing in school out the window.

Storytelling isn’t about 25-page papers with big technical words or your ability to add a bunch of fluff just so that you can reach the required page count (why use 10 words to say something when you really only need one?). Writing should be conversational. Write how you speak, be clear and be concise.

Think of it this way: If you’re telling your friends a story, they’re going to start losing interest if you take more than a couple of minutes to tell it. You wouldn’t pull out your thesaurus and use the biggest words you can find or make your sentences really long.

Think of writing the same way. That doesn’t mean you have to eliminate your creativity. It’s just a matter of choosing your words carefully.

During the first year of Carleton’s journalism program, professors told us what was wrong with our stories instead of giving us a step-by-step guide to writing. It was a struggle for most, if not all of us, to break free from what we were taught in high school and our other university courses that asked for long papers.

One assignment that really helped with this transition was to read an excerpt from William Zinsser’s book On Writing Well. A lot of his ideas were reflected in our readings this week – being concise and using an active voice with plain language – but it’s still a great read if you can get your hands on it.

Have you ever struggled with the transition from formal writing to a more conversational tone? If so, how did you overcome it?

COM0014: Blog#1 – Barbados: 167 square miles of beauty

The travel bug first bit me during my high school graduation trip to Edmonton with a few friends. Since then I’ve visited a bunch of different cities around the world. But it wasn’t until I travelled to Barbados on New Year’s Eve 2013 (or Old Year’s Night as the Bajans call it) that I found a place I could easily call home one day.

Barbados may be a small island, but it has more to offer than you might think. From the calm turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea to the rugged and rough Atlantic coast, there’s a perfect mix of adventure and relaxation.

It was in Barbados that I crossed off three of my top bucket list items. I went horseback riding on the beach, snorkeled with sea turtles and tried my hand at surfing. And despite the gallons of water I swallowed during the last two activities, each of those memories will last a lifetime.

But the most unforgettable day for me didn’t involve anything on my bucket list. It was spontaneous and I couldn’t have planned it any better.

Bottom Bay, Barbados

Bottom Bay, Barbados

Midway through our trip, my aunt and I visited Bottom Bay – a secluded beach, far from the tourists and what I consider the definition of paradise. The water was too rough to swim, but the scenery was stunning. A small grove of palm trees stood tall at the back of a white sandy beach and big rolling waves crashed into the coral cliffs that framed the bay. It really was picture perfect.

While there, we unexpectedly met a local cricket player, Kayode, who ended up taking us on a three-hour personal walking tour down the coast. We strolled along the edge of the cliffs as he told us about life in Barbados. We saw the ruins of Sam Lord’s Castle  – a former pirate’s mansion that was turned into a hotel before burning down in 2010. We met more locals who offered us water for our long walk and others who showed us their catch of the day as they fished off the edge of the cliff. We explored different bays, each with their own unique characteristics but just as gorgeous as the next.

Sam Lord's Castle

Sam Lord’s Castle

When we reached the end of our journey, we had a much better understanding of the island and a new friend. I’m sure we couldn’t have paid for a better tour than the one he offered us.

From the friendly people we met to the food we ate (can’t beat macaroni pie and flying fish!) to the unbelievable beauty at each and every turn, Barbados truly is paradise and I recommend it to anyone, whether you’re an adventure seeker or just looking to relax.

What type of vacation do you prefer? Vegging out on the beach at an all-inclusive resort, a sightseeing adventure or something completely different? Do you like to plan your vacations or are you more spontaneous? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.