I love this video about telling the story of Red Riding Hood with social media:
Each one of us, and certainly the orgs that we work with and for, have the power to tell our stories in more visual and powerful ways using social media. YouTube is filled with compelling videos by causes, Witness does a majestic job of using video to document and share human rights abuses from around the world, and NPR is using a variety of tools, voices and mechanisms to enhance it’s storytelling ability. Andy Goodman has long been an advocate for and teacher of good storytelling for causes as well.
Everyone loves a good story, especially one told in vibrant, expressive and visual ways. Everyone that is except for evaluators. Although I am not a full-time evaluator any more, I still walk the talk at times, particularly as it relates to the need for causes to participate in creating ongoing learning systems for their efforts.
The limits of storytelling for learning are that they so easily skew an overall effort to learn about what’s working and what isn’t. When you pluck out your best, most compelling or heart string plucking, story to tell the world about your cause, you often forget about the other experiences that folks are having. This may be intentional or unintentional, but the bottom line is that powerful stories often drwon out the real story of what’s happening within a cause effort. It’s easy to listen to the loud voices because they’re, well, loud, but much harder to listen to the quieter ones who probably represent the norm of the experience with your effort. It’s similar to the effect in politics of the extreme ideologues on both sides of the political spectrum drowning out the middle as Morris Fiorina wrote in his slime volume, “Culture War? The Myth of a Polarized America.”
Causes need to practice balancing the power of storytelling with the need for careful listening and learning. The key to doing this, in my opinion, is to lead with learning and follow with storytelling; it may not be as immediately rewarding, it may mean that the development and communications folks at your org are a bit frustrated at having to wait a little while to get to that amazing YouTube video posted, but the results will be truer to your cause and will enable you to focus on your true goal; improving your social change efforts over time, not just selling your effort.