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Toronto Net Tuesday Recap: Digital Storytelling

September is Digital Storytelling month at TechSoup Canada, and at the Net Tuesday event on September 9th a crowd gathered to hear presentations from Kate Hodgson of iKommunications on an Intro to Digital Storytelling and from Chris DePaul of the Centre for Social Innovation who presented a case study on what the Centre for Social Innovation did to deal with the curbing of their Facebook reach. The slides from the presentation are available here and the event recording is available here.

Kate Hodgson’s Intro to Digital Storytelling

Behind any good digital story, Kate Hodgson reminded us, is a good story. It is important to first establish the story before choosing the medium that you will use.

Drawing on the example of Snow Fall, the 2012 New York Times article about an avalanche at Tunnel Creek by John Branch, Kate discussed how transmedia (the integration of multiple mediums to tell a story) and digital storytelling transformed what can be done with news. With Snowfall, the main investment is really in the story, and the integration of different digital media styles enhances the experience for different kinds of readers. Those who have a long time to spend on the story can delve deep into profiles of individuals and maps of the events, while those with limited time can absorb the basics easily. Kate reflected that people’s limited time is important to consider.

Kate encouraged us to think about 3 key elements when developing our stories:

  1. Emotion
  2. The Hook
  3. The Audience

Emotion is what is behind the story and ties it together. When considering emotion, think about the essential themes that connect the story and relate it back to the audience.

The hook, however, is what gets people’s attention and draws them in to the emotion. Kate discussed how a person can easily 'binge-watch' Netflix TV shows because of well-designed story hooks at the right places in the episode.

The difference between the heart and the hook, Kate explained, is that the heart is the emotion and the hook is the question. What gets that reader/audience initially interested? What formulates the question in the audience’s mind is the hook. Emotions are usually universal themes - is it about failure? Success? etc. For example, Humans of New York asks, "what is the saddest moment of your life?" or "what is the happiest moment of your life?" The emotion is also related to the breadth of the whole story and is how the reader can relate to it.

Noting that stories are often approached chronologically, Kate explained that many of the most compelling stories really work backwards. If you can identify the most intriguing piece of the story, you can work backwards from that. For example, working backwards from the conclusion of the story to unravel the mystery preceding it is a common technique.

What your story is will determine what platforms you use, but Kate warns against working backwards from the platform selection.

A Few Digital Platform Considerations:


A Week in the Life: Dealing With a Curbing Facebook Reach

Chris DePaul presented his experience joining the communications team at the Centre for Social Innovation and acquiring the responsibility of managing the Facebook account.

Chris identified some important barriers to the Facebook presence he really wanted to bring to CSI:

  • The Facebook algorithm curbs the reach of posts to the fans of a page, unless you pay them. Only 6% of the fans were seeing posts on average. Considering this, CSI wasn’t even sure if they could trace Facebook engagement to revenue generation or engagement with the business.
  • In order to reach fans on Facebook, you need to post great stories about the organization’s activities. However, great content takes up staff resources and, as Chris noted, sharing CSI member stories was a challenge when he was spending the day working on graphic designs.

Considering these barriers, CSI asked themselves these questions:

Is Facebook important to keep active? Yes!
How do we beat the curbing views? Can’t pay. Need really great content, shareable content.
Were we capable of making really great shareable content while balancing our other work? No
Then who is more capable than us?

The answer: The CSI member community!

And so, the experiment that would make the Facebook page come to life began:




For 10 weeks, control of the CSI Facebook page was handed over to a member for one week. As a membership-based organization with a strong ‘members first’ philosophy, the Facebook page became an opportunity for members to share their own digital stories with a fanbase they may not otherwise have reached. It added value to the member experience, required no additional staff resources, and created real content sharing great stories. Chris described that the members were able to convey more personal feelings and really include ‘the heart’ component that Kate discussed more authentically.

The experiment resulted in substantially improved metrics:

  • Total reach peaked at 98 000, as opposed to 6 000 previous to the campaign.
  • CSI had 9500 fans at the beginning, and has about 12 500 now
  • Engagement with posts increased subtantially, as the graph below highlights.

Through this experience, CSI found a new way to display their brand, collaborate with members, amplify the exposure of the members' work, give the online audience an on the ground experience, and really put the members first. The experiment was so successful that CSI has decided to keep up the campaign past the 10 week period.

How does CSI handle the concern that someone could post something undesirable on the page? First, by trusting that their members want to create value for the community, but also being able to revoke access quickly if needed, delete posts, and be ready to address any issues. Overall, the small risk has been worth it.

While some organizations wouldn’t have the capacity to do this, it’s a great creative exercise in rethinking digital storytelling and social media management and really using digital storytelling creatively to achieve an organizational mission.

Take a moment to check out the CSI Facebook page and see what the members are up to!