Have you heard of The Story Network? Every three months a group of charity story managers, content managers, case study officers and personal stories advisors come together to talk all things story-related. (We’ll have a conversation about the bewildering array of job titles that exist to describe the same role another day!)
It’s a free and informal network that exists to share best practice and help each other work through some of the challenges of managing stories. Whether that’s wrangling with what GDPR means for storytellers, discussing how to build relationships with frontline teams, or thinking through how to more effectively monitor and evaluate the impact of storytelling.
So many teams rely on stories to successfully deliver their objectives, whether it’s a direct mail, volunteer recruitment or a social media campaign. Without stories that inspire and move there are fewer pledges, people and shares. But how often is the job of the story gathering team recognised when measuring success? Commonly, success is owned by the team responsible for the end product, rather than co-owned by the stories team for their role in identifying and capturing the raw story. Conversely, how often do we really examine and learn from our part in campaigns that didn’t work as well as was hoped?
Monitoring how different stories perform helps us to learn what works best with our audiences. Then there’s showing ROI – making the case for more investment in story gathering means we need to prove the value of stories and quantify the impact.
We maintain Chatham House rules in The Story Network meetings, so I’m not going to name organisations or go into too much detail about how each organisation gauges success. But, different measures include social media engagement stats, whether the stories team has been consulted at campaign planning stages, income from appeals and anecdotal feedback.
Story gathering within the charity sector is becoming a more established function. When I started The Story Network in January 2013 very few charities had people dedicated to story gathering. Those attending would often be a press officer or a fundraising officer with one or two days a week allocated to stories, or case studies as they were more often called then. That’s still the case for smaller charities but those attending from medium and large organisations are usually full time and in some cases part of a bigger stories team.
We decided to pool our collective brains and discuss the ways in which we think story gathering teams could monitor their impact. Some of these are numbers-related but some are more focused on our role on building internal relations and how well we are supporting storytellers.
Our collective top tips
Establish systems and processes for reviewing data related to fundraising and social media campaigns and track how different stories perform and influence outcomes.
Record data on the amount of press coverage secured as a result of stories captured by the story gathering team.
Be more responsive to the fluid nature of algorithms and work with digital colleagues to continually analyse what works well on social media in terms of look and feel and length of content.
Monitor the ROI of each package of content by capturing how many teams use different elements of a story, the frequency of use and the reach of each story.
Establish the stories team as internal experts who can provide advice and guidance. Nurture a culture of planning and encourage colleagues to consult the stories team during annual budgeting cycles and during the early stages of campaign planning.
Actively seek feedback from internal stakeholders and report on the success of story gathering activities and story use.
Ensure a positive experience for storytellers by upholding the highest standards of ethical story gathering and storytelling. Protect them by ensuring the organisation is following safeguarding protocols in its storytelling.
Recognise that people’s lives continually evolve so, keep in touch with storytellers and make sure the organisation is always telling an accurate and up to date story.
You may also find this Charity Comms blog useful reading, about the benefits of peer-to-peer support.
Find out more about Mile 91 and our story gathering work here.