The heritage sector is uniquely placed to use people-centred storytelling. People, their history, communities, identity, culture and oral history are at the heart of many heritage organisations. Unlike product or service-based industries, people visit, learn, maintain, and share the rich stories that have happened at your location.
You can ensure people are at the heart of the stories you tell… by making everything you do focused on the people.
If you concentrate on the people, on what they want to know, what will inspire them, entertain them, or what their aspirations are, then you can create stories which give them what they are looking for.
This resource will support heritage organisations to use what they already have an abundance of at their disposal – real stories! This article outlines an actionable plan through 7 simple steps that ensures you are placing people at the heart of your storytelling.
Your organisational goal or mission provides your activities with direction. It is advisable if you haven’t already, to set core objectives that will help you to achieve this goal.
Without a clear objective to aim for, you can’t tell if your stories are a success. Your first task is to select 1-3 objectives for your storytelling, such as driving attendance or building awareness.
In marketing terms, this would be defined as understanding your target audience. By identifying as many traits, characteristics, and behaviours of your target audience, you can identify who you should be tailoring your stories to. Websites like Audience Finder help you create target audience profiles through specific considerations.
For example, Tannaghmore Gardens and Animal Farm is a well-loved city venue, not too far from Belfast. Their target audience would be parents who have children under the age of 10, living in Belfast and are keen to spend lots of time outdoors.
This isn’t always a negative, many challenges are positive opportunities! For example, when people are searching for something fun to do.
The next stage is to turn your specific challenges into your unique story pillars, reworded in a way that positions your organisation as the answer to each challenge.
Now you know what your stories are, it’s time to get them out there. Here are some tactics you can use, with examples included.
A great source of inspiration can be to look at what other heritage organisations are posting online – what blogs, social media posts or videos are they creating? Look at these and place your own unique spin on them.
Examples of Story Tactics
Statistics or numbers related to what you do
This may be something like “84% of our volunteers felt healthier as a result of their volunteering”, or about the number of visitors or beneficiaries you have had at your organisation recently.
Have discussions with your dedicated staff, interview enthusiastic audience members, or invite interesting guests. These are all people who can be the centre of your stories!
Share moments where your audience members have actively engaged with your organisation, capturing their highs, lows, journeys or any charitable acts they undertook at your location.
How your organisation started and the story behind it
This tells your unique story, specifically focusing on the people your organisation started off supporting and how much you’ve grown since.
Day in a life of your team or staff
Give your audience an insight into what it takes to maintain and run your organisation. For exmple, a litter picking day, a conservation exercise, baking scones for the tea room or setting up an exhibition.
Ask your audience to share their experiences at your location or gather these offline when they are attending through conversations. You can then turn these testimonials into social graphics, using tools like Canva.
User generated content
Ask the audience to share their images and videos and share, so you are effectively curating their stories and allowing them to tell your story for you. A good example is the below caption and post.
Followers of the official English Heritage Instagram account are able able to enter online competitions by sharing their favourite photo of an English Heritage site with the hashtag #adventurequest.
Stories of those who have benefitted from / engaged with your service
Do you have any regular visitors who have benefitted from what it is you do? If so, share their story. These don’t need to be just on social media, you could create a page on your website to gather audience stories and content.
Get staff / educators on camera
Your team is made up of experts, so get them on camera sharing their passion. If what you do involves teaching or guiding, it’s quick and effective to record part of this in action and share online.
Someone who creates interesting video content is Francis Bourgeois. Through his infectious excitement of trains, he has amassed an army of fans and shared a deep passion with many!
Many organisations struggle with choosing platforms to post on. If you don’t have the experience, time, or resources to create unique content across multiple platforms, do not worry, it’s always worth starting with what you’re comfortable with.
It is better to create and share the same high-quality posts on 1-3 platforms, and later move onto posting across multiple platforms once you have the capacity and capabilities.
It’s also key to remember that just because similar organisations are posting on a particular platform, it doesn’t mean that has to be the platform for you!
That said, the differences between the main social channels can be broadly categorised as the following:
- TikTok/snapchat = Fun, education
- Instagram = Strong visuals and education
- Facebook = Personal experience
- Twitter = Opinions
- LinkedIn = Connecting with partners, stakeholders
What this means is to actively listen to your audience and how they feel about the stories you are telling. Take the time to see what your audience is saying about you online, or which posts have the least or most engagement and consider why? Consider sharing feedback forms at points of contact to help you collect this useful information and keep incorporating feedback into future stories to grow.
Who knows, you may uncover new challenges which become opportunities for even better people centred stories!
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Please attribute as: "How do we ensure that people are at the heart of the stories we tell? (2022) by James Berg, Picaroons supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, licensed under CC BY 4.0