How do we ensure that people are at the heart of the stories we tell?

How do we ensure that people are at the heart of our heritage organisation’s digital stories? People, their history, communities, identity, culture and oral history are at the heart of many of our heritage organisations. So how can we ensure that our content is people-focused? This article by James Berg outlines an actionable plan through seven simple steps that ensures you are placing people at the heart of your storytelling.

This resource is available in English and Welsh
Child in museum, looking out to others
Photo by Michał Parzuchowski on Unsplash

How do we ensure that people are at the heart of the stories we tell?

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.


Step 1: Identify your objective

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.


Step 2: Clearly define who the people are

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.


Step 3: Identify their problems, their challenges and what motivates them

This isn’t always a negative, many challenges are positive opportunities! For example, when people are searching for something fun to do.

Below are example challenges to get you started when thinking about your own:

  • Looking for a fun family activity
  • Interested in being part of the local community
  • Seeking out historical information and likes learning
  • Trying to find new friends and passions


Step 4: Identify your story pillars

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.

Here’s how we flip the challenges from above into story pillars:

  • Looking for a fun family activity = We are a fun family activity!
  • Interested in being part of the local community = Here’s how we invest back into the local community and how you can get involved too!
  • Seeking out historical information and likes learning = Come learn about the history of our site with us!
  • Trying to find new friends and passions = Join us to meet new people with similar passions or try new experiences!

Once you have these points down, the stories you tell about your organisation will already have your audience at their core.


Step 5: Tell your stories

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.

Website screenshot of Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s results of its Volunteer survey 2020


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!

Website screenshot of the English Heritage’s online podcast

Audience 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.

Twitter screenshot of a post by Headstone Manor and Museum on #WorldCancerDay of the Asian Women Cancer Group visiting the museum.

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.

Website screenshot of the About us page on Whitby Museum’s website.

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.

Twitter screenshot by Tullie House the day before the opening of a new 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.

Website screenshot of Trip Advisor post promoting a mountain trek in the Lake District.

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.

Screenshot of an Instagram post by a visitor to Pendennis Castle in Cornwall.

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.

Screenshot of Facebook post by Moseley Hall Hospital celebrating a patient saying goodbye to hospital staff after surviving an accident and Covid-19.

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!

Photograph of TikTok’s biggest train fan Francis Bourgeois standing next to a train.



Step 6: Identify the platforms you will tell the stories on

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


Step 7: Listen to the people

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!


More help here

Group of people each holding and using their mobile phones

How social media can help me reach more visitors for my heritage organisation

This written resource by Trish Thomas will help you understand the best approaches to developing a social media strategy that can help you reach more people. It covers the following areas: how to define your audiences and their motivations; how to define channel objectives; how to use data to help you plan content; how to develop an effective posting plan and how to set targets and measure success.

Published: 2022
Resource type: Articles

Creative Commons Licence Except where noted and excluding company and organisation logos this work is shared under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 (CC BY 4.0) Licence

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


More help here

Digital Heritage Hub is managed by Arts Marketing Association (AMA) in partnership with The Heritage Digital Consortium and The University of Leeds. It has received Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and National Lottery funding, distributed by The Heritage Fund as part of their Digital Skills for Heritage initiative. Digital Heritage Hub is free and answers small to medium sized heritage organisations most pressing and frequently asked digital questions.

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