One Story, Seven Unique Audiences

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In the nonprofit world, we are blessed with an abundance of many things—well wishes, happy customers, transformed volunteers, passionate staff. But as the nonprofit staff, there is one thing we are all always running short on—TIME.

The best way to market your work has been and always will be the rich and moving stories that come from the home repair and replacements surrounding us. Stories of home transformations for families, volunteers gaining a new perspective after serving with us, and communities that are impacted by our presence.

As the Marketing and Communications Manager at Appalachia Service Project (ASP), I don’t have to tell people why ASP’s is the premier home repair organization or best mission trip experience. I don’t need people to take my word for it because I have real stories to do the marketing for me—my job is simply to capture and share these stories.

Each year, ASP serves hundreds of families, hosts thousands of volunteers, employs over one hundred staff, serves in a few dozen communities, and is supported by too many people to count. We know each of these individuals has a unique and impactful story about their connection with ASP they could share, but it would take a small army to capture and share all of these stories.

So, this is how I get the most out of each of my stories. Let’s think this through with the task of sharing a family’s story whose home we are repairing. 

It starts with an interview. In an interview I am asking some very broad questions about the family—where are they from, how long have they lived in their home, what they enjoy most about their home and their community? Then I will ask some questions about their connection to ASP—how they heard of us, when did they apply, what it was like to hear that ASP would be repairing their home? Having some of the basics out of the way, I then turn to how some of these things make them feel, what emotions are they tying to each of these events and places, and what impact will ASP’s presence at their home have?

My notes will look scattered, with a timeline of events, some key numbers and dates, and a handful of direct quotes. The overarching goal I have though, is to let the homeowner tell me their story. I may ask some leading questions, but I don’t ever want to tell my version of their story, I want to help lift up their own voice and story.

Then I turn to writing. Sitting with my notes, photos, and videos from this interview, I start to assemble this story, assemble it as one cohesive narrative to span across all my communication channels and audiences. Each platform and communication vessel is unique, and should be treated as such.

I begin by defining each audience—what is the purpose of your communication with them? What are the limitations of the platform you are communicating through? What have they told you already about the kind of information that is important to them? What action do you want them to take after seeing your message? These will be different for each organization, so spend some time identifying the role of each of these platforms for you.

Then I write out the story. I am a lengthy writer, as I am sure you can tell already by this blog post, so I like to start with my longest version of the story—the Facebook post—and adapt it from there.

Facebook: For Facebook, the goal of each post is to engage a follower in our network. For a family story post I like to tell the story fully, accompanied by a portrait photo of the person whose story we are sharing. It starts with a compelling lead to get users to hit “Read More” and engage them throughout the post. At the bottom I will occasionally ask the reader to leave a comment or share the post to increase its engagement.

Instagram: For Instagram, I keep my audience profile fairly similar, just a bit younger. I will shorten the story, taking out some of the smaller details as almost all of our users are reading the post on their phone. Here the photo attached is key, if there is not a strong photo, users will not read the caption, sometimes this is the portrait again or an impactful visualization from the project itself. Remember those first two lines are really important here to encourage people to hit “Read More.” Include strong hashtags at the bottom, and feel free to freshen and modernize the language. I also like to promote the new post on our Instagram story for even more engagement!

Viewspark: From there, I like to move next to our Fundraising app. Viewspark lets us communicate in real time with our donors to share stories of the impact of their gifts. This platform has a 1000-character limit, and the ability to make a donation directly and easily on each story. For this post I like to highlight the transformation the repairs had for the family, and that this is not an isolated story. These stories serve to show the realities of housing in Central Appalachia and invite people to be a part of a response with ASP. 

LinkedIn: For LinkedIn, I try to change the perspective here a bit to either that of the volunteer experience, the staff experience, or of a spotlight into the “issue area”—depending on what content we have to support. We focus on highly sharable content here to show who ASP is and try to spread the word to invite other users to join us as a future employment, or even as a volunteer, donor, or supporter.

Twitter: This is one of my favorites. Taking this long story and pairing it down into a handful of sentences. Is it bullet points? Is it one great quote from a family? Is it a single image that carries its own narrative? What is the smallest number of characters I can use to still properly convey this story? This is always a challenge, and it always an exciting step to me. You can always link this to a longer blog post about the story if you must, but regardless, focus on that one high-impact statement that sums up the whole story.

YouTube: This platform can be hardest, and won’t happen for every story, but anytime you can have a video you have something special. The ability to let a homeowner share their story in their own words, in their own voice, at their own pace is something truly special. If you do have a video, be sure to use it throughout these other postings as well and let your homeowner speak for themselves, and just write captions that support the video.

The mysterious “new” platform: We’ve all been there; a new platform comes up and we don’t really understand what to do with it and how to adapt to it. Always start with who your audience is, what action you hope they take from the story, and the limitations you have on that platform. Take your existing stories and mold them to match the platform!

With so many ways to shape your stories, one story can go such a far way. Spend your valuable time capturing full, empowering stories, and then share them well. Your communication will be stronger, and your time will be free for the next great idea you’ve been wanting to try!

Now stop reading this and get out there—we’ve got stories to share!

Cara Nagy Schoettes is the Marketing and Communications Manager at Appalachia Service Project in Johnson City, Tennessee. She's newly wed and recently became a home owner.