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Category: Storytelling

Foreshadow: Tell The Future

In their paper “Changing the Story: Story-Based Strategies for Direct Action Design”, Doyle Canning and Patrick Reinsborough develop an essential argument:

“In the advertising industry they say, “People can only go somewhere that they have already been in their minds.” This rings true for action organizing too. When using a story-based strategy, the aspect of “foreshadowing” is a key ingredient of a successful action. The action logic needs to answer the questions: “How will this conflict come to resolution? “What is our vision for a solution to this problem?”

When we forecast the future we desire through our messaging and our images, we bring people with us towards being able to imagine and embrace a visionary solution. Often times the power holder’s side of the debate relies on inertia – the belief that change can’t happen. Former British Prime Minister Margret Thatcher even coined an acronym to define this tactic: TINA meaning there is no alternative. What better way to challenge this myth then making alternatives real and visible? This is particularly powerful when the foreshadowing is incorporated into the action logic and design – the occupation of the government office transforms it into the day care center the community is demanding, the empty lot becomes a guerilla garden, the site of the planned juvenile prison becomes a playground.”

SOGI-focused activism has an essential interest in carefully integrating this aspect. Often, a major obstacle to people embracing sexual and gender diversities is an absence of representation of what such a world would look like.

Providing such a representation is crucial in opening perspectives.

An ideal example of such a representation is the famous Australian video in favour of same-sex marriage.


Recently I’ve been seeing lots of corporate social media campaigns that are aiming to increase consumer engagement with the brand. For example Dunkin Donuts (#MyDunkin), Nike’s Makers campaign, etc. Interestingly, their tactics for increasing consumer engagement is to use storytelling.

You see, the big goal of engaging consumers with a corporate brand is so that consumers develop deeper brand loyalty and become ambassadors to their peer networks, thus spreading the word.

This is a simple idea that can have big results. More importantly it’s one the non-profits can use.


Before you dive into actually engaging your audience, it’s important to start with a much simpler concept. What does engagement mean for your campaign? What does someone have to do to be engaged? Are there different levels of engagement?

This is really food for thought, but in answering these questions you’ll be setting your campaign’s end goal and ultimately setting yourself up for success.

I’ll give you a quick example. If I was going to run an engagement campaign on Twitter, I would set two levels of engagement. The first is someone who retweets something that I wrote. The second level is someone who has responded to what I wrote to share their thoughts, or maybe used a hashtag associated with the campaign. As you might be able to guess, someone doing the latter is probably more engaged.


After you’ve giving some thought to your definition of engagement, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and roll out the campaign! Here are 10 campaign ideas that you can use this week to engage your audience with storytelling.

  1. Start a hashtag campaign on Twitter. This is probably the easiest one to implement and you could take a cue from the corporate examples I mentioned at the beginning of this post. For instance, if you’re an animal shelter and you want to get people to share their stories of animal adoption perhaps you could use the hashtag #AdoptLove.
  2. Invite guest posts to your blog. If your organization has a blog, this is a great platform to encourage engagement. Get the word out that you want to hear people’s stories that relate to the cause. Maybe ask for 250 to 500 word submissions – so people don’t feel overwhelmed. Then start a weekly series to feature them.
  3. Host of a video contest. Everyone has access to a video camera these days. In fact most of us have them in our phones. Give people a prompt, tell them where to upload their videos and give them a deadline.
  4. Create a participatory, visual petition. I’m not sure how this campaign worked out in practical terms, but Matt Damon decided to go on strike until everyone has access to water by not going to the bathroom. Check out the campaign participation here and with the hashtag #strikewithme. (Also the video is super funny!) It’s a neat concept that I’m sure could be replicated in other ways.
  5. Do something seasonal that is tangentially related to your cause. Spring is here and I think there’s lots of opportunity to engage communities in conversations beyond the cause. Maybe asking them what their #SpringDreams are or if your organization is health related, asking people if they have any #SpringFitTips. Again, simple, easy ways to cultivate conversation.
  6. Host a virtual storytelling event using Google+. I personally haven’t seen this done yet, but I would LOVE for organizations to take a cue for The Moth (live storytelling events) and do a digital version of that. You can easily create a broadcast online using Google+ and could invite people to watch and participate.
  7. #TBT – #TBT (Throw Back Thursday) is a popular hashtag on Twitter and Instagram. Why not capitalize on that and incorporate a storytelling aspect. Maybe your organization held an event last year. Encourage people to share their pictures and rekindle their fondness for the event.
  8. Selfie with a great caption – At the 2014 Nonprofit Technology Conference, there was one session that talked about getting people to take selfies as a part of a social media engagement campaign but doing so strategically. For instance, at one of your events or maybe at local landmarks related to your cause. Be sure to ask them to write a great caption to explain where they are!
  9. Add a story submission space on your website – It is easy enough to put the call out for stories online, but sometimes you have to have a place to easily collect those stories. You could have the page live update with stories that are submitted or you can approve them first.
  10. Instagram picture prompts to get your community involved in visual storytelling through photos. Turn your community into photojournalists! Give them “assignments” and ask them to upload their pictures with a searchable hashtag.