Bridging the Realms of Social Storytelling and Campaign Messaging: Three Frameworks


CASE social media leaders and practitioners who gather this week in Chicago to discuss “Social Media and Community – Storytelling: A Novel Approach,” will dive deeply into the challenges and opportunities that strategic storytelling present. In this context, it is reasonable to ask: can strategic social storytelling affect fundraising results at the scale of a campaign?Has the time come for social storytelling to lead the way in driving campaign messaging, given the pace and magnitude of new content and analytic tools, and the innovation that donors and supporters have come to expect in their daily lives as consumers?

In the GG+A strategic communications practice, we advise education clients in billion-dollar-plus campaigns throughout the US, UK, Europe and Australia; and at this moment in time our viewpoint is: not yet, but watch out.

In short, we have not yet seen evidence that social media and social storytelling affect the giving behavior of donors at the top of the campaign pyramid. These donors, often trustees and campaign volunteer leaders whose philanthropy forms the core nucleus fund upon which the success of a campaign depends, remain motivated by their individual desires for impact on society and legacy contributions to institutions and leaders in whose vision they believe.

However, there is evidence that high net worth individuals are using social media. For example, a 2014 study by the Spectrem Group, a wealth research firm, found 75 percent of 1,300 millionaires surveyed said they use social media; 57 percent responded that they use Facebook, while 41 percent use LinkedIn and 10 percent use Twitter.

Our interviews with donors show that they expect that the marketing and communications teams in the institutions they support are experimenting with social media tools and techniques, and are using social channels and methods to build awareness and preference for their institution.

How should communications leaders think about linking social storytelling and campaigns? We suggest three important frameworks to keep in mind.

Align Audiences

Campaign messaging that resonates with the top of the giving pyramid, especially related to fundraising themes and major giving opportunities, needs to work also for the bottom of the pyramid in order to engage annual fund donors and alumni, as well. It is important to think clearly and proactively about audiences first, before institutional need, in all campaign messaging throughout all phases of a campaign.

For example, the Duke Forward campaign uses TED talk-style videos in Ideas that Move the World Forward to spotlight Duke faculty, students, alumni, and staff whose work propels the Duke academic enterprise. These videos use storytelling to convey the Duke Forward message to all campaign audiences in a powerful way.

Think Both/And

In other words, you are building messages for both near-term campaign success, through major gifts and stewardship, and for a future pipeline of donors via annual giving and crowdfunding efforts. That is why social storytelling is an important building block for long-term fundraising sustainability.

Bowling Green State University provides a great example in their “Stroh Center Rap” video. Produced to celebrate the opening of a new $32 million arena and convocation center, the stewardship video went viral and was picked up by ESPN.com, USA Today, and the Huffington Post.

Integrate Planning and Messaging

Planning for social storytelling can tend to focus on tools and tactics, but success is not just about using the latest platforms; it is also about the highest and best use of social storytelling to advance messages among all campaign audiences, and that is why campaign communications strategy is so important.

See Michigan State’s Empower Extraordinary campaign for an example. Their campaign website tells impact stories for donor stewardship, and promotes Crowdpower, “the crowdfunding solution for Spartans,” – and it is all integrated into the overall Empower Extraordinary message.

In 2016, we can expect the pace of change in social media to continue to grow. Smart communicators at all levels of the fundraising enterprise – from the leaders who set strategy and allocate scarce resources to the managers who innovate and implement on a daily basis – need to keep the campaign message strategy in mind as they continue to experiment, and experiment again, with powerful social media tools. Social storytelling is already a core part of the campaign content and communications toolbox, and is a technique that we expect will continue to evolve rapidly. Approaching the opportunity in a strategic context provides the discipline for short- and long-term success.

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