We tend to work on the assumption that (a) story telling is important for all communication and especially for communication associated with the desire to effect social change, (b) it is relatively easy to do and (c) stories that “resonate” and highlight a crisis or emergency or some kind of terrible situation which we want to put right are best.
Mostly, it turns out, none of that is true. Or at least, it’s not as simple and straightforward as it seems.
This piece from Nat Kendall-Taylor, CEO of Frameworks Institute, is a short and punchy reminder about why it isn’t that simple. And, helpfully, it offers these five principles that should act as a helpful nudge for anyone involved in communication for social change.
1 Stop communicating like you are your audience.
“It is normal to overestimate the degree to which other people think like we do—this is called false consensus bias—and experts and advocates working on social issues frequently fall into this trap. They assume that what convinces them and moves their thinking is the same set of things that will
convince and move those with whom they are trying to communicate.”
2 Facts do matter
“The idea that we live in a post-fact world is a popular meme, but our research shows that facts play an important role in effective storytelling. In isolation, data about racial disparities
in the criminal justice system, for example, are not incredibly powerful in boosting support for reforms. But these same facts are quite powerful when integrated into a story that is framed
with a productive value—the idea that we need to design a system that solves problems and is in line with the goals we have for society.”
3 Use explanation, not logic.
“Communications science clearly shows stories that use rhetorical strategies to counter opposing viewpoints or ideologies reaffirm existing beliefs. Explaining how social or scientific phenomena work helps people reevaluate solutions and accord issues greater salience.”
4 Avoid crisis messaging
“Social issues have experienced “emergency inflation” in recent decades and, as a result, the public has become numb, or even averse, to crisis. Phrases like “housing crisis,” “silver tsunami,”
or “broken education system” don’t carry the motivational weight they once did and don’t move people to action. Messages high in urgency but low in efficacy produce powerful feelings of
fatalism and futility and depress issue engagement. Stories that balance urgency with well developed explanations of solutions and efficacy are more likely to engage audiences and move
people to action.”
5 Watch out for “resonance”
“From a strategic perspective, not all resonance is good resonance. Some messages may be highly resonant—they may connect with people in deep and powerful ways—but
lead in directions that do not align with our strategic objectives as communicators. Crisis messages are a notorious example of this. Crisis and other fear-inducing messages are emotionally resonant, but whether on climate change, aging, or immigration, they can actually depress people’s support for social policies, tank efficacy, and send engagement
down the tubes.”
These are brief quotes from the essay. It will repay your time to read it in full…it’s pretty short.
Attachments: Storytelling for change