Three tips for growing your community using story

Storytelling has always had a role to play in shaping our world, helping to bridge divides, build connections and bind communities together. Here are three ways to use story to grow your community in a time where it’s needed most.  

Image source: Enspiral 

From ancient cultures to present-day realities, humans have always used stories to convey information, to share our lived experiences, and to build vital connections with other living beings. In a time where so many of us are physically distanced or geographically isolated, how do we use the power of storytelling to bridge the divide and help us come together in community? 

Beyond its life-saving and changemaking potential, using story to grow your community is now a non-negotiable part of business growth strategies, and plans to create thriving social enterprises and networks of practice. Here are the top three tips from our team of impact storytellers about how to use story to nurture your community and grow the groundswell of people who know about, are passionate about, and support your work…

1. Find and share relatable stories 

Stories are powerful tools for community building because, when we hear the stories of others, we feel less alone. By identifying and sharing stories from the community, that are relatable to the audience or community, you’ll be contributing to a sense of belonging, which is particularly important when the opportunities for face to face connection are limited. 

In this way, not all stories have to be ‘inspirational’, mind-blowing or aspirational. In fact, sometimes the more ‘mundane’ or ‘everyday’ stories can be the most effective for connecting with your community. It’s all about matching the story you want to tell, with the stories that the community needs to hear, in order to create the impact or outcome you are seeking.

We love stories that explore common values, experiences, hopes or struggles. A perfect example of this is ‘Humans of Gladstone’, a HONY-inspired Facebook page by Strong Communities that shares the everyday stories of local residents of a regional hub in Northern Queensland. Stories from, by and about the community have generated significant engagement and have led to increased confidence in speaking their truth amongst community members. 

2. Growing a community is a marathon, not a sprint 

This is an age of instant gratification where, if it takes more than a few seconds to load a website, you’re already on to the next shiny thing. But, as with all things worth waiting for, growing an engaged and fruitful community takes a little more than posting a single 2-minute video and waiting for the thousands to flock to your site. 

Using story to grow your community is extremely effective, if you take the time to consider the journey required to take your audience or community from being aware of your issue or cause to being an enthusiastic champion of it. Think strategically about how you are moving your community from being unaware or apathetic → aware → engaged → take action → championing. Next, think about what types of stories you want to share at different points in the journey and which channels you want to use to reach different parts of your audience. 

For example, when Boronia Multicultural Health Services wanted to spark a campaign for gender equality aimed at creating awareness amongst men from the South Asian and Afghan Communities in their local area, they held a roundtable discussion with local community leaders to discuss the messaging for the campaign. While there was no shortage of messages to share on the issue, the team decided that the best way to invite the ‘target audience’ into a deeper conversation was to share a positive and uplifting video, rooted in personal experience and peer voices, to provide a point of initial engagement in the campaign. From there, they shared more in-depth and nuanced messages in follow up events, written resources and face-to-face conversations. It was a profound and powerful way to grow their community and create the kind of change they were after. See for yourselves! 

3. Activate the community to BE the storytellers 

When growing your community, the most powerful stories you can tell will be the ones that are told by the community, for the community. That’s why one of the most powerful ways to grow your community is to activate THEM to be the storytellers. 

Time and again, we see that when storytelling skills and and practices are cultivated in communities, it serves to build connection, pride and wellbeing; channels frustration into creative expression; and helps you listen to community voices and learn what they care about. 

So, when you’re considering how to grow your community with story at the centre, think of the ways you open up space for people to identify and share the people, places, themes and initiatives that are inspiring to them. This could be by simply asking for stories around a theme or issue via your social media, newsletters or at your next event. Or, you could run a more facilitated storytelling capacity building program or online ‘town hall’ session. 

One of our favourite examples of this is ‘Go Goldfields’, a collective impact initiative in the Goldfields Shire of regional Victoria. They discovered that many young people had positive attitudes about where they lived in their pre-teenage years, but that once their teenage years progressed, this perception began to shift to one of negativity and hopelessness. 

Go Goldfields saw an opportunity to use digital storytelling to help their young community members explore, celebrate and communicate a positive narrative of their community and to gain invaluable digital storytelling skills, which would pave the pathway for future career opportunities. Created were stories like Ty’s When Life Gives You Lemons, which took the conventional narrative of growing up in a regional area and transformed it into a positive affirmation for other young people like him! Best.   

We all need community, now as much as ever. To build it, to nurture it, and to grow it – we must be able to use stories to their full potential. At the same time, we need to also create space and safety for others to tell their stories, because the most powerful stories come from the community itself. Let’s show the world that we have learned the lessons that 2020 has forced us to confront and get storytelling for more thriving communities!

We run virtual and face-to-face workshops and storytelling bootcamps with teams, groups and networks to ensure that you can build a flourishing community around the amazing work you do. Get in touch to see what’s possible, or take a look at some of the work we’ve done recently.