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A nice little story about the value of storytelling in content marketing - Francis Moran & AssociatesFrancis Moran & Associates

A nice little story about the value of storytelling in content marketing

Work with us

By Alexandra Reid

I’ve been a volunteer at Big Brothers Big Sisters Ottawa for almost a year now, running the youth mentoring organization’s online accounts and helping with its blog. As a non-profit, its budget for marketing activities is tight and so it relies greatly on word-of-mouth referrals and small events to attract volunteers, donors, and partners and spread its messages.

As an advocate of the tremendous work BBBSO does to support youth in Ottawa, I offered to donate an hour of my time every day to run a basic content marketing program to support the organization’s primary goals. I met with the enthusiastic team, learned about their work, the organization’s history, ongoing efforts, and upcoming events and announcements. The organization is very active in the community and after listening to their stories I immediately knew there would be no shortage of content that could be developed about the team, their work, volunteers, and partners.

But after researching BBBSO online, it amazed me that so little of its efforts had been documented. Sure, journalists for local papers cover its events and the organization runs a basic newsroom on its site, but the day-to-day struggles and successes went largely unknown by the community — as is the case for so many small companies and non-profit organizations that don’t have the budgets to carry out long-term and contemporary initiatives.

BBBSO started a blog and began a basic social media program a few years ago. But again, like so many small businesses and organizations, readership didn’t get off the ground and the community struggled to gain momentum. The organization didn’t see much immediate reward for its efforts and so the spark for carrying out these activities went out shortly thereafter.

The team was eager to start fresh, and so I sat down with them for a brief session to teach them about best practices for editorial and community management, engagement, measurement and writing. Knowing that I couldn’t take on these activities forever, I encouraged them to learn about the processes and to contribute wherever they were able.

The start was slow, as is typical. A few members of the team piped up and told me they weren’t writers and wouldn’t know what to write about. Others said they were nervous about voicing their opinions.

I offered guidance wherever I could and boosted them up whenever they needed help. As they practiced their writing, their courage grew. They began writing more frequently, and offered up stories and photos to share on social media. The posts were a little rough at first, and some of the stories needed a bit of focusing; they weren’t professional writers, after all. But slowly and surely, they started to get the knack of it.

The team has been running its own blog ever since, and is doing a damned fine job of it too, if I may say so. While I help with editing and continue to run their social media accounts, they pick up the reins without any hiccup when I have to bail for unforeseen reasons. Slowly but surely, the responsibilities are being increasingly carried out in-house.

They are telling stories about their experiences, profiling their volunteers and colleagues, writing about their events and successes and hardships. Their stories are personal, honest and specific, explaining the day-to-day role of a mentor coordinator, Big Sister or volunteer in the Go Girls program. But they also cover issues that are recognized industry-wide, such as current fundraising hardships due to the struggling economy.

As BBBSO opened up, so did its community. Mothers and fathers of Bigs and Littles (mentors and mentees in BBBSO programs) are sharing photographs of their child’s graduation on Facebook, stories about their experiences with the programs, and, most importantly, are talking to each other about how they can get further involved.

“We have experienced an influx of volunteer interest to help sustain our activities in recent months because of social media and blogging,” said Kathleen Provost, executive director of BBBSO. “In addition to the volunteers who already express an interest to support our work, we have been able to connect with new individuals wanting to lend their expertise — volunteers who may not have otherwise expressed (an) interest towards us.”

I regularly come across conversations between BBBSO supporters on Twitter, sharing stories about a recent fundraising event, personal experiences and reaching out to others interested in finding volunteer opportunities. For example, journalists, bloggers and other volunteers are coming out of the social media woodwork to support the organization.

“A radio host connected with us on Twitter and she ended up as the MC at our annual Bowl For Kids Sake event,” said Provost. “We had limited resources to draft and script some of our stories and through our social media outreach, we were able to identify volunteer bloggers. Not only have we penetrated a new market of talents, but we are so grateful that individuals who may not have known of us in the past have now chosen to help with their expertise.”

By sharing honest, personal and helpful stories, BBBSO is beginning to foster an authentic and vibrant online community. It has also taken control of its messaging, no longer relying solely on journalists to get its story told. The most amazing part of this initiative is that the community is beginning to operate on its own accord, with very little motivation from BBBSO. The right building blocks have been put into place to start a never-ending story where people feel encouraged to contribute their own thoughts, opinions and (best of all) their own content.

And apart from the invaluable awareness that has grown from these activities, the organization is seeing real ROI for its efforts. As people voice their opinions, BBBSO is informed by its marketplace and it’s using that information to provide better services to its supporters. People are coming out of the woodwork to volunteer for the cause, donate, start partnerships, and even start their own campaigns to support the organization.

The moral of the story:

Great stories beget great stories.

Do content marketing right and everyone will want to have their say. And there’s nothing more valuable than that.


  • Mandy Leith

    August 01, 2012 2:10 pm

    Great post and inspiring story that encourages small non profits to start building their online engagement strategy with a little help from their friends. Awesome!

  • Alexandra Reid

    August 02, 2012 10:16 am

    I’m glad you thought so, Mandy. Thank you 🙂

  • IWP

    August 02, 2012 1:30 pm

    We now live in an amazing and engaging world don’t we? Thanks for the post.

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