How to create and communicate impactful stories using 5C’s

Creating impactful stories and advocating to the public is not an overnight process. Knowing the challenges in this and to share some ideas, Yayasan Hasanah organised the 16th ILMU on Digital Media Strategy 101 for Civil Society Organisation (CSOs). The session, which was attended by more than 200 participants, was conducted by Ian Yee, an investigative journalist and impact producer. His work has covered social justice issues such as human trafficking, violence against children, drug trafficking, refugee rights and more.

Ian highlighted 5 essential steps that CSOs can follow to produce creative and impactful stories to advocate their causes to the public. Here’s a summary of the 5 Steps:

Step 1: Content

CSOs should consider delivering as much (relevant) content as possible, promptly, and in the most cost-effective ways. In this technologically advanced era, people rely on quick, easy to access content. They do not spend so much time reading long articles, therefore it is important to choose the right words to catch attention and interest.

In creating the content, CSOs should look for a particular angle, and try to craft the narrative from a news perspective. Decide on the strategy and angle then come up with a catchy headline to grab your readers’ attention. Use the concept of “five-word headline”, i.e. keep your headline to five words only, and follow the news values approach to help you summarise your headline succinctly.

The News Values approach as highlighted in the webinar:

  1. Timeliness – News and stories need to be reported in a timely manner to ensure relevance and maintain public’s interest.
  2. Impact – Ensure that your story has an impact to/on people. For example, health issues due to Covid-19 during the pandemic.
  3. Proximity – Find an angle with a geographic proximity to your readers. The closer it hits to home, the more likely people will be interested in it.
  4. Prominence – People are attracted to celebrities, influencers, successful entrepreneurs etc. Your stories will be a lot more attractive if you can get an individual or organisation that is famous or prominent to speak up about your issue, or if you can relate your issue with them.
  5. Conflict – Conflict stories will attract people’s attention.
  6. Novelty – People love stories around new and bizarre issues.
  7. Human Interest – Try to create stories that are inspiring and heart-warming.

Step 2: Concept

When creating a story, writers need a novel and creative campaign concept. Ask yourself, “What is new in my story? How do I frame the stories?”. Sometimes, it might be helpful for CSOs to use some gimmick to get the reader’s attention.  It is good to start with personal concepts such as “A Teh Tarik session with the refugees” and do it consistently, not on a project basis, so that people are consistently aware about the issues – and to link your organisation to that issue. You may need to invest in some tools – get a good camera, for example. Be innovative, utilise your resources – make full use of your mobile phone, and create good content.

Step 3: Channels

CSOs may want to explore various social media channels. Different channels speak to different audiences therefore content should be customised for different channels and audiences. Learn and understand the functions and limitations of each platform such as the acceptable media size and video length. YouTube may be a good option for documentaries or in-depth stories. Instagram and Facebook stories require a little bit of creativity to edit all stories in a short video. This can be done using various tools, so invest some time to find out what tools are available – many are budget friendly, and some are free to use. CSOs may also opt for collaboration and co-sharing a platform. This may help to increase the viewer numbers.

Step 4: Call to action

Be specific and clarify your call-to-action. What is it that you want the viewer or reader of your story to do? Be clear with the impact you want to achieve and try to work backwards in creating the stories. Again, try to keep the story simple and keep to the 5 words headlines.  Keep in mind that you will not be able to solve the entire issue with just one article or social media post. Rather, start small, and avoid overwhelming your readers or viewers with too much content in one article or video. If able, design a campaign to lay out the messaging you want to get across, over a period of time. Ensure that the problem is defined clearly and provide a workable solution that your viewers or readers can rally around.

Step 5: Conversations

CSOs should actively engage their audience, one way or another. However, social media platforms have an algorithm which determines whether your post is seen. A great way to cheat the algorithm (frequency of posts that will be displayed on a user’s news feed) is by increasing the number of likes and comments. Doing this increases the percentage of people seeing the stories being displayed in their news feeds. As social media platforms rank and prioritise contents based on the publisher activities and interactions, CSOs must continuously engage with their audience through various ways. It can be as simple as replying to their comments with a “Thank you for your feedback, we appreciate your comment”. Keep in mind that not all comments on your post will be supportive ones, so refrain from getting into an argument. Your organisation should be seen as addressing the issue with maturity, especially in an environment where the advocacy work may not always be seen in a positive light. 

Disclaimer: The pictures captured from Ian’s slide presentation are taken with permission from the presenter. Please do not reuse the picture without permission.