Telling Stories with Social Media – Part Two

In part one we considered why stories are so important to learning. Now we’ll look at four ways in which we can use social media to enhance our storytelling.

User Generated Context

We work in an industry that was, and in many cases still is, driven by the production and distribution of content. No surprise then that many of the early conversations about elearning included the phrase ‘content is king’. Along with the rise of social media tools came another phrase, ‘user generated content’, and there was much talk of how they enabled anyone to produce their own content. This is true, but social media also opens up other possibilities.

Using storytelling as a technique for training is not new, but social media allows us to do so in new and interesting ways. We can go beyond just delivering stories, and invite our learners to become part of them. We can move away from a scenario in which the trainer tells the story and learner receives it, to one in which they work together to co-author an evolving story.

The learner’s ideas can extend, enhance and improve the original story. Most importantly, they can give it the right context. In previous roles as a training manager, one of the more common issues with training was when learners didn’t recognise the situation or the people in it, and therefore don’t connect with it. By giving our learners the opportunity to become part of how the story develops, they are able to make it more useful to themselves and to others, by adapting it to fit their context.

The Making Of…

Something that we don’t often do, is give our learners an insight into the story behind the learning; how and why a course or programme was created, why we chose certain topics and techniques and so on. Social media gives us an opportunity to give our people an insight into that process. You can use tools like Twitter to provide regular snippets of information about the programme, blogs to provide more in depth updates and features and videos of key people involved in the programme.

It doesn’t have to stop once the programme is running. More and more programmes are using social media to connect the learners with each other, but what about taking the opportunity to connect them with people not on the programme? You only have to look at the rise of reality TV to know that people have an interest in what other people are doing. We can give our learners the chance to share their story as it happens.

Imagine a manager getting her team involved and engaged with her own development by providing them with regular updates about what she’s doing. They are already part of her development, whether they know it or not. This approach invites them to take an active part in the story.

Engagement and Support

The history, and future, of your organisation is nothing but a sequence of stories. Some of those stories are positive (successful new product launches, new premises, big sales increases) and others less so (downsizing, closures, drops in the share price) but they all contribute to the wider story of what makes your organisation what it is. Of course, you can’t really have a story unless something is happening, and if something is happening that usually means change, and we all know that can be a difficult thing to manage.

The trouble is that we often forget that our employees are all part of the story, and we use staff magazines and intranet pages to tell them that story as if it was happening to someone else. If you want to check whether this is what happens in your organisation, just listen to people talking and see if they refer to the organisation by its name or as ‘we’. If it’s the former, you may have a problem.

What we can do is use social media to build a framework around the story and give people the opportunity to get involved, by encouraging feedback and discussion. The key is to stop thinking about your staff as an audience, and instead to treat them as collaborators.

The Two Screens Approach

You may have heard the term backchannel, usually in relation to conferences and perhaps live online events such as webinars. In essence this involves the audience using social media tools to interact with each other, with others who aren’t physically present and occasionally with the presenter themselves.

This is something that has become quite common in many areas, and a broad social media backchannel has existed around traditional media such as TV and movies for some time. Until recently this has been driven by consumers themselves and by dedicated sites such as GetGlue and Miso. It is becoming more common to see content producers embracing what is referred to as ‘two screen viewing’, in which additional content is made available on your smartphone or tablet at the same time as you watch the programme on TV. It isn’t just about content though, with services such as Zeebox adding a social layer to TV by pulling in Tweets and other social content related to what we watch.

No matter what its format, we need to start designing our learning with the backchannel in mind. The backchannel is the place where the learners can become fans who will go on to tell their own stories and in doing so promote the learning to others.

In part three we’ll share a few storytelling tips.

About Barry Sampson

Barry Sampson has written 34 post in this blog.

Barry has a diverse background, having been a retail manager before moving into HR and then on to training and development. He spent time as a trainer and training manager before a move into learning technology in 2003. He's championed the adoption emerging tools for learning as a complement to traditional approaches.

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