United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County exists to help people within its communities. To do this, the non-profit needs an easy way to reach out to those communities and to hear from them.
United Way, obviously, needs a robust, functional website. During a recent website redesign, the organization went a step further and implemented storytelling as part of its digital strategy.
“We had a conversation about the tone of our website when we were doing the redesign, and we had thought that a lot of pages were somewhat overwhelmed with marketing speak,” said Digital Marketing Manager Melissa Hanon. “One of our goals with the redesign was to have a more authentic voice that really resonated with our individual donors and volunteers.”
What are the benefits of marketing through storytelling?
Even in a non-profit setting, content functions rather like a product. Users must find value in the information you give them, or they won’t pay for it in the currency of loyalty and trust in your brand.
“You need to think about what would be valuable to your audience,” said eBusiness Administrator Laura Meine. “If you are going to create a blog post, why would they want to read it? What is the value to them? It is not going to resonate with people if you talk about how great your organization is. At the beginning it seemed that every blog had to be about United Way and what we were doing. But now we focus more on the stories. We find ways to tie us in without making it dominate.”
Marketing fluff about your wonderful business will not attract and hold audience attention. Readers view self-promotional pieces skeptically. When United Way embedded honest storytelling into its marketing, the creative team removed much of the marketing fluff from its website and in doing so enhanced credibility and tightened connections with its audience.
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How do you determine what your audience finds valuable?
Publish content you can stand behind and wait for the stories to speak for themselves. Keep an eye on which pieces succeed organically, then focus your time and money on the stories that naturally work harder for you. Then let data drive the content. Google Analytics comes in handy with this.
GA data shows that United Way’s content push has not only raised the number of page views for the Speak United Blog, but also lengthened session duration. That is, more users are looking at their blogs and then sticking around to read more of the content.
In a three-month period, United Way’s blog has earned:
- 5,301 page views (11.32% of the total site page views)
- 4,864 unique page views (12.36% of the total site unique page views)
- A low bounce rate of 9.81% on their blog (24% lower than the average site wide bounce rate)
- An average time of three minutes per page (85% higher than their site-wide average)
The session duration for blogs is significantly greater when compared to the overall site averages.
The redesign improved United Way’s website performance across the board. But no part of it has gained as much as its blog after implementation of storytelling into the digital marketing strategy.
How do you get your target market to your website in the first place?
Social media is one of the most powerful ways to promote your content, but you can’t push the same old content day after day. You will bore and disappoint your users, who will see no point in returning to your website. Fresh, plentiful, valuable content will hold their interest.
“Our overall site traffic has gone up,” said Meine. “We are seeing a lot of traffic on the blog itself. It has really bumped up our social media traffic to our website. We didn’t really have fresh content to publish on social media before.”
How much time and energy does it take to get results?
“We try to publish three stories a week,” said Hanon. “From when we start to develop the story to when we publish, it could take four to six weeks.”
Publishing three stories per week requires thoughtful planning and timely execution. A monthly schedule of release dates, with outlines for each story, keeps the process organized and consistent. Hanon recommends starting modestly, with perhaps one post every two weeks, to find out what’s doable and to control audience expectation.
Consistency is key. Once you establish a publication pattern, returning visitors develop expectations about what content they will find on your website and when they will find it. If they don’t find it on schedule, they will stop looking for it.
Spread the workload around. A company need not rely on one person to write and develop all website content. Many people in your organization might have stories to tell and a desire to tell them, either as writers or as interviewees. United Way encourages volunteer writers to tell their stories. Interns also lighten the load.
“It is nice to have different writers with different voices,” Meine said. “It think this also builds trust in the community.” She added that community volunteer writers have told some powerful stories for the United Way blog, and that they have resonated with the public.
Writers from the community – from outside United Way’s offices – give United Way more than affordable content; they give it authentic voices. People tend to trust what others say about a company more than what a company says about itself.
Storytelling allows your company to connect with readers emotionally, and people remember that. Thus, they are more likely to share your story on their own websites or social media accounts.
Marketing through storytelling can yield great results, but it requires resources, writing skill, imagination, a sort of frankness that doesn’t come naturally to every business, and one more thing:
“Patience,” says Hanon. “Some stories don’t get a lot of hits, which can be disappointing. You just keep plugging away and it is going to get bigger and bigger and bigger.”