What does it really mean to implement agile storytelling?


This past June during the PRSA Southeastern Conference here in Greenville, SC…my friend Kevin Purcer of Erwin Penland led a discussion surrounding something he termed as “Agile Storytelling”. Much of his premise surrounded the ideas of what makes really good content and when should we share accordingly…I wanted to critically think through this idea.

Kevin specifically looks through the brand storytelling lens, creating narratives that represent the brand image, versus content curation storytellers leveraging narratives in real time for for sharing and engaging.

Content curation along with strategic content delivery is a masterful match of finding, sharing, and engaging powerful narratives in real time. So what do I mean by this, maybe we should get very specific.

At the YMCA Greenville, we have been working on content investment with the goal of specifically increasing the organic narrative and engagement, targeting more families for retention purposes. One area of interest…young adults who will potentially begin forming opinions of the YMCA as a partner in health.

Another area of interest, creation of an Instagram account. It was my position that we needed to really think through the content narratives for Instagram and what role it would play in the overall digital and social communication strategy, including organic and paid initiatives.

Here were a few points that were notable:

  1. We need to share the visual story of the YMCA Greenville, showcasing the value it brings to the members; providing an inside look into “Why the Y”.
  2. We need to increase our main Facebook page’s organic reach.
  3. We needed to increase engagement online (more likes, comments, and shares).
  4. We needed to create a larger conversation with young adults, not a visual marketing push.

If you follow the YMCA Greenville Instagram account, you will notice a few things. You will notice posts including lots of well composed images, videos, and even stories. They are “pretty” to the eye…drawing the individual to spend a few moments engaging. We were able to find a talented photographer with a great camera who was also a young adult, specifically to lead the Instagram initiative. This was HUGE!!!


As we began building the online narrative through Instagram, showcasing visual stories from inside the YMCA (especially areas that showcase value to a membership), we began cross promoting. We extended the sharing of the Instagram account to the main YMCA Greenville Facebook page to test organic reach. We noticed peaks in reach from these Instagram posts and also Facebook began giving “priority” to this cross-shared Instagram content in the daily newsfeed. Bottomline, Facebook likes it when you cross-share their products including Instagram –> Facebook.

The more visual stories we captured daily, the more visual stories we shared, the bigger the audience base grew on both Instagram and Facebook. Couple that with the introduction of Facebook advertising earlier this year, we were able to bring both organic content and paid content through the main YMCA Greenville account growing reach, engagement, and what I term ethical content delivery. We doing more than just paying to play…we are paying for reach and creating rich organic content simultaneously.

This is setting us up for a huge opportunity, something that my friend Kevin Purcer from Erwin Penland shared as a pro-tip: boosting content on Facebook as it begins to peak organically. Specifically for us, boosting content shared from Instagram to Facebook is showing and increased amount of organic reach, higher than average. When we see the number of people reached exceed the monthly average, that content needs to be dropped into a bucket for potential boosting. I feel there are a few factors play into the boosting decision:

  1. Does this piece of content match the current storytelling and content initiatives of the YMCA Greenville.
  2. Does this piece of content exceed the average organic reach on Facebook?
  3. Does this piece of content have the potential to gain a larger engagement if boosted?
  4. Does this piece of content want you to either to join the YMCA or engage with a new program?

This agile method of sharing content, one that has a storytelling initiative behind it, is what I feel one the best ways to really engage your audience. You are taking content that already is showing signs of success, and putting some financial resources behind the content to reach more people. It is a slight investment with a payoff of increased awareness.

Here is where the fun really begins…video. Videos are performing well on Facebook, especially with the autoplay option. Videos that perform really well on Facebook have the following traits:

  1. Give a reason for the audience to stop scrolling in their newsfeed long enough to watch.
  2. Give a reason for the audience to potentially click the video to listen.

Now…this is hard, very hard given more and more people are sharing video content. There are a few visual tricks to leverage inside this methodology for increased success:

  1. Talking heads ONLY work if the person talking is a “celebrity” or known individual that makes people want to stop and listen.
  2. There is movement left to right to grab the eye’s attention.
  3. There are motion graphics and text in the video to grab the eye’s attention.
  4. Something visually compelling happens in the first 2 or 3 seconds.

Now…imagine doing this on Instagram where you only have 14 seconds to share your story via video. And imagine doing this, then cross promoting over to your connected Facebook page. Now, we know that the likely hood people will watch a video and then click a link inside that post is LOW, very low. So, this is where awareness matched with paid initiatives is even more fun.

I like to encourage groups to use video with motion graphics, specifically text in the video. We like to use text in videos which matches the keywords in the Google Adwords initiative, in the hopes as the see the video…the audience might use those terms to search on Google thus clicking on the Adwords you have already purchased. So, if you boost this piece of video content from Instagram shared over to Facebook, you are reaching a larger audience. And if you include motion graphic text in the videos, you can cross promote your Google Adwords spend for that specific initiative, thus increasing your click through rates (CTR’s) for the desire location inside your website.

This is what I term as Agile Storytelling…telling and creating stories in real time, leveraging an agile approach to increase reach and engagement, ultimately leading to more exploration.