March 6, 2020 | Using Storytelling to Grow Engagement and Reinforce the Value of Your Main Street Program | By: Brian Ostrovsky, Founder & CEO, Locable |
To capture the story of your Main Street's events and projects, like Downtown Sounds in Downtown Bellingham, Wash., start with a comprehensive digital content strategy. (Photo credit: Downtown Bellingham)
When communicating the efforts of your Main Street program, it’s easy to fall into the trap of just speaking in absolutes. Promoting ideas, mantras, taglines, and concepts like the Main Street Approach are powerful but can be confusing for locals if you don’t provide context.
While your mantras and taglines and other ideas are important, they need to be demonstrated and reinforced with real-world stories that incorporate both words and images. Stories have been passed down for millennia - this is why we often teach in parables. Our brains are hardwired to engage with stories, to share them, and remember them.
The way these stories are communicated is also important – having a comprehensive digital content strategy in place is essential to having the widest reach. Consistently sharing stories is a simple but effective way to ensure that the value you deliver and the benefits your constituents receive as a result of your efforts stay top-of-mind.
Below are a couple of examples of how you can more effectively communicate the efforts of your Main Street program to grow engagement and reinforce the value of what you do for your community.
Example 1: Storytelling and Events
Most Main Street programs use events to drive engagement as well as foot traffic to their district. While these events are often included on a website calendar, promoted on Facebook, and shared via email newsletters, the information is transactional and thus limited.
A more robust approach would be to create a companion blog post—a preview article—for the event. You can introduce this year’s grand marshal or prominent speaker, a volunteer who is in a leadership position, or other human-interest topics related to the event, such as the beneficiary of any would-be fundraising. Obviously, the topic will vary depending on the event itself. It can be painlessly produced through a simple Q&A with the subjects of the article and some light editing.
This preview article enables you to add more context and connect with people and places in your community. Like all content of consequence, this article should live on your website as it has tremendous search engine optimization (SEO) benefits, and then shared via social media and email newsletters. You should reference any and all local businesses and nonprofits and—when shared to social media—tag those organizations
to take advantage of “ego-bait
After the event, you should create an event recap article (not merely a Facebook post) similar to the example above from Placerville’s Downtown Association and the 2019 recap of their annual Brewfest
. This follow-up article can include pictures, embedded YouTube videos, and a simple recap of the festivities. Including funny or unexpected happenings and quotes from attendees and volunteers help further drive home the connection to your community and the people who live there.
This approach goes beyond a singular event and creates story arcs that can span weeks—if not months—to deliver ongoing promotional value. Best of all, if this event recurs annually, then when you write next year’s preview article you can refer to last year’s recap article to relive the fun. Not only is this sort of compelling content quick and easy to use, but when you link within your own website, you’re showing Google that you are a force in your community.
Example 2: Storytelling and Projects
As with the story arcs you should be creating for events, there is a tremendous opportunity to create storytelling content around projects underway in your district. Sure, people can see the demolition or the new construction happening when they drive by a site, but do they understand who is behind it, what the goals are, how it is funded, and when it is expected to be completed?
Posting a project preview article when the project is greenlit can immediately build enthusiasm for the new project. As milestones are hit, post project updates to explain what has been accomplished, refer back to the original preview article, explain what is next, and provide any anticipated timeline changes. Pictures of work-in-progress are fun and great fodder for Facebook.
Each step is a great opportunity to highlight participating vendors, contractors, volunteers, donors, and beneficiaries—note the example “Construction For Folsom's Roundhouse In The Historic District Is Nearly Complete
.” Again, when you share to social media, be sure to tag these people and organizations. This process continues until the project is completed, and then you can conclude with a recap article.
The idea of creating content (blogging) often scares Main Street directors. The reality is that you can quickly and easily tell stories when you use a framework—an easy-to-follow template—to reduce the amount of time, energy, and creativity required to be successful.
Rapidly producing content to spotlight merchants, recognize volunteers, elevate Small Business Saturday and much more helps you share what makes “here” special.
You can get even more value if you include a gallery of photos or shoot custom video though don’t let the pursuit of perfection get in the way of making progress. Process makes perfect.
Brian Ostrovsky is the founder & CEO of Locable (a Main Street America Allied Partner
) and creator of Marketing 3-4-5™, a marketing framework and training program that guarantees to make everyone more effective without having to become an expert.
Locable provides affordable Main Street website solutions; custom Main Street Marketing Plans; and tools to automate your community calendar, job board, directory, and more.
Last summer, Brian conducted Marketing 3-4-5™ Workshops in 5 Main Street Iowa communities, and this summer he’s traveling with his wife and 5 kids on an expanded nationwide tour
Learn more about Locable’s free and low-cost marketing tools and services at www.locable.com