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No point in getting fabulous raw, real-time beneficiary-generated content if nobody sees it. Or cares about it. That’s why your digital storytelling content must be highly shareable.

The success of the GHNI and WaterAid projects outlined in my previous posts were dependent on supporters spreading the word online.

So what made the content highly shareable in these cases?

Close enough real time. People, including your donors, are used to instant status sharing, retweeting or 30-second posting online of what they’re thinking, doing, or looking at right now. So by its nature, shareable content online needs to be as it happens.

You crash your car and Facebook a pic of your write-off. Within seconds, your friends send you messages of commiseration (or tell you off for being an idiot). If they had to write you a note and post it, you wouldn’t hear from them.

So by the time you dig a well, get a photographer to take pictures of it, send them back to charity headquarters, get them cropped and inserted into a nice newsletter and mail it to your donors, it’s weeks old at best. Months old more likely. It’s already old news. (Although I’m not suggesting you should stop using newsletters!)

But what if you can get your beneficiaries to upload pictures as the well-digging is happening? Then the real-time element of the content pushes it into the donor’s “now”.

The donor may be dealing with office politics or cooking dinner… when up pops a picture in their newsfeed. It shows a well being dug right now that will radically change lives. At worst, the content is a few hours old rather than a few months. This dramatically increases its shareability.

Content formats everyone uses in the online world. Photos snapped on your iPhone or Android are so easy to upload and share. Even your most tech-challenged donors will upload pictures of their dogs, cats and grandchildren. And they share images and content they find funny, emotive, inspiring or challenging.

Again, this is not photography or video with high production values. It’s stuff anyone can produce. And because it feels comfortable and familiar, people share it.

Plus Instagram, used for the WaterAid project, is kind of cool. Everyone instantly recognises that square format and knows this wasn’t taken on any high end Nikon DSLR. That lends authenticity. Which brings me to the next point.

Unpolished content. You don’t get those awful group pics of everyone lined up in a row. Or perfectly exposed images. Instead, you get the type of images that you’d take yourself.

The result is imagery that feels real to the donor. And it IS real because it’s user-generated not charity-generated.

Sometimes charities show a packaged-up version of their successes. They show the beneficiary in real need, their projects and programs as the saviour and everyone lives happily ever after.

But real-time digital storytelling means you show things going wrong. Setbacks in your project. People getting sick. But that’s real life, isn’t it? Like crashing your car.

The real benefit is that you give the donor a much better insight into the details of the challenges facing your beneficiaries. And you do it in a way that’s compelling to them.

All this does not mean you should never produce polished content or send out professional photographers to the field. That has its place.

But I think this form of digital storytelling could have a powerful and positive impact on donor engagement. Ultimately, that can only be good for donor retention.

What do you think? What type of digital content do you think donors will share?

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