What action you wish your audience to take?

Let me tell you a story.  I recently came across two JustGiving pages, both set up by old friends who I hadn’t seen for some time. Both were doing difficult challenges: both long-distance marathons under tough conditions. I read both their stories. One immediately made me reach for my credit card. The other? Not so much.

We know that story-telling is important, but what makes a story effective? In other words, what is it about one particular story that makes us taken action, instead of just moving on? And how can you harness this to make your writing more effective? Using the two JustGiving pages, we think there are some common elements to consider.

  1. You need to make a personal connection with your audience

Just knowing someone, even in person, is not enough to make them act in response to something you write or post. We all understand this, but we still fail to take it into account in crafting a ‘call to action’. How much more does this matter when you only know people through Twitter or LinkedIn? For a story to be effective, it must make a personal connection with your audience. For example, it might remind them of a shared experience, or another person that you both know. 

  1. Community is all-important, not just content

There is another element to effectiveness, and that is how much it is amplified by your community. When people in your community share your stories, they have more impact. This is partly because they reach more people, but also because many people will see the story more often. Endorsements and amplification can help to trigger action even if the original story was not quite powerful enough on its own. This means, though, that your story will need to be effective enough to ensure that at least some people in your community act upon it immediately.

  1. Sharing your feelings can be very powerful 

Sharing feelings and emotions is a short-cut to creating a personal connection. However, this approach needs to be used with care. For a start, it must be authentic, but it must also be appropriate. If you are asking people to donate to a cause, then some real sharing is appropriate to explain why the cause matters. Just saying ‘I have personal experience’ is not nearly as powerful as describing that experience and how and why it affected you. Explaining why you are so passionate about your company’s latest AI solution? A lot of emotion may make your audience uncomfortable.

  1. Sometimes you might need to put out more than you want

There is a trade-off in sharing emotions and feelings. To get the emotional response that you want, you may have to share more of yourself than you might think is strictly ideal. This is particularly hard for introverts, many of whom are very reluctant to talk about feelings in public. However, if you don’t share personal details very often, then the rare occasions when you do share something very personal will have a much bigger impact.

  1. How you word the ‘call to action’ also matters

There are various ways that you can word a ‘call to action’ linked to your story. For example, you might say ‘why not join us…?’, or ‘can you afford to miss out on…?’, or even ‘this won’t happen if you don’t…’. These create different levels of urgency. However, the science of getting people to act is not necessarily precise. A more urgent call to action may be off-putting if it does not really match your content. In other words, your call to action has to match the level of urgency you have created with the story.

Getting to ‘want’ - the value of resonance

There is one more thing to consider. Ultimately, the other person still needs to want to take action. You cannot compel anyone to do anything they don’t wish to do, however much you try to leverage guilt, sadness, excitement or fear of missing out—and nor, if you are honest, would you wish to do so. You want people to engage because they want to be there, not because they felt forced to do so. The key, then, is to ensure that they want to get involved. 

When stories resonate, there is no doubt that the payback is better. Careful choice of language and story will mean that your story fits the circumstances, and will increase the chances of getting the response you want.