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A Storytelling Guide for Online Community Managers


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In online communities where engagement and influence are paramount, mastering the art of persuasion is crucial. This is especially true for community managers, who need to inspire action, foster participation, and build a vibrant community. Drawing from insights shared by Robert McKee, a renowned screenwriting lecturer, we explore how the power of storytelling can be a game-changer in the art of persuasion for online community managers.

The Power of Storytelling in Online Communities

Traditionally, business communication has leaned heavily on data-driven rhetoric, often relying on tools like PowerPoint presentations and formal reports. However, this approach can fall short in engaging and inspiring audiences. In contrast, storytelling, a method championed by McKee, offers a powerful alternative. It connects ideas with emotions, making messages more impactful and memorable.

What Makes a Good Story?

A compelling story is not a linear, predictable narrative. Instead, it thrives on the tension between expectations and reality. In the context of an online community, this means not shying away from challenges or conflicts. A good story for a community manager might involve overcoming initial member apathy, navigating platform changes, or innovating to keep the community engaged. By highlighting these struggles and resolutions, community managers can craft stories that resonate deeply with their audience.

Embracing the Dark Side for Positive Energy

Acknowledging the challenges and the 'dark side' of situations makes stories more authentic and relatable. In online communities, this could mean openly discussing failures, setbacks, or uncertainties and then showcasing how the community can or has overcome them. Such honesty not only enhances credibility but also encourages a deeper, more emotional connection with the audience.

The Role of Skepticism in Storytelling

A good storyteller, especially in a leadership role like that of a community manager, is inherently a skeptic. This skepticism pushes one to look beyond the surface and seek the deeper truth in every situation. In online communities, this translates to understanding the underlying motivations, concerns, and aspirations of community members, which can then be woven into compelling narratives.

The Journey from Storytelling to Leadership

Understanding and practicing the art of storytelling can significantly enhance a community manager’s leadership qualities. Stories offer insights into human nature and personal experiences, making leaders more empathetic and relatable. In online communities, where dynamics are continually evolving, being able to tell a story that captures these shifts can transform how members perceive and engage with the community.

Applying McKee’s Storytelling Principles in Community Management

  • Identify the Inciting Incident: Every community has a story of its origin or a turning point that defines its journey. Highlight these moments to create a narrative that members can connect with.
  • Highlight the Struggle: Don’t just share successes. Talk about the challenges the community has faced and how they were overcome. This builds trust and shows resilience.
  • Connect on an Emotional Level: Use stories to tap into the emotions of your audience. Whether it’s a story of triumph, a member’s personal journey, or the collective achievements of the community, make it resonate on an emotional level.
  • Be Authentic: Authenticity in storytelling fosters trust. Share real experiences, admit to mistakes, and discuss learnings openly.
  • Encourage Community Stories: Involve members in storytelling. Encourage them to share their experiences and perspectives, thereby enriching the community’s narrative tapestry.

Conclusion: Harnessing Storytelling for Effective Community Management

In the digital age, where engagement is critical, online community managers must become adept storytellers. By embracing McKee’s principles, they can transform their approach to communication, making it more persuasive, engaging, and inspiring. Storytelling is not just a tool for content creation; it is a leadership skill that, when mastered, can lead to more vibrant, connected, and dynamic online communities.

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