Attending the Social Media Exchange Conference (SMEX) is always something that the Superhighways’ team looks forward's a hot bed of innovation and gives great examples of how community groups can use simple tech twists to tell compelling stories of their work.

Here are tips for storytelling to share with you, from the events I attended:


Getting to Grips with Immersive Storytelling

The topic was Virtual Reality and 360 video - how this technology has the power to create transformative stories - developing empathy, draw new audiences and help fundraise for a cause.

One of the key aspects of the technology is that it is becoming more affordable for charities to use to create immersive stories.

The kit required to create a video is an issue – but at its most simple this could be 2 GoPro cameras on a rig – and using a free website to ‘stitch’ together the footage recorded by each camera.

If you are going down the route of editing the video footage you captured (captions and voice over) then Adobe Premier has a suite of plugins for this.

Additional costs for your viewers are VR Headsets - these range from the cheap (Google VR Cardboard headset – £2.89 on E-bay) through mid-price where Oculus Rift comes in at around £200 to HTC’s Vibe coming in at a whopping £800. However before the price tags put you off - you can judge how well the VR performs on your PC/tablet or smartphone from the following list.

My favourite, because it is an uncomplicated “WOW this is great – I can’t wait to share with my friends” response is the Swim with Wild Dolphins top of the list below.

My top tip for this video – when you are in the water (virtually speaking) you look behind you and slightly up to the ceiling – you can a diver shooting the film with the two cameras on the rig set up.

  • Swim with Wild Dolphins
  • Clouds over Sidra - A 12-year-old girl guides you through her temporary home at The Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan. In this lyrical VR film, Sidra leads you through her daily life: eating, sleeping, learning and playing in the desert city of tents. 
  • Easter Rising – Voice of a Rebel 
  • Waves Of Grace – the story of the outbreak of Ebola in Sierra Leone 2013 as told by survivors 
  • The Nepal Quake Project - May 2015 a 7.8 magnitude earthquake strikes Nepal and this VR video is produced a month later to raise awareness and support the earth quake appeal. 
  • In My Shoes is an internationally recognised empathy project, it is an ever-expanding collection of first-person documentary style interactive performances. Jane Gauntlet has epilepsy – join her and experience her world 

Expert citizens and Storytelling – facilitated by Darren Murinas was a lively lunch time session

Darren has spent the last 3 years using his ‘lived experience’ to offer advice to Voices of Stoke, a Big Lottery funded programme testing alternative approaches to tackling multiple needs – substance misuse, homelessness, alcoholism and offending behavior’. 

He is a great presenter and the first to say he has been an expert in all of the above at various times in his life. His mission now is to empowering people to tell their own stories in their own words. As he pointed out – who better to talk about the impact of the penal system than someone who has been through it?

As the embodiment of the idea ‘Be the change you want to see’, Darren proves community activism can be the pressure for change when applied on the right pressure points.

Giving people the opportunity to talk about their experiences as expert citizens is an information resource for your charity. AND a unique way to give the storyteller increased self-confidence and an important perspective on past events.

You can chat to Darren on Twitter on either @darrenmurinas or on @expertcitizens

Giving a voice to the people you support – Jude Habib's presentation

Use a range of social media outlets to give people the opportunity to talk to you and your audience. By only using a few of the regular platforms like Facebook and Twitter you cut people out of the conversation.

Setting a up a variety of online platforms that host content (blogs, Vlogs and websites) and creating focus group activities you can enable a more varied and authentic communications strand for your cause.

Make sure that the rules for posting on your sites are clearly written (and available to read/download) and that there are guidelines around NOT disclosing confidential information like where you live.

Remember that unless you turn location services off on your phone and tablet any photo you upload could have the information of where they were taken.

Key to ‘giving a voice to the people you support’ is thinking about your resources


  • Time issue – who in your organisation is going to organise, follow up, train up and market the new service. Who is going to recruit and manage the volunteer expert citizens?
  • Do you have a ‘good mission statement’ – check out the Mind Mission statement as an exemplar It is clear and simply worded – you immediately ‘trust’ that organisation
  • Use your ‘storytelling centre’ as a way to recruit new volunteers e.g. ‘Be a MIND Campaigner’.
  •  Have an open day invite new volunteers or campaigners to skills-based training
  • You could even go so far as to organise a social media take over managed by your new campaigners and ambassadors. For more information on how this works have a look at NHS Twitter stream - currently it’s a week in Dr Dan’s life as a Consultant in Pediatric Emergency Medicine at the Bristol Royal Hospital for Children.
  • And finally, if you need any other practical help with content you can always crowdsource it – just put the word out for guest bloggers, photos, quotes, free music etc. – you will be amazed how much people will help you out if they believe in you.


Crowdsourcing content with Cancer Research UK

The four core elements to get right to source the right kind of  content are 

  1. Peer researching – sharing blog stories
  2. Expert Citizens – supplying raw footage interviews
  3. Training the Internal Staff team 
  4. Upskilling your brand Ambassadors

For Cancer Research UK, crowdsourcing is about collecting the here and now – relatable ‘little moments’ of the key elements of dealing with cancer and its treatment / recovery time.

This is a recent shift of focus to dealing with the present – not reflective nor looking back. The theme is one story ‘the here and now ‘– with difference perspectives provided by many people.

The marketing team has found it interesting to explore what images work well with these ‘perspective pictures’ – or are words better? Whichever, the overarching rule is that these are stories told in the first person and owned by the author.

Define your Audience

  • What is it that inspirers them?
  • How do they act on social media? Is Instragram their favourite media or mainly Facebook?
  • What kind of photos do they share or like?

Content & Metrics

Do you have analytics that can give you any answers about your audience? If you engage with them are they sharing back with you? And is this engagement about sharing stories? Would creating opportunities for your ambassadors to contribute like Superstar Sunday posts help increase the level of engagement?


How much are you prepared to spend to reach this group? With Google Non Profits Grants there is some scope to target your audience.

Cancer Research UK's Top Tips

  • BLOGS remember to tag your blog with the infrastructure organisation name as well as the other tags you have set up 
  • Share these new stories with your staff and volunteers – don’t assume they will all be following you on social media!
  • Grow your champions out of your supporters – and again remember not everything has to be done via social media
  • Have the campaign #tag ready and circulated to your supporters before you go live. You can change it half way through a campaign if it’s not working
  • Repurpose existing content. If you have a story you shared last year – re share it for the campaign with a direct call to action e.g. You read Tina’ s story – now share yours.
  • As your multichannel, audience profile engagement campaign grows, put it on another channel to build in more opportunities for engaging with people.


What next?

You can read a round up on the SMEX 2017 conference website or email me, Philippa Leary to discuss anthing else in the article.