TechSoup's 2013 Digital Storytelling ChallengeAlthough storytelling has become quite the buzzword, do you understand how it fits into your narrative?

At first glance, you might think they are the same, but they are not, according to John Hagel. He gave a talk at the recent SXSW conference on "Moving from Story to Narrative."

What’s the Difference?

Hagel characterizes stories as having a clear beginning, middle, and end. Stories are tightly circumscribed with a defined "us" and an "other." They are good for creating emotion and can be powerful. Stories are for others to witness and are mainly about the storyteller.

Narratives, on the other hand, are open-ended, don’t have a resolution, and are in the process of unfolding. The open-ended nature of narratives invites others to participate in order to help create the ending together. The power of a narrative is in its invitation to others join in the journey. Narratives can tie together seemingly disparate stories, the way a novel ties together the chapters of a book.

Why Do Narratives Matter?

Narratives ask what we can accomplish and how can we connect to one another to accomplish our goal. They shift our focus to the long term and give us something to hold onto on our path to our goal. Narratives invite participants to demonstrate leadership and use their imagination as we work together to create a path to our shared destination.

Tapping into your organization’s narrative is your means of getting your audience invested and involved in your cause. Talking about your narrative shines a light on the many access points by which your audience can get involved as volunteers, donors, or board members. Create a well-defined narrative that strikes an emotional chord and empowers your supporters to take action on behalf of your shared cause.

Your Narrative and Digital Storytelling

Narratives lend themselves to transmedia storytelling, so use different tools like video and photography. Keep your narrative in mind as you create your digital stories — think about what ties your content to what you’re already communicating about your narrative.

Remember that if you really want to embrace your narrative, then you need to embrace collaboration. True collaboration means allowing your supporters to use their own tools and methods to add to your organization’s narrative. Create an environment where you and supporters learn together; you can start by sharing TechSoup’s Digital Storytelling tips and tools. And then create and submit your own short video (up to 90 seconds) or five-image slide show to TechSoup's 2013 Digital Storytelling Challenge by April 30 to win prizes!

As Hagel noted in closing, powerful movements have been made and shaped by narratives. So define your narrative and empower your fellow changemakers to create stories that chart your collective impact and organizational goals. 

Susan Chavez
Online Community & Social Media Team, TechSoup Global