A couple years ago I was working at a nonprofit, and I made a call to a small grassroots organizing group in Arkansas. I was building social media contacts with progressive policy organizations and conducting a routine communications capacity audit. The executive director and I got talking and, as she saw my interest in her work, she shared their organization's struggles fighting the closure of rural post offices in their community.  

We saw the potential in this story and dispatched a reporter and photojournalist to interview the town's residents, write up a feature for our online newspaper, and create a photo essay. A month after the story was published, an email arrived from a writer at the New York Times who had discovered our feature and wanted to write it up. The combination of traditional media, social media, and mobilizing the local community helped to save their town's post office.

I learned a few things from this experience. Firstly, I learned that sometimes, all you have to do is ask. And I mean really ask, not by mass email or Twitter, but with a phone pressed to your ear, leaning over a table at a coffee shop, hanging on every word – the kind of ask that demonstrates you are listening because the other person is fascinating. Story mining is not a difficult science; it just takes a curious mind and a patient soul to listen to peoples' stories and encourage them to keep sharing.

Secondly, I learned that good stories are the ones that rise to the top. They get passed from person to person, they are remembered and recalled, they survive in the marketplace of ideas.

Lastly, I learned that once you've found a great story, you've got to place your bet on it. Take the time to package the story as best you can: add photos, video, audio, pull quotes, infographics. Think of interactive ways the audience can engage with the story, like letting them post questions or submit their thoughts. Put the time and the resources in to bring the story to life. In the age of social media there have never been better ways to drive this interactive storytelling.

We had a similar experience recently here at Microsoft when we heard a story about a student who participates in our Technology Education And Literacy in Schools (TEALS) program. TEALS is a national YouthSpark program that places computer engineers into high school classrooms to teach students computer science in schools where they haven't the expertise or resources to provide the classes.

A TEALS teaching assistant for a classroom in rural Kentucky noticed the transformation of a young man involved in the program. Working with the high school and the student's parents, we were able to capture the remarkable story of Jeremy Moore: a shy student who found a love for computer science once he was given the opportunity to learn. 

How have you looked for great stories? Share your story-mining tips and tricks in the comment thread below, or tweet them to us at @msftcitizenship.

And don't forget to enter TechSoup's 2013 Digital Storytelling Challenge with your own story by April 30 to win prizes!

This post was written by Suphatra Laviolette, consultant for Microsoft Citizenship.

Michael DeLong | Online Community Manager