02/18/2014 05:02 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Erin Monday on Storytelling and Collaboration at the Heart of Your Social Strategy

This is the first post of the Social Storytelling Series -- a series which aims to highlight individuals and organizations that embrace the power of social media to empower their communities through impactful storytelling.

Silicon Valley Lost Found Refuge in Social Media


Erin Monday told me she represents the "Silicon Valley Lost".

Curious as to what she could possibly mean, I continued to read on.

"Hidden in the woods, a quiet research community is developing drugs that eradicate all traces of HIV, installing the nation's first brain stem cell implant and discovering proof of alternative universes. But these accomplishments are all but invisible to the American consciousness; they are stories untold, due to a lack of national press in North Carolina."

The Communications Director for The Research Triangle Park told me that despite lacking the national press in their area, she found refuge through social media.

"Social media is restoring equilibrium -- and these incredible deeds are beginning to emerge from the trees. Three very different cities are, for the first time, working together to promote a region's news. In a year, their efforts have generated enough buzz to generate 62,523,151 impressions and touch 11,37,451 unique users.

This buzz has netted mentions in the Atlantic Cities, the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Esquire, Vice, and Eater -- as well as real interest from brands like Google, Samsung, Lockheed Martin, Ernst & Young and the Kauffman Foundation.

A tech-savvy, engaged community spanning 2 million individuals in Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill is helping to reintroduce the Research Triangle Park's brand to a whole new generation."

Empowering their Community through Collaborative Storytelling
Representing 2 million people in their region, they turned to Twitter and became the megaphone for sharing all kinds of stories.

"We are a community working together. Using Twitter, the community actively shares the story - which is why our reach is so impactful."

The foundation of the organization itself was built through collaboration. Bankers, university leaders and everyday people independently crowdfunded the resources to build the Research Triangle Park back in the 1950's -- essentially turning NC's economy into an innovation-based one, saving the area from dire economic peril. The region has since prospered greatly and today, the same organization is still in place as a private, not-for-profit entity sworn to make life better for those who live in North Carolina. Part of that pledge, to us, means helping the people that live here have a voice on the world stage.

Fueled by the same spirit of collaboration, the organization has successfully launched campaigns through their unified social media approach such trying to get Zach Galifianakis to represent Raleigh at SXSW, selling tickets for George Takei's Symphony and the first to support local organizations in competitions.


The Trickle Down Effect

With such interest online, the organization has started being able to garner support for in-person social events. One of these is RTP 180 -- a series of mini-TED talks that features members of our community. While the event was free, over 300 tickets sell out every month and where they featured movies and TV stars and even Halliburton's CTO.

How Can Other Organizations Succeed in Social Media?

For Erin and the Research Triangle Park, social media has become their our primary marketing vehicle and it has been absolutely essential in building momentum in their community.

"Social media changed everything -- it helped us see all the loose threads, so we can pull them together through our Twitter as a regional voice. It helps tell the stories of those who live here - regardless of physical borders. Through retweets, we we're able to weave a tapestry to show the greater whole".

Tips to Getting Your Story Heard Through Social Media

Having had much success in telling their community and organization's story through collaboration and social media, I've asked Erin to share tips on how others can do it too!

1) Demonstrate impact.
Whenever we're featured in a major publication, as a region or as an entity, we share screenshots on Twitter to let people know we're doing what we can to help. We also tweet a screenshot of our Twitter statistics every month, to let people know that *their* retweets and support are important, and helping us make an impact. Our followers support matters to us. We want to let them know how much so, in real numbers.

2) Flattery will get you everywhere.
Social is only as powerful as that mythical "engagement" thing. How do you get engagement? For any kind of community, a good tactic is to feature your target audience whenever possible. Tell their stories, make them feel special -- and get their buy-in.

3) Tell good stories.
No one wants to consume boring content. Serve up mac and cheese, not Brussels sprouts (sorry Belgium). Good storytelling is tasty -- and it's often simple to prepare.

Here's an iPhone pic of a local brewery owner standing in front of her business' sign:


Pretty basic. But it's captivating, in a simple way -- in that you can see the humility and pride in ownership on her face. She's representative of how most people are -- ambitious, bright and modest. We've simultaneously helped raise awareness of this woman's business and our region.

4) Always listen, for presidents, and, for sheep.
Twitter is built like the inverse of a search engine algorithm. It knows what you like to see -- and it's going to put things up on your wall that you should, theoretically, be interested in. From our behavior, Twitter "knows" we like regional stories, so we've got a living, breathing feed of what's going on in the area. Obama is coming to the region? That's something I want to know about. A wily Barbados Mouflon Sheep has evaded the authorities for weeks and is scaling buildings while roaming rampant in your research park? Now that's an interesting story worth sharing.

5) Fear nothing.
It seems like a lot of companies are afraid of social media. Don't be afraid. Just stay away from controversial topics like sex, drugs, religion, politics and you'll be good. Be interesting and understand that from time to time, you'll offend someone. They'll get over it.

6) Shiv, shiv away.
Want to get your story featured in a publication or make a new business connection? Lob a message at a stranger on LinkedIn. Tweet at them. Take a jab. Anything goes -- as long as you're polite and compelling, you don't know what kind of response you'll get. I've gotten legitimate business leads this way, as well as press mentions.

7) Don't hire the hungover intern (for this particular job).
I'd like to think that this one has been figured out already, but if you're a major company, you should be investing in a major social media manager. This is the reputation of your brand we're talking about here.

8) Don't ask for "their" permission.
I'm a fan of Alexis Ohanian, and his latest book makes a great point for intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs everywhere: don't ask for permission. Don't wait for permission. We never asked -- we just saw a need and got started right away in telling a digital narrative.

9) Be excited or else. Energy, even on social, is contagious.
If you're excited about your content, chances are, someone else will be too. Picking on the tech industry a bit here -- but no one cares about your "enterprise java beans." Talk about them in a fun metaphorical vignette related to coffee, and they might.

10) Don't get (too) flabby.
This sounds absolutely horrible, I know. But social media "brand representatives" are the news anchors of the future and physical appearance is one of those unspoken and unfair factors. Believe you me -- I hate it more than you do. #InTheGymSixDaysAWeek.

To learn more about the The Research Triangle Park and community-driven events, visit their website and be sure to connect with them on Twitter!

Photos courtesy of Erin Monday.