Engagement Beyond Tools

You’re at community events, you’re active on social media, you’re asking for feedback at every opportunity, but you’re still not getting the engagement you’re looking for. Perhaps it’s not the tools you’re using but the story you’re telling.

Storytelling is a critical component to effective engagement. The best advice I’ve seen about effective storytelling comes from the 2007 book Made to Stick by Dan Heath and Chip Heath. They break down effective story telling by using the abbreviation SUCCESS.

S - simple
U - unexpected
C - concrete
C - credible
E - emotional
S - stories
S - okay, there is an extra S; this one doesn’t stand for anything

Looking at these characteristics in the context of local government:


Running a community isn’t a simple task, but we can break it down to make it easier to understand. Choose clear language without jargon. Visualize data with infographics. And highlight the most important information first.


A memorable story is one with a twist at the end. Don’t be afraid to share stories of some of the non-traditional service you provide to your community. Tales of employees going above and beyond reflect well on your organization and will stick with residents.


Make the services you provide to your community real. Use compelling photos of community members, staff at work, and your town’s most vibrant areas.


Being credible means being transparent. We need to share the good news and the bad, and demonstrate that we’re willing to listen and improve.


The most compelling stories are about people, told by people. Don’t be afraid to share your personal experiences, to use humor, and to show your human side.


The services we provide to our residents are important, but what’s more important is the impact that they have on individuals. What we do makes a difference, and every service has a story!