Ren LaForme of Poynter Institute on Digital Toolbox and Tools To Connect with Audiences


Lessons Learned at TOCA 2018

(Note:  Ren LaForme, from the Poynter Institute, gave a two-part presentation at the 2018 TOCA Annual Meeting. Scott Covelli recaps through his observations the first part --Digital Tools for Modern Storytelling -- while Jill Odom summarizes the second part -- Tools for Connecting with Audiences.) 



Filling Your Digital Toolbox: Poynter Keynote Presentation

By Scott Covelli, EPIC Creative

“A hammer doesn’t make a good carpenter.”

But it’s awfully helpful, isn’t it? Ren LaForme of the Poynter Institute shared this metaphor early on in his presentation about digital tools -- and it set the tone for a presentation at the TOCA annual meeting full of useful tools for journalists and marketers. No tool is going to turn you into a good storyteller, but a unique digital tool can help take your story to the next level.

LaForme challenged the room full of marketers and journalists to ask the question: “Is there a better, more interesting way to tell this story?” Then, he gave us some ways to make that possible. He said that many people don’t use digital tools because of money, time or because of the “haters” who denounce them, but the tools he shared are almost all free, and actually save you time in the long run.

The first chunk of tools all came from Northwestern University’s Knight Lab.  They centered around engaging the reader or viewer in your story. LaForme reminded us to always think of the audience. What would make them understand the story better? What would catch their eye or keep their attention?

In a wonderful whirlwind, LaForme introduced us to these digital tools for storytelling:

  • StoryMapJS: This tool helps you illustrate events or locations on a map to tell your story. If you’re showcasing fun nightlife spots in a city or highlighting the memorable holes on a golf course, this can be an engaging visual element.
  • SceneVR: Zoom in to different parts of a photo to immerse yourself in the details.
  • TimelineJS: Similar to StoryMap, but organized in a horizontal timeline.
  • JuxtaposeJS: Compare two images with a slider function, best used for before-and-after type stories.
  • SoundciteJS: This tool puts audio into a hyperlink right in your story so you don’t have to break up the layout with what looks like a banner ad.

As we’ve heard for years now, we’re in the most visual age ever and video content is crucial. LaForme addressed that issue as well with some of these key video tools:

  • Verse: It features all kinds of applications, including Q&A organization, chapters, and clickable “hotspots” on videos.
  • Videoshop: It’s intuitive mobile video editing when you’re putting together content on the go.
  • Videolicious: Add in b-roll to a story in real-time.
  • Clips: Automatically adds captions to your videos that you can edit.

And of course, we can always be more productive and efficient. Great tools help us do a great job while also saving us time. He had some answers to those problems too:

  • Tetra: This app records your phone conversations and transcribes them for you, perfect for phone interviews.
  • Trint: This one does the same thing as Tetra, but for videos instead of phone calls.
  • Descript: If you’re editing audio, it transcribes it and then you can edit it based on the words instead of the sound file. It’s like magic.
  • Calendly: Regardless of what kind of email service you have, Calendly helps send seamless meeting invites, or time frames so you can plan meetings better.

As he wrapped up, he gave some final tips on how to get buy-in from your team on adopting some of these tools. First, he simply said to try it. There’s nothing like hands-on experience, and you won’t know how you like it or benefit from it until you try it. Also, LaForme recommended committing to a trial period. More people will be willing to test something if there’s a defined trial period (three months, two weeks, whatever you decide). Lastly, you need to debrief on it after the trial period to hear people’s honest feedback.

When we use tools that make our stories—or our clients’ stories—more interesting and help us be more efficient and effective, we do better work and we’ll feel better too. And we can all get behind that.


Lessons Learned at TOCA 2018

Pointers from Poynter – Engaging with Your Audience

By Jill Odom, Total Landscape Care

Ren LaForme, Digital Tools Reporter, Poynter Institute

Ren LaForme, from the Poynter Institute, shared pointers on the digital tools for connecting with reader audiences at the 2018 TOCA Annual Meeting in May in Cincinnati.

LaForme also presented information on improving modern storytelling and transitioned to his new topic by saying once you have shared the story, you need to engage with your audience.

“The storytelling process used to be talking to your source, typing it and publishing it,” LaForme said. “The additional step is now engaging with your audience.”

Although Facebook was just introduced in 2004, when it was still called ‘thefacebook’ and MySpace was still functioning, social media has come a long way and is now used abundantly both at work and at home. Below are some of the tools and methods LaForme shared
that can help engage audiences.

Some of the first tools he highlighted were True Anthem and Echobox. While these tools are not free, they serve as artificial intelligence that ensures the right content is posted at the right time for the most reach and also looks for related content to share.

Sparemin Headliner allows professionals to combine a picture with audio, called an audiogram. This tool is very technical, according to LaForme, but it allows users the potential to have audio go viral because it can now be shared on social media.

Canva is a website that allows visitors to create images for social media. There are sizes specific to different social media platforms and predesigned layouts. LaForme says the most you’ll pay for an image on the site is $1, but you can also upload your own images to place pull quotes over.

The site Pablo is similar to Canva and is just a little faster with less options to consider.

CrowdTangle is a tool that monitors social media traffic and can be used to watch competitors as well, notifying users to when something is over- or underperforming. It can set up content discovery for certain topics. This platform is free to use, but there is currently a waitlist for access.

Yet LaForme says the best tools for connecting are the social networks themselves. Some people may be looking for the next thing to go viral, but he says this is not feasible nor sustainable in the long run. LaForme says drive-by clicks aren’t nearly as good as returning visitors, which is why cultivating audience engagement (aka loyalty) is so important.

“Audience engagement is building a relationship with your audience,” he said.

Some of the ways LaForme says you can build a relationship with the audience is by sharing interesting and related topics, sharing something personal at times to let them know you’re human, and not ignoring the wisdom of the crowd. LaForme says it’s wise from a business standpoint to know details such as your audience’s age, income, gender and career level so you know who you are posting to.

He says there are three main levels of engagement. For the low-level engagement, this is simply acknowledging what’s going on in the comments. Pointing out facts to trolls can sometimes actually lead to future stories and tagging the subjects of your work can prompt them to engage as well.

When typing social media posts, LaForme says you should stop and ask yourself if you would interact with the post. This will help you craft sentences that open the topic to discussion.

This leads to mid-level engagement, which is when you ask questions that your readers can answer (avoid the rhetorical and technical ones).

LaForme also says to be mindful of what people are engaging with and to circle back around to those topics.

High-level engagement is asking people to share pictures or stories of their own. Be mindful to have a good sense of humor about the information you’re sharing and once again ask yourself if you would do it if you saw the post.

Another option LaForme offers for engaging with your audience is to interact with them at different times during the publishing process. You can let them know what you’re working on beforehand, tweet a summary during the process and promise more, and share it with sources and on multiple platforms after publishing.

“You have to be engaging to engage users,” LaForme said.

In order to be engaging, LaForme encourages communicators to be personal but positive. Although social media is always changing, LaForme’s final thoughts on the matter is to: “Keep your chin up and to have fun. “