How to package solutions stories for online media

June 24, 2013

The Internet is a vast, weird space filled with fast-changing “rules,” a generally poor signal-to-noise ratio, and a very uneven distribution of power. And cat videos. Tons of cat videos. Getting attention in this environment requires both a good story and smart packaging.

Before joining up with Resource Media, I spent the previous seven years working as both a writer and an editor at I got to play both sides, pitching my completed stories to other outlets in the hopes that they’d pick it up and spread it around the ‘nets, and receiving pitches from other bloggers, organizations, and PR reps. That’s really where stuff got weird. “Hey Collin, with National Mustache Day coming up, I mustache you a question…” followed by a pitch for a goofy straight razor holster or something. I wish I were making that up. But I digress…

Ok, so how can you cut through the noise (and the hours and hours of cat videos) to get your solutions story told online? There’s no unbeatable secret sauce that’s going to work every time, but there are a few packaging best practices that’ll at least help you from barking up the National Mustache Day tree.

  1. Match the visuals to the story. You hear this a lot, right? Meet your audience where they are; if they’re on the Internet, they want compelling visuals. That means no lame stock photography, no oversized version of your organization’s logo, no headshots of your president (no matter how fetching they may be). Instead, spice it up with original imagery, text overlays, and memes. That’s right: Embrace your inner Grumpy Cat.
  2. Show the solution in pictures. Along the same lines: Before and after pictures can do the work of a thousand words. If you can explain the magic of your solution story with side-by-side images, do it. Showing your solution, along with whatever it replaced, can be much more effective than a press release explaining how your organization just reforested a clearcut hillside.
  3. Help create a conflict. Even if you have the heartwarming, feel-good story of the decade, it’s going to be tough to generate any buzz unless you can help create a compelling narrative arc. If you’ve got a solutions story, that solution solved a problem, right? Package the two parts together and you’ve got a compelling story.
  4. Don’t bury the lede. Believe it or not, bloggers and online journalists and other online citizens are not waiting around, thumbs a-twiddlin’, for your Mustache Day pitch to arrive. They’re like the rest of us: Overloaded with email, on tight deadlines, and unlikely to read more than a sentence or two before clicking ‘Delete.’ Make it snappy, make your words count, and move along.
  5. Don’t oversell your solution. This one is a personal pet peeve of mine. Do not breathlessly tell your online media friends that your solutions story “Will save the Earth!” While your solution story may be incredibly meaningful, compelling, and life-changing in some way, stick to the actual reach and scope of your solution. The Internet generally doesn’t have time for your overdone story, so whoever is reading your pitch won’t, either.
  6. Make it easy to share. Where do you think your online media pals are most likely to share the stories they write? Online, yes? Make it easy for them; include sample tweets (far enough under 140 characters that they can insert a shortened link) and sample Facebook shares (with an image that’s 600 pixels wide) so that it’s all ready to go. And do your part to help promote the story when it comes out.
  7. If all else fails, tell it yourself. New technology like Photosnack, and Vine and Instagram video have made it easier than ever before for nonprofits to produce their own online media.

Looking for a good example of solutions stories online? Check out YES! magazine. They really have a good feel for telling inspiring, positive stories without getting schmaltzy. And I’m not the only one who thinks so – they just won a 2013 Utne Media Award for General Excellence. So think like they do, and the next time you have a good solutions story, remember, Yes! You can package it for online media.

P.S. A recent study written up in the New York Times found that good news is more likely to be shared online.

–Collin Dunn, Digital Campaign Coordinator