Organizational storytelling: Should we check the background of people whose stories we are sharing?

Estimated read time: 4 minutes

Storytelling strategies can be full of reasons why not to publish something. In fact, if we want to find a reason to not publish a story that can be a super easy task:

  • We don’t have the time.
  • We don’t want to.
  • I’m not a good writer.
  • Somebody, somewhere may potentially be offended by something in the story. Maybe!
  • We don’t think our readers will care. 
  • We overthink the potential negatives

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There are likely other things and worries – many unfounded and unlikely to happen – that we can come up with to nix the publishing of a story. I’ve even seen stories that got killed because a leader didn’t like the story. It was even a good story.

I share personal stories and personal thoughts – usually related somehow to storytelling and content marketing – all the time on here. Rarely, do I share other people’s stories, but I have in the Spotlight section of this blog.

Other organizations rely heavily on sharing other people’s stories:

  • Nonprofits share stories of donors who are giving back and people whose lives were turned around after they used a nonprofit’s services.
  • Hospitals share patient stories.
  • Companies share employee stories.

Everyone has a goal:

  • Nonprofits – get more donations and make a bigger impact.
  • Hospitals – get more patients and make a bigger impact on population health.
  • Companies – Recruiting.

And stories help with those goals, but what if it turns out that the person whose story we just shared on our organizational channels had some problems in their past? Can that reflect negatively on our brand? How far should we go in checking out their past (or should we at all)?

Really, who hasn’t had problems in their past? Some people have had more serious problems, sure. Some people’s problems were documented more publicly. Others weren’t. Some people have now grown up on social media.

We can check into people’s past quickly now. We can:

  • Run their name through Google.
  • Run their name through sex offender registries.
  • Run their name through online court record systems.
  • Check their social media accounts.

There are probably other ways to check up on people. Perhaps, the easiest way – if we are worried about it – is to ask the person during the interview:

Is there anything in your past that could impact people’s perception of you (and us) when this story publishes?

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There certainly can be reasons why we wouldn’t want to publish somebody’s story. Examples could include:

  • The person is a registered child molester and the story involves children.
  • The person committed a certain kind of crime.
  • Their online brand is just questionable (though this can be a very weak excuse!).

And some of these stories and resulting further checking might uncover other problems. Let’s say a nonprofit was going to do a story on a volunteer who sits on a finance committee but was charged with financial fraud a few years ago. Should that person really be sitting on that committee? That could be an entirely different story and actually might need some organizational decision beyond storytelling. 

There are likely other reasons that you might consider for your own organization that would kill a story.

It’s OK to think through potential problems and even do additional research on people in our stories. But let’s not let it cause our storytelling initiative come to a complete stop. In general, let’s push for this:

Let’s not let the past dictate what stories will be shared in the future.

And besides, depending on what happened in somebody’s past, we might even want to mention it in the story. For example, let’s say a 40-year-old guy who had trouble as a youth and now helps youth in the community overcome similar struggles, is a fact that certainly would round out that story and make it an even better story.

So, like many other things in authentic storytelling content marketing, the answers aren’t clear cut and we can’t predict every possible scenario that may potentially happen. But, I hope, these guidelines and ideas give you a starting point.

If you have further questions about this topic or need strategic help, feel free to contact me here.

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