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One of the prerequisites to being able to share authentic stories is the ability to build relationships.
Sometimes those relationships are very short term. Sometimes they just appear short term. Many are long term – for better or worse.
One thing is clear: People share stories with other people when:
- they have a relationship with them.
- they like them.
- the other person can help them or do something for them when a story is shared.
Think about your network. Who do you share your stories with? I’m not even talking about secrets that you’d only share with close confidants. I’m talking about the routine kind of stories that happen in our lives. Who do we share them with? The people we like and trust. Sometimes, we share stories with people we want to build relationships with.
Content marketers, (brand) journalists and other storytellers need relationships to share meaningful stories. How do we establish this relationship?
- Ask somebody the person whose story you’d like to share knows and trusts to make the introduction. If they can talk you up positively, that would be the best.
- Be nice. Smile. Make the interview a conversation. Interviews, when not handled right, can feel like an interrogation. That won’t help build a relationship.
- Respond to the person’s concerns and questions. This is not a one-way street. Many people would like to read the story about them before it’s published. I see very little problem with allowing this. You might want to send a message with the story: “Thanks for talking to me. Here’s a draft of the story. Please let me know if I mixed up any facts. I’m planning on publishing this on …”
- Ask insightful and interested questions. Truly care about the story. It will show. So will if you don’t.
Depending on who the interviewee is you may never see him or her again. This was a short relationship, you might think. But was it? Probably not. People continue to talk about experiences and even short-term encounters. Chances are that this was a positive or negative experience to the person. Either way, it will be remembered one way or another and potentially retold to others.
Here’s an example: I worked as an intern at an Iowa newspaper in 2001. Apparently, I interviewed a local college’s public relations official. I don’t remember it. She didn’t like how the article turned out, called my boss and now had one impression about me. My editor smoothed things over, this PR person told me 13 years later.
She also told me that she didn’t like how things turned out then. This was one of the first things she shared with me when we worked together on a new project in 2013. The new project turned out great and we had a lot of fun and learned a lot together.
Whether we know it or not we leave impressions – good or bad – on people.
Relationships also open doors to stories.
Back in the mid-2000s I worked as a public safety reporter and tried to interview the last murderer who received the federal death penalty for crimes committed in Iowa (as of May 2014). I tried to interview him in jail, but jail staff told me “no.” Access by the public was restricted.
I did talk to some more law enforcement officials, asking about the possibility to interview him. Eventually, I was offered the opportunity to meet with him for 15 minutes in a small holding cell at the courthouse. If he agreed, that is.
This door opened because of existing positive – or at least mutually respected – relationships between law enforcement and myself.
When my 15 minutes arrived, it was time to make my pitch. Would he talk to me? He did end up answering some questions, I wrote an article about it, it ran in the paper the next day and did a TV interview about the experience.
Why did he talk to me? I think I didn’t ask, but chances are he didn’t mind getting his story out there through me.
And while most of us content marketers, (brand) journalists and other storytellers won’t have to interview murderers, relationships are an important part of the storytelling process.
When positive and trusting relationships are non-existent, so might be the stories.