Creating Digital Connections
21 October 2015 at 10:49 am
The irony of the digital world is that people are more connected than ever, yet social isolation is a growing concern. But an innovative storytelling platform is using technology to solve this problem, writes Ellie Cooper in this week’s Spotlight on Social Enterprise.
StoryPod is a social enterprise that encourages people to record their experiences and opinions, in video booths at public events or through an app on their smart phones, that can then be uploaded and shared in an online community.
“The art of storytelling has been around since the fire,” creator Sophie Weldon said.
Through StoryPod Weldon has set out to use, “the digital age… to reposition an age-old art that is really a powerful way of connecting us and making us feel heard and valued.”
On Saturday we launched our first pop-up video booth at Federation Square. Young and old recorded their ideas for a better Australia and their stories of a time they stood up for something they believed in. Some people felt emotional about sharing, some were extremely happy and grateful for the opportunity and others were both surprised and intrigued by the presence of a story capturing pod in the middle of the city. Overall the people who recorded felt like they mattered. And that's what I call a success. If you recorded your story on the day and you want a copy of the video, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted by Storypod on Monday, 28 September 2015
“We are really disconnected from each other, so actually using platforms that are in public spaces and arenas hopefully will enable people to drop into what’s real with other people, and using that as a platform to not only touch the people you’re with in your local community but that story might inspire somebody on the other side of the earth,” she said.
“StoryPod is about celebrating everyone’s unique story and giving people the platform to be heard, because every story matters.”
Weldon first became interested capturing stories years before the idea for StoryPod was conceived.
“I was first inspired by the power of stories after listening to a refugee story when I was 14,” she said.
“And then later I was continually inspired by the power of stories to elicit positive emotions and inspire people to act in support of different issues so I ended up going to film school to keep exploring this idea.”
Weldon attended the Australian Film, Television and Radio School in Sydney where she researched and trialled different recording methods, including documentary, before deciding to let people take control.
“It was there that I developed a prototype for a video booth and received so many different interests from people who also felt compelled by the idea of capturing personal stories,” she said.
“We’re also in the development of creating an app people can use on their phones as well.
“We want to really elicit people’s personal responses, particularly in public spaces, whether they’re going to an event or in their local community.”
Weldon is working with Deakin University to build an algorithm that will synthesise the story themes and ideas once they are uploaded into a library to connect people with similar interests.
Eventually she wants to create the world’s first story search engine, “like Google but just for stories, where you can type in any keyword, location, theme, idea, event and all the stories from that pop-up.”
“In a world of information overload, what if we could go to one platform to find something meaningful?
“They’re micro-stories, most of them will be under five minutes so they’re actually enough for people, in a world of saturated content, to watch and engage with online.”
However, Weldon said there’s also the option for people to keep their recording private, and use it for for family or personal history.
The business-side of the social enterprise generates income through hiring out the StoryPod video booths.
“We’re a hybrid social business so a lot of our business activities, the hire and sale of the story pods, will ensure we have enough revenue to keep developing our community activities,” she said.
“It’s definitely an evolution and I’m still learning about the business model as we continue to pilot, but the for-profit arm is set up as a proprietary limited company so we can continue trading as an enterprise and hire out the pods to councils, NGOs, festivals and businesses.
“It’s amazing the organic marketing that’s happened, I haven’t done any marketing to date but festivals, councils and museums, even big multinationals have contacted me interested.
“Obviously it’s touching on something relevant to people, that people not only want to capture stories but also opinions and ideas of their community, so rather than people being sold to, they’re actually being engaged with authentically.”
Coming from the social sector, Weldon said the greatest challenge in developing a social enterprise was the business operation.
“Ever since I was young I’ve had a real social heart and I’ve tried so many ways to find a home for that. I’ve worked for Oxfam Australia, I’ve worked for Foundation of Young Australians, and the Global Peace Index, and I was trying to learn and absorb the skills needed to start something from scratch and make it operational,” she said.
“But what I didn’t gain in that time were really the business skills, the financial acumen, the assertiveness sometimes needed in really difficult business conversations and figuring out all the different elements to getting something to market.”
Weldon also had to change the way she thought about business when she moved out of the Not for Profit sector.
“We’re also at the cutting edge of re-visualising capitalism… business can be a force for good. I don’t have to feel guilty for making money,” she said.
“I had this idea that I keep having to add more and more social value rather than let what we’re doing be enough, but actually, what we’re doing will create social value and it will also be a sustainable business and that’s good, and I shouldn’t feel guilty for that.”
Weldon said the social arm of the enterprise will primarily use the app, expected to be released next year, that gives users “story-starter” prompts and is set to a timer.
“The app will be more of our social strategy. So rather than that happening in the private booth, that will happen with a face-to-face connection where someone has it on their phone and it prompts the key story-starter questions and enables people to customise their own,” she said.
“That will be a free app that we also support communities to implement because you also have to connect people before you share the stories, and that’s where my passion really lies – in reducing the isolation by finding really great ways to connect people in communities.”
Weldon trialled the story-starter questions “what is your idea for a better Australia?" and “what is a story of a time you stood up for something you believed in?” when StoryPod launched at the Unleashed Festival at Federation Square.
“This one woman, in front of the camera, got out this necklace which was made from soy sauce fish and she said she’s so passionate about sustainability and she stood up for environment and she’s now creating these necklaces made out of soy sauce fish,” she said.
“It was just amazing creativity and individuality, and you wouldn’t know someone stood up for that… but once you’ve asked the right question it’s amazing what the community responds with.
“There’s an art of storytelling and asking the right questions and we hope to do that in a really authentic way to show that everyone has a story to tell, you don’t have to have necessarily an extraordinary, crazy life – you’re just human.”