Use storytelling and fun to inspire action

Today I went to SoundDelivery’s third Social Media Exchange (#SMEX14) on storytelling.  Do check out the presentations, resources and links in the excellent Storify. There were so many useful tips and examples which will inspire you to share the stories at the heart of your organisation.

Sign: Stairs are slippery when wet. take Care

Matt Howarth of digital agency Reason Digital ran two excellent sessions on persuasion. He looked at how gamification and storytelling can be used as persuasive tool to encourage action or change attitudes or behaviour. You might not think that the two are related but think iHobo from De Paul (who incidentally have a stories section on their website – no mention of old fashioned case studies here).

Here are my top take-homes from today.

Make tasks fun

There are some brilliant examples of where fun has been injected into mundane activities such as the Swedish piano keyboard staircase (and other task transformations by TheFunTheory) and Zombies Run game. At Epping Forest there are speed bumps which play a tune when cars speed over them which only those on foot can enjoy.

In terms of our digital work, fun doesn’t have to mean producing a game or app. Do it on a small scale on your website – think of the Fetch button on the Dog’s Trust website or RSPCA’s oops error page.

Think about the transactions on your site. How can you make them less annoying and more fun? Are your forms too long and ask pointless questions? Do you use an illegible and frustrating CAPTCHA? Could you use a simple fun (and much more accessible) question instead?

Fun is memorable. Fun shows that you care about the user-experience. There is a fine line though between fun and wacky. Test out what works for you.

Use great stories

A great story is naturally persuasive as it should make the reader want to share it or do something about it. A good story can be enhanced or ruined in the telling. How you share it is the key. For example, does the story work in video / audio / photos? Where do you end the story? Who is telling it? How long is it?

Where and how often you share your stories is important. Oversharing means you will lose impact. Think about where your points of influence are. For example could you include a story on your donation thank you page or email?

Authenticity is persuasive and engaging (this is why The Listening Project conversations are so powerful). Hopefully the days of black and white, sad music, slow-motion, voice-over (poor John etc) charity videos are over. Hand over the voice to your users. Let them tell their own stories.

See my previous post on storytelling for examples of great charity storytelling.

Don’t be scared to make the ask

Sign up to YouTube’s NonProfit programme. This gives you lots of extra functionality including the ability to insert donation buttons into your videos. Don’t just stick it in at the end but test out where an ask is most powerful. This 1minute Orphans in Need video – You Haven’t Done Anything – has it at the start.

Make the ask easy and relevant – don’t just rely on the donation button at the top of the page. Insert an ask. If donations are unlikely or complicated, simplify it by asking for an email address and building from there. If you are using Twitter or SMS, ask for donations via TextGiving.

Go back to persuasion principles: include achievable goals, give rewards, make the ask urgent, tell them the benefit, make it social, help your story to spread. See more in my KnowHow NonProfit guide on how to be persuasive online.

Other fun / inspiring / interactive examples of persuasion

School makers: ‘Choose your own adventure’ style interactive video by SGOSS with children interviewing the viewer. (See this blog post by Torchbox for the thinking behind it)

SGOSS school children interview

Other examples

I’d love to hear of other examples of persuasive storytelling or fun interactions. Please share via comments here or via Twitter (@madlinsudn).

Please also get in touch if you’d like me to help you review your storytelling or think about how to make your interactions more engaging. I am a freelance web editor and can help you give your communications a healthcheck and ideas injection.


Make your errors useful

Error messages are so often given little thought when re-launching a website but actually they could be one of your most visited pages. It’s worth spending some time on them to get them right. Turn them into positive pages by making them sound like they were written by a person rather than automatically generated and making them useful, maybe even fun. Here are some examples of 404 (page not found) errors from big charities and companies.

404 – computer says no

No branding, robotic language (‘the requested resource has not been found’), assumption that it is the user’s fault (‘please ensure you have typed the address correctly’), no alternative links, this is a desperate, desperate place to find yourself. This charity’s error page could have been marginally worse if the heading had been in red.

The requested resource has not been found

A confusing error is sometimes worse. This example says error three times and gives a code which is meaningless to the user. We don’t know whether we are seeing this as a result of a technical problem or  a broken link? To ‘go back’ is the only option given.

error, error, error - repeated three times

Be helpful and approachable

WaterAid make it very clear what has happened (‘file or page not found’) and what they want you to do (email).
Page or file not found

Oxfam’s 404 works through some solutions (‘here are some tips which might help’) alongside a confused goat.

Oxfam - oops, sorry

The British Heart Foundation’s 404 starts with a sorry, has a please and lots of ideas for alternative destinations (presumably based on the most common interactions).

Lots of options on the BHF 404

Connect with your cause

RNLI’s error message connects the error to their strengths. They have a picture of a man looking through binoculars and text which says: ‘We’re sorry – we can’t seem to find the page you’re looking for. That’s a shame, as we’re usually quite good at navigation.’ Nice.

RNLI's we're usually quite good at navigation

Missing People’s 404 does something similar: ‘Page not found, neither is Thi Nguyen’ then full details about the missing person.

Page not found, neither is Thi

Add personality

Dog’s Trust have bags of personality online (see their brilliant fetch (rather than search) button). DT’s 404 page has a cute dog, friendly heading (‘Oops – this page isn’t here’) and a pointer to the site map and other links. Their technical fault is even better.

Error message from Dog's Trust - cute dog

Of course, animal charities have more potential to add personality / fun / cute pictures than say a health charity. Blue Cross say ‘Oooooops’ and have a snoozing cat. RSPCA say ‘Whoops’ and ‘Looks like a dog may have run off with that page. Sorry about that. Perhaps he’s buried the page out the back?’

A nice picture is a good way of brightening up an error page, even better if it’s of something relevant. Here, the BBC’s 404 page has gone retro with our old friend the clown dusted down from the 70s, now with 404 written on the chalk board – genius.

BBC error page - 1970s retro with clown

Lego’s 404 is just weird.

Lego gremlin pulling the plug

How do you match up?

Go check your error pages:

  • are they helpful?
  • do they generate a positive reaction?
  • could you add an image?
  • is the language clear and approachable?
  • are there clear links to get people back on track?

Think about what you can do to improve your user experience. Reward people for finding this ‘secret’ page rather than punishing them with an unhelpful, dull page.

While you’re there, check errors in forms. Are you nicely hand-holding to help people complete a purchase, enquiry or donation or SHOUTING AT THEM for making a mistake? (See previous post on donate forms for some examples.)

Want more?

If you need more inspiration for dull vs fun error messages, just do a search for 404 in google images or look at Wikipedia’s page on 404.


I looked at hundreds of charity error pages in the interests of research and these were the most inspiring I found. Please do share your tips and favourite examples (good and bad). Leave a comment, go on.