Top ten ways to drive social conversation through content featuring Freeform

Simon Mainwaring / Brands / 9 years ago

The old adage goes, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it”. This has never been more true than in the days of social media. So how do you create effective content? How to you capture attention, engage hearts and minds and drive conversation. I’ve been getting this question a lot (and it was certainly a theme at SXSW). So I thought I’d answer it using examples.

In my mind no one does it better than Freeform, a purpose-driven media company in Los Angeles. I saw their work when I watched the film shot by Jesse Dylan for TED Prize winner, Karen Armstrong. What struck me was its tone. Jesse Dylan seemed to be uniquely able to communicate ideas in a way that moved people to take action. So here’s my list of what I think Freeform does that makes their work so effective.

1: FOCUS: All their films discuss topics through the lens of the recipient. Rather than simply talk about themselves, the brands involved inspire engagement and contribution from their listeners.

2: CONVERSATION: Their films are always conversational in nature without the attitude or airs of a self-important brand.

3: POSITIVITY: No matter how grave or pressing the subject, the films frame the conversation in terms of a positive and possible solution.

4. ELEVATION: Each film elevates the topic, speaker and listener enlisting them in a calling higher than themselves.

5. ECONOMY: Each film is realistic about consumer attention and intentions. People do want to do good but you must capture their attention and motivate them quickly if you want to be effective.

6. SELFLESSNESS: Neither the interviewer nor interviewee ever overwhelms the subject. It’s always the message that matters most.

7. AUTHENTICITY: The viewer is left in no doubt as to the commitment of everyone involved. That passion is contagious.

8. REALITY: The films lead with the issue rather than relying on special effects. The presumption is that the solution and intelligent discussion around it are compelling enough.

9. SINGULARITY: Each film is a distillation of a complex problem into a simple idea expressed in emotional terms.

10. BALANCE: The films strike a critical but difficult balance between engaging the mind and moving the heart.

These qualities have always been essential parts of powerful storytelling but now that consumers are distributors, the ability to inspire and drive conversation is more critical than ever.

What are your thoughts? What else do you think is critical to creating content that changes public opinion, behavior or buying habits?


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  1. Wow, Simon.

    Congratulations on keeping your standard of content so relevant and so high. It's very motivating. Thank you for this reference post.

    I will review it a couple more times and probably come back to you with specific questions.

    Best to you, Robin 😉

  2. My pleasure and I'm glad it's useful. I'm a huge admirer of their work and contribution to social change. It's a subtle balance Jesse Dylan achieves but it makes all the difference. Hope you are well, Simon

  3. Avatar geekygirlaustin says:

    Wow. I think this is my second favorite post (after the one about your daughter's Christmas-time-stuffed-animal-adventure). Those videos are amazing. As to the question you posed in closing, I guess I would say the ways content is created or the types that are created to compel change depend on what you are trying to change. When I first read this, I went immediately to the idea that changing buying habits required radically different content than that needed for changing public opinion, for example. The more I think about it, though, I'm not sure that's entirely true, especially if the buying habits you want to change are for socially good or environmental reasons (a la Nestle and their use of palm oil). With that said, to some degree, doesn't the content need to also let the audience know what's in it for them? We've all got very short attention spans these days (mine runs at about 140 characters…j/k) and limited space on our plates, so I think you have to really point out what benefit they'll realize from consuming your content.

    The other distinction to make is whether your content is to drive conversation or drive action. I'd suggest that driving folks to action requires a few different things. Chief among them, how to get involved.

  4. Hi there and thanks so much. Yes, I agree. I think buying habits will increasingly be informed by value propositions – not monetary value – but the moral values expressed and demonstrated by a brand. When you do that its implicit what's in it for the audience because those values are framed around the greater good. It's simple in some ways. As soon as you start from the desire for everyone's well-being and not just your own, brand messaging becomes instantly meaningful. As for action, yes, I agree. I'm a big fan of platforms that let you take action right then and there when you have someone attention and more and more embedded action platforms are being built around the semantic web every day. But normally you have to visit a website to do something and you see that at the end of each of these videos. Thanks for the great thoughts and hope all is well, simon

  5. Avatar Iconic88 says:

    Thanks Simon for another wonderful post.

    I'll add EMPATHY to this list. This is the ability to genuinely experience and share another person's emotions and feelings. It is the glue for connecting and understanding people. Empathy includes, compassion, kindness, respect and benevolence.

    Take care,

  6. Definitely and Thanks. Freeform truly allows each of us to recognize ourselves in each other fostering empathy. I definitely agree its critical to that list. When you get all that right, there's nothing we can't do. Best, simon