“Once Upon a Time”: Storytelling and Nostalgia

This summer, Canadian Public Relations Society – Vancouver Island (CPRS-VI), went on the road with a #socialmediaroadtrip campaign.

CPRS-VI members and other public relations/communications pros shared their social media tips on messaging, relevance, and more.

By chance, I was traveling in Upstate New York when this initiative launched, which got me thinking even more about what a social media road trip means.

The same day that I shared my tip for the campaign, I had spent my first day exploring Syracuse, New York.

I walked through the heritage district downtown and explored the grand old landmark hotel, finishing off with a little shopping.

I posted my photos along with accompanying historic details on Twitter and Instagram, both of which I use as part of my professional branding, and hoped that both history-inclined followers and those people who perhaps don’t regularly consider the past might join me on my travels.

The results were both unexpected and delightful, and provided some real insight into the idea of storytelling in social media. While I had anticipated that the posts on the beautiful heritage hotel might be the most popular, it was the one photograph taken at the local super mall that garnered the most attention by far.

While the other images showed ornate details of beautiful old buildings, the photo from the mall was actually quite simple. It was a carousel. That’s it!

But when I went back through them later, I realized that of my posts, it was the carousel that told the best story.

As Tania Lombrozo points out in her June 2016 article:

Even in science, we seek explanations, not mere descriptions; in history, we want a good narrative, not a mere sequence of events.

The carousel had, in its time, been on a number of road trips of its own and had quite the story to tell.

Beyond its story, the carousel had a strong nostalgic appeal. The majority of people who reacted to the photo did not have an obvious connection with the history field. They were, it seemed, millennials whose own posts focused on fashion.

While it may have been the tagging of the mall that brought them to the image initially, I believe that the emotional response to the carousel, which likely evoked memories of childhood, was the driving force for the likes and comments such as “Made my day” and “This is wonderful :)”.

I’ve seen this type of reaction to old photos before in my work as an Archives Specialist with the District of Saanich, Vancouver Island’s largest municipality.

Saanich Archives photographs of the old Wooded Wonderland attraction have been some of the most shared by the public – by people who have fond memories of visiting as a child and easily fall into reminiscing with their peers. The Facebook group Old Victoria BC, a hub for this type of sharing, boasts over 15,000 members — a testament to the influence of memory, and remembering with others. Nostalgia is a powerful thing.

As an archives professional with a focus on communications, stories and nostalgia are a fundamental part of what I do. In fact, the origin of the words “history” and “story” are inexorably linked, as recently outlined in a Time Magazine article by Katy Steinmetz:

[…] the term history has evolved from an ancient Greek verb that means ‘to know’ […]. The Greek word historia originally meant inquiry, the act of seeking knowledge, as well as the knowledge that results from inquiry. And from there it’s a short jump to the accounts of events that a person might put together from making inquiries — what we might call stories.

I look for history everywhere. I want to peel back layers of time and learn more about the places I go — and then share that knowledge with anyone who wants to join that exploration.

This is the same approach that I take with every archival document and photograph that I am lucky enough to have pass through my hands.

Every organization has stories to share if you take the time to look for them. The content to take followers on a #socialmediaroadtrip does not have to come from a great distance, or be complicated. It does not even need to be long. Just remember the elements of your favourite childhood bedtime story: Beginning, emotional connection, middle, maybe a twist. And of course, The End

By Sonia Nicholson, CPRS-VI Board Director and Archivist

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