Sowing Stories

By Leanne Thompson

On Saturday, March 3, Big Fag Press hosted Sowing Stories, a workshop in social media strategies for ethically engaged creatives by Kirsten Bradley of Milkwood Permaculture fame. The event sold out straight away and on the day an interesting bunch of people walked through the door. Along with KSCA members Alex, Laura, Lucas and Kim, were a couple of dozen participants, some from groups or businesses including NAVA, Frontyard, Lush and Feather and Bone. The common thread was a desire to build the social potential in communities and share actions that hinged on care, generosity and enthusiasm. Kirsten describes this energy as a wonderful sharing of ethical lives to invigorate connections.

Kirsten’s discussion was far ranging in all things that constituted online communication; from platforms, mission statements, time management, livelihoods and advocacy to technical details, big data, and conflict negotiation. There was a robust conversation about the knowledge present in the room regarding social media and Kirsten offered an enlightening glimpse into Milkwood’s remarkable achievement transforming from a farm into a ‘state of mind’ that is able to tap into an invisible but like-minded community.
Kirsten honed the morning’s dialogue down to some great insights and skills we could take away.
Words to savour are the linchpin for crafting a compelling blog which she holds central to any online communication. A website blog can act as a long term archive and also the hub from which you can schedule frequent updates and feeds to other platforms such as Facebook, twitter and u-tube creating an efficient use of time and energy. Creating clear, effective and delicious content is also the cornerstone of newsletters that offer a direct link to your community’s email inbox.

Beautiful visuals encourage your audience through the gate. Using the skills of a designer to create a great looking website and autonomous information/advertising panels will be enticing and really help easy navigation around your content and archive. A well framed image can boost text and is the key to great Instagram posts and Kirsten advised it was worthwhile to build up your photographic skills and always take lots of images while things are happening, it’s great for quick instant feeds and as a reminder and resource to draw on later.
Honest voices are inviting and real. Kirsten acknowledged that there are a few tensions present in negotiating the online terrain. Telling the story as a project unfolds will often straddle boundaries; between personal and professional, community and commercial and agreement and discord and she had some great insights about each.

Determining the voice to use before you begin will clarify parameters around personal narrative and objectivity from a project perspective. Is that thing you consider a fascinating intricacy to be explored in detail really that interesting to others or have you disappeared down the rabbit burrow?
Sharing the highs and lows along a project’s journey recognises that knowledge isn’t settled and processes can be open to experimentation and discussion. Kirsten spoke of authentic storytelling with little pretence, creating a flow in the journey that is engaging and avoids getting caught up in those eureka moments of success which lead to an definitive ‘this is how you do it’ attitude. This approach allows the story to zoom in and out between specific detail and general ideas.

A great strategy to get people talking can be to ask a really good question. If the question is well formed it can build a discussion that informs both your project and audience and means that you’re solving problems together. A good tip was to trial ideas and content on some trusted friends to test the water on potential responses before posting it online!
Milkwood’s activities also need to support Kirsten’s family and the crew involved. Her approach to an ethical and sustaining livelihood is to be upfront about their marketing and advertising. She promotes those activities as the deeper and hands-on engagements that lead on from the freely offered education, insight and advocacy.

Kirsten’s easy and approachable character infuses Milkwood’s online presence. It is understandable that she also transfers this approach to negotiating conflict when it pops up in a comment or conversation. She calls this a ‘non-defending’ style and said her aim was to model best practice as it was incredibly influential to the wider network. Her hint is to stay on your own page (don’t take the battle to other people’s pages where you don’t have control), be cool and look for something positive in the comment as an entry point to respond. Pushback can be positive, it shows that a raw nerve has been exposed and that tension can be useful to question if a concept is understood or to widen the discussion to consider different perspectives. Rather than unravelling, common threads and values are woven together through Kirsten’s considered negotiations and this in turn consolidates the Milkwood community.

The workshop was packed with information and strategies relevant to the community initiatives and ethical businesses present, fostering skills and a connective network for their projects. Big Fag Press was a great venue and Marnie’s morning tea both beautiful and delicious. Kirsten clearly pointed to the social potential of storytelling. Create a package that unfolds: if you can tempt others to look here with an intriguing tale, a chunk of research can be uncovered in the documentation of an activity, great photos make it visible, people are drawn into conversation and by having a go themselves, a bigger picture of alternatives comes into view, and then you have seeded a real community and growing resource.

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