Digital Storytelling Strategies from White House Staff

Every once in while there comes a time in my life when I have to pinch myself to make sure the moment is real. Spending more than two hours talking blogs, social media, videos and photography with the White House Digital Strategy team was one of those moments!

As a winner of the Peace Corps Blog It Home contest I had the opportunity to travel to Peace Corps HQ in Washington D.C. for a week of press events, professional development, and a tour/ meeting at the White House. A recap of the week will come at a later date, but I just can’t hold off any longer on sharing all of the priceless advice on digital strategies that we learned at the White House.

Executive Offices at the White House Peace Corps Blog It HomeTo set the stage I would like to introduce you to the four amazing women we had a chance to chat with,

Selfie with Hope Hall Videographer for President ObamaHope Hall– President Obama’s Videographer since May 2011, documenting his day-to-day work and weekly pieces like “West Wing Week” and the weekly address. Before that she was a freelance documentary director & cinematographer based in New York City. Her films and cinematography have earned her a range of awards and residencies, including at Sundance.

Amanda Lucidon- Official White House Photographer, covering the President and First Lady. Before joining the White House in 2013, Lucidon worked as an independent photographer, filmmaker, and multimedia producer.

Kori SchulmanSpecial Assistant to the President and Deputy Chief Digital Officer of the new media team at the White House, now known as the Office of Digital Strategy.

Sarada Peri- President Obama’s Speechwriter, the only female one to be exact. She is also a Harvard grad and an incredibly inspiring feminist.

As you can imagine the room was alive with creative energy as we sat discussing our ideas about digital media!Meeting with White House Digital Strategy Staff Peace Corps Blog It Home

Without further ado my takeaways on creating more interesting digital content and becoming a better story teller from our roundtable at the White House.

The Top 2 Digital Strategies for Telling a Better Story:

  1. Meet people where they are.
  2. Connect to people with a purpose.

Photography Tips from Amanda Lucidon:

  1. Look for the candid moments before or after the main event, because that is when all of the natural interactions can be captured.
  2. Turn away from your subject while shooting to capture the reactions and emotions of the audience.
  3. Look to the edges of the scene and move around the room for a more interesting shot.
  4. Publicize your best shots, don’t give out too many photos or your best shots will be lost by the noise.
  5. A professional camera is not necessary, use the equipment available whether it be a phone or a DSLR to tell your unique story. Photography Tips from FLOTUS' White House Photographer Amanda

Videography Tips from Hope Hall:

  1. Obstacles = Source of Creativity, understand the ups and downs of your own interests and use those to your advantage.
  2. When a camera is brought out the tension of being a viewer of someone’s story adds energy… use it.
  3. Do not drop people in the middle, think about how to start the story. For example a plane landing or an opening image that lets the audience understand it is the beginning.
  4. Take a big event and focus in.
  5. Don’t be afraid to tell the story of the underdog.

Storytelling and Writing Tips from Sarada Peri:

  1. Read good writing to become a better writer.
  2. Think about what you sound like when you think out loud and use that unique voice.
  3. Write about your first encounters, blog posts will be more authentic when the emotion is fresh.
  4. Compare cultures and give the audience an inside look into the day-to-day life of your community. Use things like language lessons or social media takeovers to mix things up every now and then.
  5. If you experience writer’s block… Just start writing! Sarada shared that if we were to look back through The White House archives we would find numerous documents about her random thoughts during those moments of writer’s block.

Social Media Tips from Kori Schulman:

  1. Create surface area of the content to allow more points of entry by posting strategically to various platforms.
  2. Upload videos individually to each platform for better performance, Facebook likes it when you upload videos directly to Facebook etc.
  3. Use conversational language.
  4. Humanize the place and use “sugar posts” to gain an audience before important content is posted. For example, The White House will post a picture of the First Dog, a crowd favorite, before a post about an important political event in order to captivate their audience.
  5. Use social media to create a two-way conversation and look for people or platforms with aligned interests. Don’t start from scratch, be part of the bigger story and collaborate with other artists.   Digital Media Round Table with White House Staff Peace Corps Blog It Home

In short, my favorite piece of creative advice, “You live in a ‘walled city’ that no one else has access to; only you have the key to open the door. It is your tour and your story to tell. Be transparent about your interactions and capture the true human moments of your experience.”

View of the West Wing from the White House Executive Office Peace Corps Blog It Home

PS. No trip to the White House executive offices would be complete without a visit from FLOTUS’ Chief of Staff, Tina Tchen!! *Insert “is this real life” emoji*

Peace Corps Blog It Home Winners with Tina Tchen White House