A Small Shop takes on Digital Storytelling

Posted By: Theresa Nguyen-Gillen Catholic Media Blog, The Catholic Journalist,

Although Lent is typically the time for most people to take a break from social media, the opposite is true for my team at Glenmary Home Missioners. We are working full steam ahead on two new multimedia projects to launch in the coming months on our social media and website: one series featuring stories from our missions and another centered on Glenmary’s relationship with the Eucharist.

Our Mission

Glenmary Home Missioners is a society of priests and brothers who bring the Church to the rural South and Appalachia. Our Communications & Marketing team of five is tasked with communicating this mission to a national audience.

Our team is small but mighty. The reorganization of the department last year brought me, Laney Blevins, and, for a day a week, Glenmary Brother Corey Soignier to the team. We joined Omar Cabrera and John Feister, who were already building on our former Communications Director’s groundwork for a multimedia approach in marketing. 

Laney, Omar, and John are devoted primarily to print projects, with social media often taking a backseat. That’s why I was brought in: to focus on Glenmary’s social media presence. Writing and photography for our quarterly magazine are also part of my responsibilities, but our leadership recognized that having a dedicated person to focus on digital first is essential to exponentially growing our footprint.

It helps, as you know, to have a leader that is not only receptive to digital marketing, but also encourages it. The executive council at Glenmary is supportive of our efforts, often starring in live Facebook videos, writing reflections for our daily email feature, and sharing photos of the work that is being done. But most importantly, our team director, John, is a champion of digital.

The Plan

One of the efforts has been to build a daily feed, that we deliver for free to a growing email list. It’s no small task, but it builds and maintains the kind of loyalty that we’ve depended on Glenmary Challenge and infrequent emails to maintain in the past. 

It started out as a weekly feature on missionary saints, but it didn’t gain traction. We went back to the drawing board and developed a daily email reflection, available in English and in Spanish. It now has over 3,300 subscribers and an average of a 55% open rate. We recruit members of the Glenmary family—priests, brothers, a Sister, lay coworkers—to write the daily reflections. It gives our audience a chance to meet or reconnect with our missioners and frees our communications team from having to create all the content ourselves.

Another effort has been to expand our video offerings. One of our basement (soundproof) offices became a shared space for video shoots and ultimately kicked out its occupant as the concept was proven to the larger organization. A private donor allowed us to upgrade our equipment to a modest professional quality. Slowly but surely, the results proved that our audience enjoyed storytelling through video, first from our website and now across our social media platforms. This set the tone for our team to brainstorm and refine our own project ideas.

Brother Corey, with his background in theater production and training in videography, works on our team part-time as a field videographer to film on-site in the missions. We adapt his field work into a final product with the help of Katie Rutter, the 2023 Cardinal Foley Award winner, at Hundredfold Video. 

A series Brother Corey is creating, to be published as one-minute videos, has become a vital piece of our campaign on the Eucharistic Revival. We hired Hundredfold Video to produce a video on Glenmary and the Eucharist, too. Katie and company created a series of videos for us two years ago that won a Gabriel Award. We feature all of that video across our digital platforms: Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Glenmary.org.

Our newest venture is to create reels based on stories we’re using in print. The idea was born out of a frustration. Our team produces the Glenmary Challenge, a quarterly magazine that has been in publication for 86 years. We spend countless hours pitching ideas, traveling to the missions, and crafting the story. Nothing communicates our mission better than these stories: our little parish in North Carolina that is now packed wall-to-wall with parishioners, our mission in East Tennessee that saw food insecurity in their neighbors and partnered with organizations to provide free food, volunteers whose lives were changed forever after one visit to our Volunteer Program.

The frustration came in for me when these stories that we put our heart and soul into crafting were only being used for one Facebook post that received a one percent click rate. How could I get our story out there, to the people who didn’t see the first post, in a way that wasn’t spamming our audience with the same content for those who have already seen it?  

Adapting and growing

Thus came the idea of adapting our stories, already written with magazine-worthy photographs, into reels. When I plan social media, I often think about content I like to consume. And just like millions of other social media users, video is what catches my eye these days. It’s also a delight for me to feature my team’s work. We take 20 to 30 (or more!) photos for each story, but only a handful get chosen for the magazine. Creating reels gives new life to these photographs. 

It’s a win-win for us and our audience. The reels don’t require new videography; I use Premiere Pro to sequence existing photographs and video, then add graphics and music. We subscribe to Pond5 for rights-clear music. And our supporters benefit by receiving easily digestible 90-second bites that take them into our missions as much as our 800-word articles do. 

Taking a multimedia approach to our marketing strategy is a conscious effort on each of our parts. While we spend most of our days on our individual tasks, each member of my team incorporates their digital expertise into their work. Laney Blevins, our project manager, coordinates fresh and timely content for our YouTube channel and Glenmary.org. She films and edits Glenmarians on current topics like Advent reflections or how Ash Wednesday ashes are made or whatever else is timely. These videos are some of our top shared posts on social.

Omar Cabrera creates and manages our Spanish language communications. In addition to producing El Reto magazine and translating our daily reflections for his Spanish audience, he incorporates video, especially live video, on social media as often as he can. Some of that video starts with simple offerings from people in our missions.

I came from a one-person parish communications department. It’s a joy to work on a team that not only uses our talents to build the Kingdom, but also encourages one another toward excellence. Whether it’s producing the Challenge or coordinating our Giving Tuesday campaign, we don’t let the size of our team stop us from forging ahead, motivated to tell our story in new and better ways.

Theresa Nguyen-Gillen is an assistant editor for Glenmary Challenge and social media manager for Glenmary Home Missioners.

This story was adapted from the March 2024 issue of The Catholic Journalist