About Us Provides Opportunity to Tell Your Organization’s Story

I get very frustrated when Web sites either have no About Us page or have About Us pages that really reveal nothing. A classic case in point of a tell-nothing About Us page is Twitter’s. Now, I know what Twitter is, what it does. But I’d like the perspective of the folks who run it. How did it start? Where did the idea come from? What it Twitter’s story?

At the blog Buzz Canuck, Sean Moffitt writes:

“Search high and low and if you scan 100 websites, you’d be challenged to find one good story about the company or brand it supports. Even the good ones in my recent search, can hide themselves behind the trivial stuff. A good story should be there smack dab on the front page attracting you like a mosquito to the nightlight.”

The blog of Caterina, co-founder of Flickr (whose About page, by the way, is a fun bulleted list), turned me onto the story of Plum (“Plum is a free online service that lets you collect and share all of the cool, interesting, and important stuff in your digital life. We started Plum because we think that collecting and sharing on the web is really fun and useful — but much too difficult to do.”)

Curiously, the Plum story isn’t on its About Us page but is in its blog (by Hans Peter):

Plum was born because making it easier for people to capture their knowledge and share it with their communities could help make the world a better, more connected place.

For me, a personal story illustrates this. In 1999, my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and my siblings and I (at the time living in Anchorage, San Francisco, New York, and Oslo) sought information and insight. We used the web for research and email to share our findings with each other. Our research led us to become informed and armed with questions and even some suggestions as we discussed his condition and care with the doctors and our parents. I firmly believe that the information and knowledge we shared helped both extend my dad’s life and maximize the quality of his last days with us.

Two years later, a good friend emailed me. Her boyfriend’s dad had been diagnosed with the same cancer, and she remembered that we had done tons of research and wondered if I would share it with her. I pulled out my tweezers and went through my old email, but sadly was only able to recover a small amount of the information we had gathered. I would gladly have shared the collected information and resources we had pulled together with anyone who had an interest in the subject. But other than hand-crafting a personal web site to collect the links, the emails, and the additional notes we found and shared with each other, there was no simple way for me to do so. Our cumulative knowledge and information was lost.

The next time someone emails me to ask “do you still have the research you did on this topic?” I want to be able to simply point them to the collected information. One reason I jumped back into the startup world is because with Plum, such collected knowledge and information will be easy to make and keep accessible. We’re still evolving and refining the service, working to make it simpler than ever to collect and share all kinds of knowledge and information that we care about, stumble across, or need. I think this has the power to change the way we use the net, and I hope it will change the world, if even just a little bit.

The blog Geekpreneur has a nice, comprehensive piece on telling your organization’s story on your About us page, stressing that the story should stick in reader’s minds and “leave important messages in the listener’s memory.”

Somewhere in all these pieces about organizations telling their stories, I came across the Squidoo lens Arrowsmith Printing: Entreprenuership in Small Town Iowa in Mid /Century, which tells the wonderful, detailed story — complete with video — of a small family business. The profile of author Margo Arrowsmith provides a glimpse at the mentality that created this fascinating lens:

I was born into a small business, I believe that small business and entrepreneurs are the backbone of America and what has made us great. They are what made us great and will save us in these unsure times, when corporations are outsources to any place where the labor is cheap.

James Chartrand wrote in the article The Savvy Copywriter’s Advantage: Creative Storytelling on Copyblogger:

Entire websites can be stories too. The About Us page is a great place to start. The Home page of any site tells a story too (and if it doesn’t, it probably isn’t doing very well in the conversion department).

Each page leads a reader from one story to another:

  • Who these people are.
  • How these people can help.
  • Why you need these people.
  • Why you should buy.

Finally from a post at Jew Point 0 are some good questions for organizations to ask themselves as they attempt to tell their stories in About Us pages or otherwise:

  • In what ways does your online presence depict your organization’s story?
  • How does it reflect the diversity of your membership and its experiences?
  • What are the values, beliefs, and rituals projected in your online narrative?
  • How would someone new to your community — a new “reader” — interpret your organization’s story?
  • And in what ways can we facilitate connecting these stories to the larger, ever expanding, intricately interwoven community?