It’s hard to believe that 2023 is the sixth year of The Social Story’s narrative. And this has been the craziest chapter yet. After what feels like a few false starts and complete wipeouts through the pandemic, this is the year that showed us the peek of what I wanted to create – a business that changed the way we thought about advertising, a business that could change the way that contributed to the world in positive ways and a business that would let me live by my values.

Looking back at the year, I cannot believe what we’ve been able to achieve. And I’d be remiss not to take this moment to acknowledge this incredible chapter and show thanks to the people who have cowritten it with us. So here we go. Let’s recap the rollercoaster that was 2023 for The Social Story.

Sharing the Impact of our Clients

We’re so proud of the work with our clients have done this year. They are the bread and butter of what we do. Working with people who have a vision for creating change and actually publicising the good work that they’re doing is the basis for why we exist. Just some of the highlights have been:

  • TreadLightly reached their goal 1 million shoes recycled
  • Our longest-held partner, BB Events have continued to spread their influence as an impact-driven events business in San Francisco, changing the way that events can create social impact through sustainable, diverse and inclusive initiatives
  • ICAA have launched two reports in their Roadmap to Zero project and launched an innovative project CollaborateOre to make information about creating zero-emission mines more accessible to all
  • We got to see the work of our clients, Heard Storytelling in person when they also delivered their storytelling workshop to our own team, helping us embrace our personal stories and use that as a connect as a globally dispersed team
  • We helped Multicultural Leadership Initiative refine their branding and messaging to bring more multicultural networks into the climate discussions and create person-led change to save the planet
  • Rebel Sport supported the incredible legends, the Matildas and promote women’s health and wellbeing through sport
  • We even got to host the book launch of our friend, Bianca Caruana for her memoir, Soul Truth

Through it all, we’ve remained true to the work that we do as a company, right down to a single Instagram post, to ensure the content we create is accessible, diverse and adding value. The storytelling we get to do with our clients reminds us of the power of social media to actually fill our feeds with good stories and inspire people to go after positive change themselves.

But social media continues to change and evolve. So it’s up to us to continue learning and thinking critically about the ways that we can take our mission further. That’s why we attended conferences that helped us connect with the advertising industry and the social enterprise ecosystem. That included:

  • the inaugural SXSW Sydney
  • Humankind Sydney for changemakers and visionaries
  • Marketing Live
  • Purpose Conference
  • Girls In Tech Conference

Each event allowed us to challenge our way of thinking and feel excited about the innovation and creativity we can bring to our work.

Maximising Our Impact

We always wanted to be a business for good but what that looked like came into focus this year. We formalised the ways that purpose is ingrained in our business and formed key partnerships with organisations to help us take that further:

  • We became a Social Traders verified social enterprise
  • We also became globally recognised with the Social Enterprise World Forum
  • We were listed on the directories of Tidal Pages and Good Market as a business for good
  • We became a friend of the Fair Trade Association of Australia and New Zealand (FTAANZ)
  • We became a member of SECNA (Social Enterprise Council of NSW/ACT) and helped them put on their first Social Enterprise Festival and a few of their monthly meet-ups to support social enterprises in our home state
  • We signed the Clean Creatives pledge to not work with any clients in the fossil fuel industry
  • We continued our partnership with the Impact Collab through their evolution to become a fantastic group of purpose-driven founders
  • We worked with Buy 1 Give 1 to ingrain giving through our business activities including donating towards their projects through every workshop we present, every worksheet that is downloaded from our site and more
  • We partnered with Avenue Coworking to train people with disabilities in content creation and shared the content they worked on through our socials
  • We switched our bank to Bank Australia to ensure that our financials also don’t contribute to fossil fuel industries alongside our chosen providers for superannuation and mobile phone service.

These initiatives have shown us the way that even an advertising agency can be a force for good. And these partnerships have continued to inspire us for more ways that every business decision we make can be better. Read more about our impact here.

Strengthening Our Team

One of the first things I realised as a business owner was to recognise my weaknesses and surround myself with people who could work in their zones of genius to make our business better. This team have allowed me to grow beyond the levels that I could have ever imagined. This year saw us:

  • Bring on our content creating extraordinaire, Jess as a full-time employee
  • Supported Jess in learning about Climate Leadership with an RMIT course
  • Collaborated with Admin and Co and Collab Teams to relieve the stress and workload of our business
  • Worked with incredible contractors in their specialised fields, including Sophie, Joey, Tenielle, Haley and Lara

As much as remote work has been a pinnacle of our work, and has allowed us to work with experts scattered around the world, it was a distinct pleasure to be able to meet some of them in person, including our long term collaborators and now, employee, Sophie and Jess. Even better, to see our clients, Heard Storytelling in person too out in Manchester. Seeing these passionate people who have signed up to the mission of The Social Story and helped us take it even further made me so grateful.

Sharing Our Work

I constantly battle with peers and clients who think that social media is easy. And it isn’t in a lot of ways. It takes insane passion to want to pursue a career in a relentless industry. You see the worst of the internet, get surprised with Elon Musk suddenly buying one of the platforms or another new one popping up with no advance warning and are expected to be an expert. Or you’re combatting people who think your job is just so easy because their engagement announcement on their personal page got hundreds of likes so how hard would it be to make your brand post go viral?

But being an expert in social media isn’t the same as being a phd either. There’s no way to get a phd in social when it is still a new and ever-evolving field. Every day, you’re having to face the next challenge and think about how to break through.

  • We did workshops on social media for good for Campaign Del Mar, Welcome Merchant and Impact Collab
  • We spoke on a panel with our marketing heroes on Social Traders’ Business For Good Summit
  • We spoke at Hornsby Girls’ High School Zonta Breakfast on behalf of our clients, Raise Our Voice Australia, on how young women and non-binary people can use their voices for good
  • We hosted a Careers With Purpose event with The Millennial Crisis
  • We mentored for students in Pillar Initiative, Rare Birds and LGBTQIA+ organisations through our work with Pride By Side to empower the next generation of storytellers and changemakers
  • We launched new resources to make our resources more accesible including our Cultural Calendar, Story Activation workbook and Strategy Template

There is no point in gatekeeping what we know about social media. In fact, the more that we can help everyone better understand social media, the more they can embrace the power of the platforms to make it a place of good.

Telling Our Story

One of the first things that inspired me on the journey to The Social Story was talking about my experience when I quit my corporate job. I actually kept up a blog consistently, posting weekly my reflections on the corporate detox and discovering the digital nomad world. And people responded. I kept hearing from high school friends, corporate connections and even clients and old bosses about how they were reading what I was writing and resonating with it.

That was the moment where I realised that by being honest and authentic was not only cathartic for me but helping others as well. When I conceived this business, I knew I had to put storytelling at the centre of it. It’s not only the most effective marketing tool – particularly in a crowded field like social media – but also to inspire change in the world. As much as we tell the stories of our clients, I wanted to be telling the story of our business as well.

And my gosh did we do that this year. Not only did our business get to take centre stage in many avenues, I got to share my personal story and redicsover the most important parts of it. This was the year I fully embraced the ways my cultural upbringing as a Chinese Australian came to its fruition and I became less afraid of showing up as exactly who I am.

That resulted in:

  • Getting honoured in the AA122 List from the Asian Australian Alliance
  • Being shortlisted in the B&T 30 Under 30: Entrepreneur awards
  • WINNING silver at the Next of the Best awards for the inaugural Mediaweek awards
  • Being featured in the mini documentary by Photolab Media, Beyond Gender to talk about our journey as an Asian Australian entrepreneur
  • Appearing on the podcasts for The Personhood, Bold Creatives
  • Having a case study written about us for our work with Sked Social
  • Sharing our story in Canvas Rebels, WOC Founders Network, Quiet Achievers, Ausprenenur and Mavens
  • Sharing our personal story for Team 20’s with Generation Women

And crazily enough, we were even the cover story of Mavens second annual issue of their print magazine. See all of our coverage here.

These all seem like glossy, absolutely insane perks of the job. And it still feels so surreal that these happened – let alone all in the same year. I’m humbled that my parents are still so excited, having my cover photo up in the house and getting me to sign the magazine to give to their friends.

But the most rewarding thing is that my story is out there. All the good and the bad. All the things that I want to be changing about the world. All the values that I wanted to upheld when I left my job to pursue this life of craziness. I never saw this as brave. I saw this as a necessity to make me happy. I still feel like this journey just fell upon me over a course of crazy coincidences and being in the right place at the right time. And so all I can be is grateful that it all happened.

Taking Care of Us

The quote that sticks most in my mind this year is from Nigel in Devil Wears Prada when he says, “Let me know when your whole life goes up in smoke. Means it’s time for a promotion.” This year, my version is ‘let me know when your mental health is in the shits. Means your business looks like it’s going brilliantly.’

Running a small business, a social enterprise and a business that works in the neverending grind of social media all in one is exhausting. Decisions need to be made at every point and yet, I’m always trying to make the best, most impactful one. I feel like I can never take a break. I am drowning. It’s the scariest thing to be saying this, but I have struggled so much this year.

But when we are trying to create something that is going to change the game in both business and in advertising that I haven’t seen before, it’s not surprising that it’s difficult in a way that I could never image.

I’ve had to indulge my personal passions in dance, art and travel to help me unwind from the stresses of what we do. And I’ve been increasingly honest with my team about my need to put my mental health first.

Bringing on our team members and taking time out for my mental health (and allowing that with my team) are all steps to allow us to be in the best environment to succeed.

Striving For More

So what does 2024 look like? All that we’ve been able to achieve this year has only widened my visions for what we could look like moving forward, and particularly in the new year.

  • I want to consolidate the foundations of our business to continue taking care of ourselves while we do the best work for our clients.
  • I want to look at ways that we can be a leader in the advertising industry to create more purposeful creatives
  • I want to open our expertise to more purpose-driven brands both in our full advertising services and the resources and workshops that we provide
  • I want to learn more about the social enterprise network and the creative ways that they are addressing the needs of our community
  • I want to find more ways that advertising can help the climate movement gain greater momentum and make it impossible to ignore the critical actions we need to take to build a future-proofed, green economy
  • I want to continue supporting our team to strive towards more and be leaders in their own right
  • I want to achieve greater balance for myself and be able to focus my energies on making The Social Story an even greater force for good

These may seem as lofty visions for the new year. But when you’ve gone through a 2023 like we just had and achieved things I never thought possible, well why can’t we dream big. I’m feeling optimistic about what this next year could bring and please follow our story on our socials or get in touch with us directly about how we can maximise your impact.