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In Their Own Words: The making of a small business audio series

For small businesses, 2020 has brought previously unimaginable challenges, new operating models, and new perspectives. We created a space for Square sellers to share their experiences honestly—the good and the bad.

A lot of the creative work at Square serves a functional purpose. We often need to show how products work and how they help business owners in concrete ways. Perhaps now more than ever, we feel compelled to put individual Square sellers at the center of the stories we tell. These days, it isn’t about business as usual.

Inspiration

The Audio Stories project grew out of a desire to create a community for business owners to learn from and lean on each other, while facing unprecedented challenges brought on by a global pandemic.

The goal was to elevate the voices of independent business owners who are charting their own paths and allow their stories to generate empathy, inspiration, and affirmation of the tumultuous and triumphant experiences they face.

As creatives, our intention was to present these stories as simply as possible. Their perspectives generate empathy, inspiration, and affirmation on their own. We wanted to publish a series that would engage our audience but not distract from each storyteller’s message.

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Creative

We used lo-fi visuals to keep the focus on the business owners. The use of black and white and minimal design elements allowed the stories to come across without any manipulation of the mood. The black- and- white palette also allowed the stories to evoke a spectrum of emotions — some hopeful and others more somber. The uniform look and feel meant we didn’t have to to adjust design based on the direction of a particular story.

Featured Square sellers from around the country

Since the original intention was for these stories to live on Square’s social channels, we set a 60-second limit on duration. That way, each story could be viewed as a single post on Instagram — no swiping required.

We also needed to visualize the fact that these were audio clips on Instagram, a platform that automatically mutes sound. We used the soundwave visual as a call to action to turn sound on and also as a visual reminder that these conversations took place over the phone with real people.

We added a pick-up and hang-up sound to the start and end of each recording to reinforce the phone call dynamic. We also made a conscious decision not to add music so as not to impose a vibe or feeling.

Looking ahead

We have already begun to see an evolution of the original audio series. It serves as the foundation for Square’s upcoming brand campaign, which features real business owners telling their stories, accompanied by photography and light animation. We will broadcast that work on television, radio, Square’s social media pages, and on a custom web page.

One video in the series features Andrew Mora of El Juicebar in San Antonio, Texas. Check out all the stories here.

We also use the same audio series format to feature the stories of Black business owners keen to share their perspectives and experiences in the weeks following the unjust killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the ramping up of Black Lives Matter demonstrations nationwide.

The audio series will continue to evolve. It’s proven to be an effective and scalable medium, allowing people to connect with business owners from a variety of industries across the country. We will continue to elevate the voices of Square sellers to highlight their stories and their impact on their local communities.