Assessment 3

Narrative story-telling in the age of Instagram

 

MECO 6936 – Social Media Communication Thursday 6-9pm

Kenton Webb – SID 198818274

Assignment 3 – Online article

Word count – 1385

 

Introduction

Kids don’t read Ulysses these days. No one does much. Joyce’s epic 700-plus page modern myth ranks lowest on the ‘Hawking Index’, an algorithm-driven calculator that trawls Amazon e-book reviews in order to determine whether a book was actually finished (Ellenberg 2014). The theory is, if all the reviews come from the beginning of the book, then it’s highly unlikely many people are bothering to finish it (Wolff-Mann 2016). Named after Stephen Hawking – who’s, ‘A brief history of time’ is, by comparison, un-put-downable – the ‘Hawking Index’ is full of ‘literary classics’ but decidedly short on blogs, tweets and Instagram posts.

Hawking Index - unread books

Image 1 – Some of the more popular unread books as calculated by the ‘Hawking Index’. Screengrab from http://time.com/money/4369192/ulysses-james-joyce-unread-book/

Serious topics deserve more than flippancy and catch-cries, however, and a meme-infested photo, or ‘snap’, does not encourage thoughtful discussion on complex issues. Such was the challenge in launching an Instagram campaign for SANE, a not-for-profit with a sensitive and nuanced narrative behind every individual connected with the organisation.

Narrative structure then and now

In western literature and film, the most common story form is the 3-Act structure.  In Act 1, characters and themes are introduced and the conflict or problem emerges (often called the inciting incident). Act 2 sees the main character seeking to engage with and solve the problem, which has turned out to be more complex than (s)he originally thought. In the final Act, the problem is solved but in an unexpected way. Crucially, in this classic structure the main character must learn something and be changed by their experiences in a positive way. (Johnson. Viewed online 2018)

3-act-structure

Image 2 – The classic three-act structure as it relates to film. Screengrab from http://www.writers-for-writers.com/2017/11/08/structure-lesson-2-three-act-structure/

Non-fiction too, particularly documentaries, often chooses to follow a 3-Act structure because audiences are accustomed to it (it feels familiar) and it works. We want to know how the main character will solve the issue and what they will learn. But Instagram, it doesn’t need to be said, doesn’t follow a 3-Act structure. Clearly there are other social media options – blogging would be the most obvious (Lipschultz 2018) – that better serve a complex narrative like that of SANE. Using Instagram presents, on the surface, an inherent conflict of type and capability. How can a so-called ‘Instagram campaign’ run for three months, as specifically required by the SANE brief?

Step by step via disposable social media

Changing perceptions takes time. In order for the SANE campaign to succeed, we knew we had to secure lasting interest and empathy and Instagram would have to serve as a window into a bigger narrative. We sought to achieve this in three inter-related ways.

  • Increasing complexity (Lipschultz 2018)
  • Strong use of symbolism – offering reassurance and empathetic reinforcement (Hutchinson 2017 & Lipschultz 2018)
  • Produsage (Bruns 2008)

Increasing complexity

The idea of ‘visual patterns’ has been applied by Lipschultz (2018) to graphs of Twitter users and the identification of ‘community clusters.’ However, the notion is helpful too for ongoing campaigns of increasing complexity. The CMI story is not one of isolated faces. We anticipate a growth both in the number of people engaging with the campaign (the brief called for 1000 Instagram followers by campaign close) and in the range of events promoted. [1] Such growth is representative of the statistics surrounding CMI where around 690,000 Australians (1 in 35) are sufferers and another 1 in 6 is affected (SANE.org 2018). The campaign will begin at the individual level, raising awareness, encouraging personal cultural alignment (see below ‘Symbolism’), then grow into hundreds then thousands of faces and stories.

Symbolism

One of the key aspects of Social Network Sites (SNS) is the means to change how one presents oneself. Lipschultz (2018), quoting Boyd and Ellison (2008, pp. 211 – 221), calls this ‘self-presentation’ which, over time, serves as a form of ‘impression management.’ Certain ‘markers’ are selected which frame how we want others to view or consider us. We built Facebook filters that promoted SANE and complex mental illnesses so that the target market could visually empathise with the cause. On its own, this might have been adequate, but a stronger symbolism was needed. And so we return to Ulysses, only this time the butterfly, not the novel. A universal symbol of new birth and hope, the butterfly is also knowingly fragile and as such is perfectly suited to represent the complex nature of mental health illness.

SANE - Facebook frame both sexes.png

Image 3 – Facebook filters showing the Ulysses butterfly. The blue has been slightly adjusted to match the blue of the SANE logo and represents ‘hope’. The black is indicative of the darkness of depression and complex mental health illnesses. But unlike the ‘black dog of depression,’ the Ulysses butterfly offers a more positive image. There is blue as well as black.

A key element to the uptake of the campaign as a whole, and the Facebook filters specifically, is the role we envision nano-influencers will play. These individuals, through their endorsement of a new ‘cultural good’ (that is, the de-stigmatisation of those with CMI) are acting as cultural intermediaries as they ‘translate’ the value of the message of one group (SANE) to another (their networks). (Hutchinson 2017). It is ‘low-bar’ engagement – what might be termed ‘personal temporary cultural alignment’ – and requires little to no curation, yet the visual nature of their endorsement (imagine if they instead wrote a 200 word blog post on why their followers should care about, and de-stigmatise, sufferers of CMI) allows for an easy entry into the broader campaign narrative. The colour (blue), the Ulysses butterfly, and the short empathetic phrases form a new cultural artefact – one that is eminently likeable and shareable with sound social relevance.

Produsage

For a campaign like SANE’s, we are seeking more than ‘likes’ and ‘clicks’. The media metrics need to be concerned with ‘engagement’ rather than simply ‘reach’. Causes like CMI are not the same as clever kitties playing pianos and changing perceptions takes time. We want our public to view, empathise and engage with, add value to, and share; essentially be ‘produsers’ (Bruns 2008). Our target market (primary 18-25 and secondary 25-35) sit firmly within what Bruns (quoting Trendwatching.com 2005) calls, ‘Generation C’. Combining the numerous eponymous ‘C’s’ gives an illustrative equation of this group’s dynamic:

Content plus Creativity = Control and Celebrity.

The inclusion of the word ‘celebrity’ here is not meant in a derogatory or narcissistic way. It is simply the way such value creation is manifest. It is done on social media and is therefore immediately shared. Using the SANE campaign’s content for produsage fulfils a wide range of emotionally driven and desired outcomes, painting what Nguyen 2018 calls, a broad ‘cultural cartography’. Firstly, it frames one’s identity, ‘this is me,’ and appeals to one’s pride, ‘these are my values.’ It restores one’s faith in humanity, ‘these people are just like me and are valuable like me,’ and lastly, up the right hand side of the image below, impresses others to join the cause, ‘this is something you too should be concerned with’.

Dao Nguyen - purpose of your meme.

Image 4 – Using the content of the SANE campaign for produsage, covers a wide range of appeals for the audience. All the colours, except the red humour bubbles far left, are potentially fulfilled through engaging with the campaign. Image taken from Nguyen’s TED talk 2018.

By its very nature, we can’t fully control how the Instagram posts will be used and spread. We have set the SANE butterfly free, as it were.

Conclusion

Social media presents a challenge for presenting long narratives and changing perceptions in an informed way. One could even argue that it’s not designed for such lofty goals. And yet, by appealing to the broad spectrum of cultural cartography (Nguyen 2018) and through a campaign that becomes increasing complex over time and which offers easy produsage, Instagram can, one photo at a time, carry the stories of those suffering from CMI’s and so fulfil SANE’s noble ambition to de-stigmatise these little-understood illnesses.

 

Appendix

Bruns, A (2008) “The Future Is User-Led: The Path towards Widespread Produsage.” http://eleven.fibreculturejournal.org/fcj-066-the-future-is-user-led-the-path-towards-widespread-produsage/ The Fibreculture Journal, Issue 11, 2008. Viewed April 2018

Ellenberg, J. “The summer’s most unread book is …’ https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-summers-most-unread-book-is-1404417569, July 3, 2014. Viewed April 2018

Hutchinson, J (2017). “Institutional Cultural Intermediation”. In Cultural Intermediaries: Audience Participation in Media Organisations, Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan.

Johnson, E. “How to plan your novel using the three-act structure.” https://writersedit.com/fiction-writing/literary-devices/plan-novel-using-three-act-structure/ Undated. Viewed April, 2018.

Lipschultz, H. J. (2018a) CMC, Diffusion and Social Theories. In Social media communication concepts, practices, data, law and ethics. New York, New York. Routledge.

Nguyen, D. “What makes something go viral?” TED Talks, YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kab-mpU-YVM January, 2018. Viewed April 2018.

Sane.org (2018) “Fact vs Myth: mental illness basics” https://www.sane.org/mental-health-and-illness/facts-and-guides/fvm-mental-illness-basics Viewed April, 2018

Medium.com@mavin.network (2017) Why Nano Influencers are the Future of Influence Marketing. Accessed 15 April 2018. https://medium.com/@mavin.network/why-nano-influencers-are-the-future-of-influence-marketing-369cada5cb9f

Wolff-Mann, E. “Sorry James Joyce, the people buying Ulysses don’t actually read it.” http://time.com/money/4369192/ulysses-james-joyce-unread-book/ June 16, 2016. Viewed April, 2018

 

[1] I am using ‘events’ here as a catch-all term to refer to the publication or launch of any new content, either physical or digital, such as the posting of a new YouTube vox-pop interview, an announcement from SANE, eg regarding its upcoming documentary on SBS, and physical events, such as the proposed ‘Pause’ festival run in conjunction with Mental Health Week.

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