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Social Advocacy & Politics: Storytelling in the Twitter Age



Good campaigns tell a compelling story; a story that connects with people and connects those people with other people. A powerful movie can create a buzz and a new understanding of an issue across the country in days (like #Sharknado, of course). This has me thinking about how we might use Twitter to tell more compelling stories.

I’ve been around sound recording and movie editors for a long time and am familiar with how producers tell their stories by weaving the various tracks of music, sound effects, dialogue and multiple video streams into a coherent whole. The end product tells a story that uses multiple camera angles, soundtracks with many layers... very compelling.

With Twitter, we also have the ability to tell multi-level stories, with multiple tracks weaving in and out.

Off the top, you have four tracks at your disposal:

  1. The tweet text
  2. An attached image (let’s leave video aside, for now)
  3. The caption on the image
  4. Hashtags (individually and interacting with other hashtags)

Now that Twitter displays images within the timeline, hashtags can gather a story timeline easily and present on a single webpage, complete with illustrations. And the story comes with a narrator (the tweet text), a visual (the image) and a dialogue (the caption).

I’ve been working with a few projects where Twitter storytelling makes a lot of sense. So, last night, when I was talking to my good friend Russell Christian (@ArtandtheBB), he told me he was writing a novel, one tweet at a time. Then, I had a vision. Russell is an artist who has a great knack for telling odd stories with his art. One of my favorites, a series called Stress Positions, could easily be used to create a great story about work-life balance issues (a hot policy topic, these days). Adding captions to Russell’s stress position pieces (similarly to how I did it on this Pinterest board) adds a layer to the story. And the Tweet text we can add to each of these captioned images is the overarching narrative voice that would tie the story to the broader policy debate. The result can be a rich and captivating story.

These serialized tweets can be bound together with a common hashtag, creating in essence a Twitter comic. Then, a search for tweets from @ArtandtheBB with that hashtag creates the full timeline of the story to date. A search for everyone using the story hashtag returns an interactive version of the original story, which incorporates Russell’s story tweets with comments from the audience (ala Mystery Science Theater 3000, perhaps).

I know it is cliché now to hash over the “Can you really say anything important in 140 characters?” debate, but I would happily add this idea to the laundry list of why 140 characters is no barrier to good communication…

  1. A 9-second soundbite is about 140 characters
  2. Haikus are all 80 characters or less
  3. Consecutive tweets to make your point are ok
  4. Images can be included
  5. Videos, too

and now…

  1. You can tell me a story


Social Advocacy & Politics is a weekly, exclusive column for Social Media Today by Alan Rosenblatt that explores the intersection of politics and social media. Look for the next installment next Tuesday morning.

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