On social media as a creative tool
Social media is the digital intersection of art and expression—photography, writing, video, music—the restrictive formats of each platform providing important creative boundaries. Instagram and Snapchat offer specific, linear storytelling tools, while Twitter keeps thoughts to 140 characters, distilling an idea to its most essential.
Authors like Darcie Wilder found their voice through Twitter: “Writing things in that restricted way was helpful, and I needed the encouragement to keep doing things based on the reception to it, because if I’m alone in my room doing something, I’ll have no confidence that I should keep doing it.” Comedians like Aparna Nancherla use social media as a joke incubator: “You’re sending out little thoughts and seeing which ones spark… it’s kind of like the creative process.” Each platform has its own structure and unwritten rules: “They’re not unrelated, but I think it’s interesting the way they’re different,” says poet Eileen Myles.
Someone I respect once told me, “Nothing good has ever come from social media.” Social media isn’t perfect, but to say nothing good has ever come from it isn’t true. Creatively, it’s provided useful boundaries and tools to work within, not to mention a host of rules to break. Besides, over the past 9 years (counting from the day I joined Twitter), every positive major life event, close friendship, and job opportunity I’ve had has stemmed from social media. Social media literally pays my rent—and for dumb costumes for my dog—photos of which I do indeed post on social media.
Twitter is art. Twitter is writing. It does feel a little bit corny to say that, but at the same time, it would be foolish to deny the literary merit of tweets and to deny the historical significance Twitter will have. When I say Twitter, I mean Twitter, but I also mean the internet as a whole. I think that memes, for example, are strange time capsules. Memes are a sort of thing that only make sense when you understand the technology surrounding it and when you understand the culture of the internet at the time.
When you take, something like a “Rick Roll,” for example, it’s the kind of thing that will be taught in history classes to show the genesis of internet humor. A “Rick Roll” is obviously something that relies on the technology of clicking on a link, something that might not exist in 200 years.
There will definitely be a section of history books, not only to teach people what memes are, but to teach people how the technology at certain points lead to specific types of humor.
It’s fascinating to me. It’s important to me now even though I might not be alive in the time it’s an important historical artifact. But there are people who are saying things like, “Twitter is stupid” or “Writing on the internet doesn’t matter,” and they’re going to feel very foolish some day. It’s the future of humor, of writing, of everything.
When I’m live-tweeting an awards show, it’s because it’s fun, and it’s entertaining, and I’m sharing my worldview, about the Oscars, for example. It’s a lot of fun, and also I do think that my commentary, during those moments on Twitter, is well in line with how I see the world, and the kinds of things that I want to write about.
I often think of Twitter, especially when I’m thinking through current events, like a sandbox. I’m kicking around ideas. There are definitely times when I do latch onto something and think, this deserves the kind of thought and depth that writing an essay could bring about.
I definitely use [Twitter] as a joke incubator. I remember going through a period where I felt so immersed in Twitter that I was having trouble writing longer bits. Everything was coming out in these short, little thoughts.
If you find you’ve written 15 tweets on the same thing, you’re like, oh, maybe I can structure all of these around their bigger theme. In that sense, it’s very helpful. You’re sending out little thoughts and seeing which ones spark… it’s kind of like the creative process.
My tweets come from the ego, the part of my brain or self that wants to be witty or funny or prove something, whereas with the poems I try not to use my conscious mind at all. With the poems, in the initial draft, there is nothing to prove, nowhere to get, no one to impress, just a channel inside that is hopefully clear language and subconscious knowing.
Some of the best tweets get born that way, too—like they are born whole almost. I would say, though, that my poems get better with edits, whereas if you have to edit a tweet a lot it might not be a good tweet. When I edit a poem I ask “is this true?” and what I mean by true is not truth in a reality sense, but true as in does it feel right in my bones. Whereas with a tweet I’m mostly asking is this good or funny. And if you ask that too much about anything it turns to shit.
An example of this is the difference between my @melissabroder feed and my @sosadtoday feed. The @melissabroder feed has always been edited, honed, and carefully crafted, and thus has way less followers than the So Sad Today feed, which began out of desperation and sometimes still is me just shitting out whatever I need to get out so it doesn’t eat me.
Every time I learn something, I want to share it. It’s my hope that in these times when people are looking for an understanding of why black lives matter, my work can help illustrate those things or help find spaces for beauty that are still filled with revolution. I hope that my work can in some way be a resource to them.
I think that a lot of times, especially to people who are really present in the media, at the end of the day, you’re just a medium for what people are trying to say. That’s something that’s as old as academia, where people are looking to be able to illustrate what their points are. We want to be able to read ourselves into these kinds of spaces and into these worlds that can help us to better understand what we’re contesting with.
I think a lot about those things. Thinking about Facebook, where it’s a space that you can find out so many things. You can find out about Hurricane Matthew. You can find out about your Aunt’s cookout next weekend. When you’re adding to this noise, in what ways are you improving upon silence? That’s something that I’m always thinking through. I want the information that I’m sharing to be able to do that. To be able to help people in their pursuit of something else.
I feel like so much of contemporary loneliness in motion is this compulsion to share my web browser. It’s like there’s a way of aesthetically stating your browser, which is kind of where you move and how you look and what you see. Even just breaking it up into close shots and long shots, and like what’s at the center. It’s not about a golden mean, but it’s a signature as poetry—which is how I see and how I move and what stops me—and putting them together.
Even in the vocabulary of Instagram, it’s just like, I’ve talked to people and they’ve laughed because young people have sat them down and told them what you shouldn’t do. You know, we don’t like these different filters, or whatever those are called, those aren’t cool, and all that. I think that one of the cardinal rules is not to repeat a picture or repeat too close of a picture, or kind of keep trying to fix something or do something… It seems to me, it’s very musical. The slight variations, just on top of each other, are really interesting. I suppose it’s a way in which, if anything it feels like film to me, or video, because it’s really documenting nextness in this way. It’s like, okay, now I’m looking at it over this way.
I found my voice through [Twitter]. Writing things in that restricted way was helpful, and I needed the encouragement to keep doing things based on the reception to it, because I think if I’m alone in my room doing something, I’ll have no confidence that I should keep doing it. The back and forth between people is helpful.
Also, you can use Twitter for so many different things. I feel like maybe no two people use it the exact same way, because it can just be a conversation tool or it can just be non-sequiturs or something. It’s kind of weird if we’re all shouting into the void and then seeing what attracts us to it. There’s other art stuff going on, too. Twitter is writing, but Twitter is also performance.
I’m sort of a slightly embarrassingly enthusiastic social media person. I do Facebook. I have yet not gone the route of Instagram. Everyone keeps telling me, “It’s so much better than Facebook.” I somehow feel afraid, like I’ll never do anything again if I also use Instagram. I do sort of participate a lot—for better or worse—in Facebook. There’s a certain category of image where it’s a kind of, “Hey, hey, check this out, look what I saw.” I like using it that way. I like walking around and looking at the world, sometimes, with the idea that maybe there’s something interesting here I could show to other people.
Charlotte Zoller is the Senior Social Media Strategist at ELOQUII, overseeing all social output from the digital brand marketing team. Previously, she was the Director of Community Engagement at The Creative Independent. She worked at Pitchfork as the Director of Social Media, in charge of the operation of Pitchfork’s social output for all verticals (Pitchfork, The Pitchfork Review, Pitchfork Music Festival, and Pitchfork Music Festival Paris) and events. Before Pitchfork, she managed VH1’s music based social media channels including VH1 Music, VH1 Classic, That Metal Show, and more. Before VH1, she tour managed bands such as Jukebox the Ghost + Tennis, as well as worked as a freelance photographer for outlets such as Rolling Stone, Vogue, SPIN, and more.