Time for change: experiences of social media strategies and what happens when you cry on the internet

Last week I issued a blog post (below) which created a little stir..for those that didn’t catch it, I posted a video vlog of myself reflecting on recently occurring life events (having my PhD funding discontinued) that were upsetting for me. I think I gave an honest reflection of my feelings at the time and whilst I expressed emotion, don’t believe I came across as too irrational – probably just a little gutted and surprised, as whilst I knew that life would start to, and eventually take a different direction for me, I had planned on finishing my current commitments first.

It’s tempting, given the response, to take the video down, but I will leave it up for the moment as I like things that open up debates.

Since setting up this wordpress site last May, as well as having an additional twitter account I have made a deliberate attempt not to clarify my social media strategy or what the aim or point of my blog is/was but given that my new opportunity seeking status has caused me to rethink this anyway – I decided it’s time for a review.

What’s your aim?

Having taking the very enjoyable ‘The Digital Researcher’ course at UWE – I was admittedly already aware that my current approach to my blog already broke the ‘official’ recommended rule. Having a focussed specific aim. Most notably for researchers, it is about self promotion, communicating your research to both academic and non academic audiences, or communicating things in relation to your research, encourage debate, and building relationships and profile raising online. We also covered the possibilities of setting up a blog as a sideline to your work interests (for example in favour of pursuing a hobby – focused specifically on running, horseriding, creative writing etc) and also an attendee of the course had previously used her site as a source of personal catharsis – a bit like a diary – a place where she could unload the inevitable and guaranteed frustrations of the PhD process and/or life in general (an approach often promoted by mental health charities). I was also influenced by a course I took at the Arnolfini on writing and performance where I discovered that artists sometimes used social media/blogs as a deliberate artistic form – setting up ‘fake’ blogs by people who were in fact characters they had created, interacting with others online and then soon after becoming surprised when audiences struggled to unpick what was ‘real’ and what was constructed. Additionally I’d seen video vlogs on youtube of people/friends recording biographical video diaries of their everyday life  – everything from the mundane cat videos to personal struggles with weightloss/recovery from surgery and I found them genuinely interesting and inspiring to see something that was in some ways closer to ‘reality’ (contested term) rather than ‘reality TV’. However my argument would always be that if it’s a deliberate communication of any form that is intentionally performative (i.e a web posting/status update) it’s always a construction to varying degrees. Therefore I had hoped that by mixing genres (including those posited as ‘academic knowledge’ – of which admittedly there were not so many) it would encourage the viewer to not only respond directly to the specific posting they had picked up on – this given the wide variety of my posts/followers would be quite different, but also by reviewing the site holistically – give greater question to the material they were seeing, consider something different, learn something new, or see something from a different perspective. It’s this ‘mash up’ nature of twitter and social media that I think holds the greatest potential for humankind. To make explicit opposing views, arguments, problems and challenges as well as force us to consider how we interpret online information in order to open up date, broaden understandings, consider more critically the web content we consume and how we are consciously or subconsciously influenced by it and perhaps even crowdsource solutions to local and global problems.

This blog

My blog was originally set up as a response to an arts project, although this was not deliberately an artistic response, however as I progressed further along with the site and my postings, it’s fair to say that I was often simultaneously moving across all of these genres previously mentioned at one time or another. With regards to twitter – my strategy comprised both personal and professional – from mundane streams of consciousness, tweets containing sources of info that were interesting, important, or silly, things that I thought others may find interesting, things that supported my opinions and values as well as those that contradicted them.  I have also admittedly, sometimes used twitter as a source of support – with everything from communicating with friends on the other side of the world at silly hours in the morning, to networking and gaining input from academics in associated academic fields online as well as having a good old opportunity to shout at the world.

I’ve previously posted on my blog around my conflicting feelings on facebook, having shut down my account but reopened it mainly due to requests for access to photos I’ve taken from friends, parents and relatives, and the need to access ‘events and groups’. Some of which are so already deeply ingrained in facebook as an administrative system I fear they will never escape. I’m currently still using facebook and have recently explored it more as a source for my photographic images, but I am trying to re-compile and remove my previous albums onto to flickr as I continue to secure commissions for my photography and need to use it for a self promotional or portfolio tool. Normally I would say retain facebook purely for friends and family but as social media strategies differ and more organisations and groups utilise facebook it becomes harder and harder to stay connected as efficiently without a profile on the site (wrong, sad but often true).

The photographic element of social media also deserves some attention with apps such as instagram and other photography/editing apps being positioned as a tool that brings a certain kind of freedom/creativity to the masses on one hand but does ‘proper’ artists/photographers out of a job on the other. The role of the ‘filter’ being hotly contested as a tool for applying a range of perspectives on the world in which you capture, whilst taking the user further away from the ‘reality’ of the picture.. (again I suggest any image is a construction to certain degrees, filter or not). I’ve experimented with instagram – mainly for ‘artistic’ photography rather than more mundane stuff although this does creep in occasionally. I enjoy photography, have had some pictures published in books and on the web and have received positive feedback on photos that I take  – all helpful in building my portfolio of images. I’ve created some great pictures, but also in retrospect the ‘looking back’ at ‘filtered’ photos of friends during more personal moments rather than ‘filtered’ photos as ‘art’ does feel a little different to me.. and there is probably room in this argument to explore the role of photography apps a little more outside of this blog post.

The future

I gained alot from this experience with social media but recent responses seem to suggest that my previous blogpost took things a little too far. I cover different topics in my posts, (not that unusual for those with an interest in the arts or sociology) and explore different things as well as re-blog from others.. but given my new status as an opportunity seeker it seems I am forced to focus my blog on the positives, the achievements, the quality writing and the ‘can do’s’ rather than expressing the doubts, insecurities, or ambiguities or indeed deliberately at times posting possibly contentious content in the hope it will stimulate debate or thought, when I run such as high risk of being continually misunderstood or misinterpreted and provoking reactions in people.  It’s probably also a reflection on the task of managing multiple identities such as emerging artist/performer/(previously) transport research student and now opportunity seeker.

The most outstanding need now, is to create or secure opportunities – both artistically  and professionally both and paid unpaid, and continue my explorations around social enterprise. It is for this purpose, I will have to move the more abstract or questionable posts elsewhere, present them differently and redirect my musings/work more specifically in future.

At least I can say from my efforts so far that I have the capacity to be creative, ask questions, stimulate debate and create interest and reaction in my work, but perhaps most importantly, particularly in the case of potential future leadership ventures,

a very fine set of balls.

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