Multimodality and Microblogging: Having a Voice Online
Microblogging is a somewhat widely understood term. Share your thoughts, and make it brief. It’s the business room pitch that sold twitter to its millions of users. What the hell is multimodality?
Vesa Korhonen, writer of Practising Information Literacy, tells us, ‘multimodality refers to the interplay between different representational modes, for instance, between images and written/spoken word.’ In layman’s terms, the way that we’re able to tell different stories with different storytelling tools and platforms. You can’t write a novel on Twitter, for example, as its short character limit does not invite that mode of storytelling. So if you can’t write a novel one twitter, what types of stories are encouraged and preferred on social media platforms, and how best can we use them as a tool for blogging?
Let’s get the big one out of the way first. Twitter is the hub for microblogging. It’s barely even optional. The 280 (formerly 140) character limit forces you to get out the soundbites and the TL;DR stories. It’s a platform that encourages takedowns and the pious chants of protest with the ability to @ someone or rally a crowd with a #hashtag.
In my experience so far, I’ve participated in both of these. It feels strong and proactive to @ The Sun for their indiscriminate lies, or add my name to a feed of hashtags showing solidarity with non-binary folk in a period that is challenging and adversarial to them. Twitter is also multifaceted, as I’ll expand on more later (spoilers, I guess).
The ability to share articles, images and videos, which do not have a duration or content limit, one is able to skirt the limits of the textual microblogging of twitter. It could, hypothetically, be easy to start a vlog page on Twitter, if you primarily posted video blogs. The ability to link externally from the site too invites the versatility of external social media and blogging platforms, such as medium.
For all of its trouble, Twitter is a versatile and usefully organised tool for getting your thoughts out to the world.
Facebook used to be a very useful microblogging tool. Back in the olden days, Facebook would put a post on your feed when a friend would like or comment on a post, even if the original poster was not connected directly to you via following, group membership, or ‘friend’ship.
In my experience, this is no longer the case. Where Twitter will show you posts that were liked or replied to by people that you follow, Facebook prioritises posts by friends and family, which in the abstract, I think is a good thing. But for businesses — or blogs — that want to expand their brand and reach their audience, this is not an ideal site.
On the other hand, Facebook is great if you want to explain your perspective with a degree of thoroughness, rather than with the soundbite landscape of Twitter. Facebook allows for more rich engagement with people keener in the information you share.
That said, Facebook is a much harder platform to engage with via a Facebook page. This is because of the separation of the profile and the page. In contrast with Twitter, which has one profile from which all of your tweets, retweets and replies come and go, Facebook allows you to make a myriad of pages from which you can manage your marketing, and maintain some level of privacy on your personal profile. So for output, Facebook is more versatile, but all input is streamed onto a timeline subject to your personal profile, so the benefits of having a versatile page setup, where a divide between work and private life have clear lines, you would need to follow a myriad of pages on your personal profile to interact with and share posts from around Facebook to your blog profile. As I view Facebook primarily as a platform with staying up to date with friends and family, unlike Twitter’s utility for online personas, I find myself uncomfortable blurring those lines, as I imagine many others do, which dampens the usefulness of Facebook as a professional blogging tool.
Moreover, Twitter and Instagram allow for quick and easy switching between accounts, so if I did want a personal account and a private account, switching between them is easier than switching between modes on Facebook, whilst maintaining that healthy division between work and life.
I cannot understand the appeal of Instagram. Instagram requires a video or a picture to make any update, and so the workload is unnecessarily cranked up for a platform that, in this case, is intended for short, snappy updates that can be done on the fly.
I understand that pictures and videos are more engaging than walls of text. To that extent, Instagram has an advantage over Facebook — or it would if Facebook couldn’t do everything that Instagram does but better, and then some. Want to post a video update? An infographic to make your microblogging more engaging? Want to use the frustrating ‘story’ feature that every social media platform shamelessly stole from Snapchat? Twitter and Facebook excel in those areas too.
Instagram also can barely be used on the browser, so if you’re on your computer with all your social media platforms in the background, writing up a blog post you’re going to share, you’ve got to switch to your phone because you cannot make a post from your computer to Instagram. I’ve spoken in another post about how this blog has quotas behind the scenes, and if this was an independent project (which it might develop to be in the future. Might as well take advantage of the fact that I have separate social media that some people follow) then I would not, in 1000 years, actively choose to use Instagram.
In summary, Instagram is a deadweight for microblogging beyond maybe food and travel blogging. Between Facebook and Twitter, I would say that, with their present features, Facebook is a jack of all trades platform. As someone with multiple avenues of their life that they want to professionally share — political blogging, music, creative work for Dungeons and Dragons — Facebook is a versatile tool that lets me manage my profiles without being overwhelmed with a flood of similar content creators, allowing for a healthy work/life balance online. Twitter is a master of one — it excels in creating social capital online, with one focused profile that lets you engage with your audience as well as your relevant community with ease. I wouldn’t say either is necessarily superior as a tool for storytelling, but Twitter is certainly easier to microblog on and feels more sincere because you get the entire feed of what anyone posts. I think if Facebook gave you the option to create a news feed separate from your personal feed, it could do leaps and bounds better than its competitors.