Storytelling and social media

Stories and Social Media: Identities and Interaction sounds like a book I’d put at the top of my reading list. It’s hot off the press, just released by Routledge in November 2011 so I immediately surfed over to Amazon to see if I could buy a copy. Alas, the academic publisher has not embraced the digital world. It’s not available for e-readers, and even with Amazon’s discounting, the hard copy would set me back $111.37 before taxes. I’ll order it via interlibrary loan, but if your book budget is higher than mine, don’t wait.

For anyone as intrigued by storytelling in social media as I, this new work by Ruth Page sounds like a fascinating exploration of the phenomena. Here’s an excerpt from the book’s description on the Routledge Web site:

The online stories are profoundly social in nature, and perform important identity work for their tellers as they interact with their audiences – identities which range from celebrities in Twitter, cancer survivors in the blogosphere to creative writers convening storytelling projects or local histories.

Stories and Social Media brings together the stories told in well-known sites like Facebook and lesser-known community archives, providing a landmark survey and critique of personal storytelling as it is being reworked online at the start of the 21st century.

Reading that sent me in search of more about Ruth Page, and I found her Digital Narratives blog, with its wealth of observations and insight. Page is a lecturer in Birmingham, focusing on digital narrative and the impact of gender on storytelling. Her research has uncovered differences between the way women and men tell their stories through social media and also in the ways celebrities use Twitter.

A review of Stories and Social Media: Identities and Interaction for Science Daily quotes her:

The study shows an increasing trend for using ‘expressive language’ in Facebook (for example, for emphasis or to project friendliness), which is being led by young women aged between 19 and 25 years. Between 2008 and 2010, for example, the style used by young women was later picked up by other women, especially those over 40 years old, and by teenage boys; but not by men.

The role of young women as leaders of the changes in the styles of storytelling in social media is significant as it is at odds with other statistics that show that they are under-represented as the developers of social media sites and software.

Page also looks at the way celebrities use social media. While many use it only to promote their work, others, such as Jamie Oliver, make a more personal connection with followers. Again from the Science Daily review:

At the time I was looking at Twitter for this book, he was promoting his Food Revolution tour in the US. Many tweets are telling the Followers to join the campaign, watch a programme, try a recipe etc. (more or less selling his products) but all of that is countered by his efforts to engage with the followers by writing back to them, telling snippets of his family life and so on.

I’ve embraced social media. Though I’ve sampled a lot of others, I’ve settled on a handful: WordPress (for blogging), Facebook, and Twitter. I’m a fan and regular user of which makes it easy to share links in a curated form that is like an online newsletter. I know that the choices of what I share through those social media outlets tell my story. They don’t tell everything, of course, but they leave a trail of breadcrumbs that are easy to follow. They reveal a lot about what is important to me and how I see the world.

The turnaround for me was blogging. I avoided it for a long time because it seemed narcissistic. Besides, with the number of blogs exploding daily, I couldn’t see the need for yet one more.

An eight-month trip to Australia changed my mind. Blogging became an easy way to respond to the “tell us what you’re experiencing” requests from friends. I could post to Crossroads and send out a brief e-mail. Friends who really did want to know about our trip could read it. Everyone else could ignore it.

I was hooked. As someone with a passion for storytelling and a definition of it that is broad and inclusive, I came to appreciate the possibilities of telling our stories online in a way that mirrors another quote from Ruth Page in the ScienceDaily review:

“Although there is a lot of talk about how digital technologies will lead to the end of the book, social media shows us that storytelling remains a key way of how we make sense of each other.”





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