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Social media building blocks

This is an excerpt from Social Media and Sports With Web Resource by Galen Clavio.

The brand names and delivery systems of social media content change regularly. It is a mistake to get caught up in features and functions of social networks or technology due to the regularity of change. You should understand that social media is largely an assemblage of individual pieces of content arranged and presented in unique styles based on the characteristics of a network.

The best way to approach the creation of social media content is to first uncouple the various elements within social media content, breaking the entire exchange down to its component parts. Social media building blocks encompass all the types of content one can create within the structures of this type of communication. The categories of building blocks that you should be thinking about are the following:

  • Written content
  • Images
  • Preproduced video
  • Live video
  • Audio
  • Graphics
  • Dynamic visuals
  • Responses

By understanding how these building blocks operate both individually and in combination, you can help future-proof your thinking about social media and avoid getting bogged down in the inevitable technological changes that will come along.

Written Content

Written material is the most prevalent social media building block, largely due to its efficiency as a transmitter of information. Organizations can fill social media written content with a tremendous amount of detail, and almost every social network has written content built into its default display.

Twitter's primary display focus is on portraying written content, sometimes in concert with other building blocks. Facebook's default input is writing, and even images or dynamic content are generally accompanied by writing. While certain social networks, such as Snapchat, don't use writing in the primary display, written content is ubiquitous.

Simply linking to an article on a website that is text-based doesn't qualify as writing in the social media context. Writing as a social media building block involves creating text that displays natively within the social media visual environment. On a platform like Instagram, the writing is generally subordinate to the visual elements, while on Twitter, the writing is often the star of the show.

Deciding how much or how little writing to include in your social media content can be tricky. For instance, ESPN's company policies regarding writing as a primary content type on social media have evolved over time. Adam Schefter, the ESPN NFL reporter, noted in 2012 that writing on Twitter as a story evolved was viewed by some in the audience as him being wishy-washy, but in fact it was a public version of real-time reporting (Fry, 2012). For a time, ESPN reporters were expected to tweet links to their stories without much additional context, with the company's rationale being that directing traffic to its website made more sense than Twitter keeping all the traffic for itself. That approach may fit your organization, particularly if you generate money from advertising revenue that relies on click-throughs and on-site advertisements.

Images

With social media becoming increasingly visual in orientation, images have become another key social media building block. Whether serving as primary content (as they do on Instagram) or as supporting content (as they often do on Facebook and Twitter), images can be the primary social media message delivered to the audience or frame written social media messages by providing insight and understanding to the intended audience. This images category includes photos as well as Photoshop or design creations.

Preproduced Video

Of all the social media building blocks, video has seen the biggest increases in both prevalence and importance over the last half of the 2010s. This is largely due to a combination of gradual increases in digital bandwidth, thereby making it easier for social media users to view video, and responses from social networks and software makers, who have made video far more central to the social user's experience in 2020 than it was a decade earlier.

Preproduced video closely mirrors the historical media platform of television by providing audiences with what is essentially broadcast content. In other words, there is no direct audience interaction with the content itself, although you may invite them to provide comments after the fact on whatever social media platform you are using. This type of video runs the spectrum from simple highlights or interview segments uploaded with no additional context to fully produced shows that involve multiple cameras, angles, and graphics.

This type of video is increasingly popular among sports media outlets due to its natural storytelling qualities and its similarity to television programming. Learning the ins and outs of video editing and sequential visual storytelling will help make you an in-demand job candidate for both media and sport organizations because both are increasingly turning to preproduced video as a key building block for reaching audiences and capturing attention.

Live Video

While prerecorded video and live video are similar in that they both involve using video, they qualify as different building blocks because their usage within social media is and should be different. Whereas prerecorded video is generally used to provide audiences with one-way broadcast content, live video provides the opportunity to interact with your audiences in real time.

Several major social media platforms now provide a distinct portal in their apps for you to send live video streams to your audience, with these portals generally allowing you to see audience interactions on screen. Leveraging those interactions effectively while providing the live video is an important part of managing this building block.

Additionally, live video can be used to provide audiences with real-time reporting in a way that is more effective and evocative than simply writing accounts of what is taking place. One of social media's greatest communication aspects is the ability to provide audiences with on-the-scene and in-the-moment reporting, and in many cases, live video is the best possible content type for that purpose.

The primary caveat with this building block at sporting events is to make sure you are not violating any contractual rules on video content. For instance, the team or media personnel working live sporting events that are televised will aggressively shut down attempts to livestream video from the event itself. Rights fees and exclusivity clauses on live video at sporting events are among the most carefully guarded of media deals.

I have seen journalists threatened with expulsion from sporting events for livestreaming even a few seconds of the crowd at games. However, generally that prohibition does not apply to livestreaming your own face as you provide an on-site report. Be aware of what rules might affect your use of live video and social media.

Audio

Audio may be the least prevalent of any of these building blocks as a standalone item. Many social networks assume that the user wishes to view content with audio turned off—for instance, Instagram set the default audio setting to 'off' for autoplay videos on users' streams. However, audio remains a powerful form of content, and sports social media content has found many uses for audio, both in concert with video and as standalone embedded content.

For instance, short snippets of podcasts are used by media companies such as The Ringer and ESPN to provide audiences with a sneak preview of what the full podcast sounds like or to provide access to an interesting portion of the conversation. Apps such as Anchor have allowed audiences to create podcasts and post them online, sharing links to the audio across social media channels. Additionally, many radio stations stream their audio on social media.

Graphics

There is a distinction between standalone text (as one finds in Twitter, Facebook, and on Instagram posts) and text that is graphically embedded into video (as one finds in Instagram story posts, Snapchat posts, and other video). In the former context, the text operates in either a primary or subordinate position to other content, whereas in the latter context it becomes part of a converged video format.

Although graphics can include this type of embedded writing, they also involve other forms of written communication. This category includes emojis, stickers, and undynamic filter effects that can be used to alter the visual representation of a post. Graphics can also include combinations of visual imagery alongside textual and graphical information.​

Dynamic Visuals

While writing, audio, images, and video all existed as standalone media content categories before the social media age, dynamic visuals are unique to the converged media environment that social networks provide. This building block consists primarily of animated GIFs and animated filters. This category provides more dynamic material than still images but lacks the length or compositional consistency to qualify as videos.

Dynamic visuals can be used in various situations on different networks. Animated GIFs on Twitter are often used humorously, relying on pop culture references that audiences will recognize and appreciate. Animated filters can provide everything from unique visual effects to augmented reality (AR) and can be used in both image-based and video-based settings.

Dynamic media is often used as a support element in social media content, providing additional context to a different kind of social media building block. But dynamic media can also stand alone as social media content, and this type of content is often the most memetic by nature. Effectively using dynamic visuals requires a good understanding of the current cultural environment in the area in which the content is being posted.

Leagues such as the NBA see plays from their games turned into animated GIF files on a regular basis (Giphy, n.d). Smart social media departments in both the NBA and the media who cover the league should use those GIF files as both primary and secondary content on Twitter and Facebook, due to the positive response they get from fans and the ability to include dynamic media in what they are publishing.

Responses

You may not think of responses and comments as a social media building block, but they are. When content is posted on most social media platforms, the content acts like flypaper, attracting audience interactions and responses that stick to the content visually and become viewable parts of it. Instagram comments, Facebook comments, and, to a lesser degree, Twitter replies have varying levels of visibility but exist as part of the content once they are created. Similarly, responses from the content creator to those comments become a viewable part of the content.

Many content creators respond to the responses either passively (e.g., liking a response) or actively (e.g., replying to the response). Some social networks (particularly Instagram and Facebook) allow the original content creator to delete or disable comments, which further reinforces their status as a social media building block.

When used and moderated properly, responses can be a powerful tool for sport organizations and sports media companies in this field. The public nature of quality responses to social media posts can lead to higher rates of engagement as audience members see the responses and feel more inclined to add their own perspectives. This strategy requires that you or your company assign someone to monitor responses and to enforce a set of community guidelines, but it can pay dividends.