To misquote Ernest Hemingway, “Writing is rewriting.” For most forms of writing, this is the case. You’ll have weeks or maybe even months to work on a paper, novel, or screenplay, re-writing until it is perfect- or until you can’t stand to look at it anymore, whichever comes first!
Social media is different because it is very much of the moment. Posts can be brainstormed and published in a matter of minutes. You have to trust your ability and your team members or this can be a maddening process! The perfectionist in you will be having a mini heart-attack every time you press the “post” button.
Prior to working at SWAY, my experience was mostly in academic writing and filmmaking. I wrote two independent short films and was given several months of prep time to complete each script. This prep time involved meeting with different people to discuss the writing and the story before anything went to camera. Making the switch to a more of-the-moment form of writing was a big adjustment!
While there are many differences between these two forms of writing, there are some similarities! Let’s take a look at how writing for social media compares and differs to writing for other longer-form narratives.
Writing social media content is more engaging than other forms of writing. By that I mean, you need to be aware of the world around you, and try to combine current trends with what you are planning. You can’t pull a Salinger and hide away in a concrete bunker, isolated from the world. You need to engage and constantly brainstorm ways to stay #ontrend. You also need to be aware that not all trends are good to capitalize on. For example, just because Black Mirror is back on Netflix doesn’t mean you should write a Tweet comparing it to a client’s new home automation system. Be smart about how you use #trendingtopics.
Perhaps the biggest difference between content creation and screenwriting is the little matter of deadlines. Deadlines in social media can be fast and furious. A screenplay can have tight deadlines, but more often than not you know when your deadline is. Changes occasionally occur on set, but usually everything is planned far in advance. Having constant deadlines is something that all writers should experience. Deadlines force you to be creative. Often the idea of opening a Google Doc and staring at the empty page can send more than just shivers down my spine. It can literally send me to the post office, or laundry room, or basically anywhere that can be used as an excuse to not sit down and write. Most writers like to talk about how they are writers more than they like to write. It’s me. I’m Most Writers. To quote Murray Slaughter, the witty news writer from the Mary Tyler Moore Show, when asked if he liked writing, “I like getting paid for what I write. I like reading what I wrote. I like having written. No, I don’t like writing.”
Another difference is the lack of reverence for social posts. Sometimes writers can ascribe a certain untouchability to their words. As if changing one line in the script will cause the entire house of cards to collapse. This mindset doesn’t work with social media. If something doesn’t look right, or a client just doesn’t like it, it needs to be changed. When you are writing hundreds of posts per week, it is easier to make the changes requested than to get existential about your writing abilities. It’s just business, nothing personal whatsoever.
Lastly, images are a big difference! You don’t need to put graphics in a screenplay. That’s the job of the director or cinematographer. But with social media, you need images! You can’t even post on Instagram unless you have an image. Learning what looks good, and how to adjust or alter an image is another huge learning curve! It takes a while to get the hang of, but is super fun to learn.
One similarity between screenwriting and social media content creation is that you are often writing under someone else’s name. When writing a post, I write as though I am the company. With film, you write under your own name, but often a movie is associated with the director. This takes some getting used to, but in the long run no matter who gets the credit, all writing makes you a better writer. At the end of the day, that is the point.
Both social media and filmmaking are collaborative processes. No one succeeds on their own. For social, you have a team working on graphics, ads, getting everything organized, and more! Film is the same: you have an entire crew that works together to tell a story. I like to think of each client’s social media as an expansive story. Every post is a sentence in a chapter that creates a narrative. These narratives are comprised of visual-storytelling elements whose goal is to engage an audience.
This audience is one of the biggest similarities! Writing to a niche audience happens in both film and social alike. In film, we divide our movies along the lines of genre. If you don’t like horror movies, you likely won’t buy a ticket to see one. Similarly, if you want to learn more about a company, or just like a company, you’ll like their Facebook page, or snoop their Insta. The audience often chooses whether or not to engage with what you are presenting to them.
At the end of the day, despite the differences between writing for film and writing for social media, they are both about content creation. Both involve writing for an audience that has, more often than not, chosen to seek out the content- with the exception perhaps of social advertisements. Both also involve a large amount of creativity and focus. In the three months that I’ve worked for SWAY, I’ve written more words than I had in the 6 months previous. In the long run, I honestly believe that working in social media will make me a better writer. My screenwriting teacher once said, “The thing about writing is that the more you do it, the better you get.” This is the same as any other skill or profession. If you work hard and try your best to learn the ropes of the business, it’s only natural that you will improve. This is great for both writers and clients alike!