The Essential Field Guide to Social Media Posts

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the essential field guide to

social media posts

compiled by katie lau integrated digital media senior project, spring 2019

WHAT DO WE SHARE WHAT DO WE CONSUME WHAT DO WE CONCEAL i have a complicated relationship with social media. it makes me feel miserable...yet some inherent quality in its connectiveness and ability to draw people together (and tear people apart) is fascinating.

what are the affordance and limitations of social media? what strategies do we use to command attention and what is lost in that transference?

the tropes before you have been compiled through user surveys, i wish it was more my own observations enjoyable because i spend so much time on it and yet of social media, and when i’m on it i don’t even is generally just an feel a n y t h i n g . what a organized stream of consciousness. i hope waste! you enjoy! i’ve decided to take all the time i spent on social media and use it to analyze the types of content we allow to grow and thrive on platforms.

...and can it be changed?

***MISERABLE & wearied & exhausted & INDIFFERENT & entertained & APPRECIATED & remarkable & SOULSUCKING & drab & INSPIRED *** survey responses to the question ‘describe how using social media makes you feel.’ 4

using this field guide each species of post is delineated by description, temperament, emotional impact, and motivations.

temperament the essence of the post, what it could convey about the user emotional impact how the post affects our feelings motivations what prompts the creation of that post Your interpretation of your own feed or what you witness may be different. I hope through unraveling the emotions and motivations of posts I can make your experience of social media better (or at least more bearable).

Consider this a proposal to reframe the content that we consume everyday.




- extremely common on Instagram - beautifully colored, well composed, aesthetically pleasing - often food art, trendy clothing, wanderlust locales, and other things of the like - places inherent pressures on other users to only supply images that they’d deem ‘aesthetically pleasing.’ pictured, right: examples of visually aesthetically pleasing posts.


@travelexploring @krstnma @ _.fattemehhh._

emotional impact: appreciative, though occasionally discouraging, implicitly stressful

@realandvibrant @laurdiy

motivations: a pressure to submit to social media pressures and post something to garner additional likes.

field guide of social media posts.

temperament: intimidating, artsy

@virenlad2036 @notnajma


the state of affairs description: - posts that highlight and emphasize the dumpster fire and unpleasantries of life, often showcasing current issues like climate change or social injustices. - amplified by the inhuman speeds by which information can be shared on the Internet, making tragedies and global events feel much closer. - ideal for spreading awareness of certain tragedies, though can feel ultimately difficult to combat or confront.

temperament: earnest, pragmatic, glaringly honest emotional impact: Fear, worry, pain, claustrophobia, skepticism motivations: A desire to spread awareness, reflection of inner anxieties.



field guide of social media posts. pictured, left: tweets centering around the impending doom unchecked climate change will bring.



IDENTITIES IDEOLOGIES INTERESTS description: - posts created with the intention of appealing to users with similar identities, ideas, or interests. - ideal for community building - NOTE: has contributed to the rise of alt-right movements, fostering echo-chambers of people who believe tragedies or hate crimes are conspiracies. temperament: niche, eccentric, self-assured emotional impact: camraderie, discourse, connectivity motivations: a desire for community and fellowship.


field guide of social media posts.

pictured, left: these are facebook groups where people with shared interests can post and find other people interested in the same things; for example, it’s 2005 and this is cool as hell is dedicated to mid-2000s nostalgia

pictured, above: this alt-right conspiracy account is intentionally locked to tactfully avoid violating Instagram’s terms of service, and sanctions a space where alt-right conspiracists can congregate and swap ideas.


the memory (flex)

description: - the preservation of an exciting, unique, and often enviable experience, a highlight of one’s existence. - an outsider may view this post as a humble brag - can contribute to a overarching feeling of FOMO but allows a person to preserve their own memories and favorite experiences.


field guide of social media posts. pictured, left and above: various users’ instagram posts that grapple the dichotomy of flex vs. memory

temperament: mysterious but ultimately harmless emotional impact: indifference, envy, appreciation motivations: a desire to show proof of one’s experiences perhaps fueled by insecurity, a response to implicit social pressures to preserve a digital persona, or simply a means of documenting memories.


the micro video description: - a type of short-form video content that work well on most platforms because of its digestable duration. - micro-videos can be about anything, though the most viral ones are usually funny or unique in some form. - inclusive of subspecies like cooking recipes, life hacks, makeup tutorials, cute animal videos, or news clips, as well as organic content, like when a user posts a viral clip about something uncommon that happened that day. - while ultimately forgettable, if nothing else, these videos help kill time as you scroll down your feed.

temperament: specialized, punchy, succinct emotional impact: varies based on subspecies; for example, slime videos can be nonsensical, but cute animal videos can be heartwarming and pure motivations: speaking broadly, views.

cute animal videos are a staple of micro videos, possibly having origins in popular cat videos common in the mid 2000s.


field guide of social media posts. slime videos are a subset of videos called ASMR (auditory sensorial meridian response) videos, designed to give the viewer a satisfying auditory and visual experience.

many news corporations like @nowthisnews take advantage of micro video’s digestible form to share news snippets.

occasionally individual user’s micro-videos go viral. @willscourtney’s video of an MTA conductor not letting a dog get onto a train garnered over 6K likes.



instagram user @lokokitchen shares her artistic pies, garnering tens of thousands of likes.

twitter user @classyraptor uses his account to promote some of his own stickers released on the app store

field guide of social media posts.

twitter user @s_abao shares their fun drawings of japanese foods and pastries.

description: - created by anyone who produces their own creative content and shares it via the Internet who utilize social media platforms as a source of revenue or promotion. - because social media platforms are naturally conducive to images and videos, many artists use it as a way to share their work and engage in a community. - can serve as a source of inspiration for other artists in similar fields, or just a bit of eye candy for the casual appreciator. temperament: composed, laborious, hard-working emotional impact: inspired, longing, admiration motivations: a desire to share one’s work or something they’re proud of.


the repost Description: - a copy of another person’s content and shared on one’s own account, either with or without consent. - posts can travel across platforms in various forms as a reposts - raises questions of ownership, copyright, and the way we share content freely on these platforms. - can be difficult to trace the origin of a specific post. - users can sell retweets to a large audience in order to artificially amplify a tweet (often stolen) and make it go viral, also known as ‘Tweetdecking’.


temperament: sneaky, dishonest emotional impact: amusement for the unknowing viewer, but anger for the person whose content was taken motivations: a desire to share the sentiment of the post or garner likes quickly and efficiently.

field guide of social media posts. pictured, above: examples of tweets that are direct copies of the opposite tweet; to the unknowing viewer there is no convenient or quick way to check if that content has been stolen.


pictured, above: one meme, with four varying interpretations from four different users.


harmless meme description: - the BACKBONE of internet culture. - commonly a funny image, video, text, or any other sort of medium that is easily mutable and shared amongst users. - they are cyclical, ephemeral, and beautiful, like a massive inside joke, often shared between people who don’t know even know each other. - exchanging a meme with someone has become a love language.

field guide of social media posts.


temperament: witty, absurd, unassuming. emotional impact: a fleeting sense of joy, being included in one big inside joke with the internet. motivations: a desire to make people laugh. usually honest and wholesome in intent.

pictured, below: examples of common memes. memes are usually given captions or serve as ‘reaction images’ as a niche response to another post.



pictured, above: an intentionally inflammatory headline NPR posted on April Fools’ Day. Clicking on the article revealed that it was a joke, much to the downfall of a couple misfortunate users.

description: -often used with the intention of provoking a negative reaction or gaslighting an audience. - On Facebook and Twitter, it’s easy to join a thread of anger and chime in with dozens of other screaming voices. - News articles can clickbait in order to generate traffic, creating intentionally inflammatory headlines whilst also capitalizing on the fact that not all users will click the article but will share and spread the article with their accompanying commentary. - fundamental desire for clicks and ad revenue causes companies to post misleading headlines that will be spread throughout social media.


temperament: dishonest, flashy, and fussy emotional impact: anger, disdain, outrage motivations: a desire for engagement (which is a nice way of saying attention or money)

field guide of social media posts. pictured right and above: various threads from users reacting to the headline of the NPR article, not the content (and subsequently being ridiculed)



relatable post

description: - an experience that everyone can relate to - can be both lighthearted or more serious in nature; for example, the rise of the #MeToo movement centered around women exchanging and sharing moments of experienced harassment with other women. - an implicit quality of shared humanity and experience, which when reframed can be a source of comfort.

temperament: witty, docile, and friendly emotional impact: feelings of commonality and shared experiences, joy motivations: a desire for human connection or relating to others.

pictured left and below: posts deemed more ‘relatable’ can sometimes go viral and earn hundreds of thousands of likes.


description: - a post that revolves around one’s physical, mental, or emotional self. - has become increasingly sophisticated and more artfully crafted over the years with the advent of editing apps. - a good confidence booster and method to earn validation from your friends. - text posts of the Enhanced Self are usually devised to portray oneself in a more interesting or witty way. - seldom get too personal or revealing.

field guide of social media posts.

the enhanced self

temperament: vulnerable, nervous, crafted, sculpted, celebratory emotional impact: indifferent, informed, occasionally supportive motivations: an innate desire for validation and connection.


THE HOT TAKE description:

- an opinion that can range from the innocuous to the intentionally inflammatory. - can take the forms of a ‘Quote Tweet’, where a user adds their own commentary to an original tweet, or appear in the comment section of a news article. - usually manifest in quick emotional reactions - CAUTION: interaction between fundamentally opposing Hot Takes can lead to belligerent, though ultimately shortlived and unimpactful online arguments. - hot takes similar in ideology and temperament will come to support a hot take, though oppositional forces and differentiating opinions will attack and flock a hot take as well.


temperament: opinionated, interjective, reactive, provocative emotional impact: anger, spite, debate, cynicism motivations: emotional investment to a topic + a desire to share a point of view

pictured, left + above: various oppositional takes and opinions centering around elizabeth warren’s plan to cancel student loan debt.


INTERNET JOKE description: - generally nonsensical, clever - used both as a coping mechanism and brief respite from the often debilitating state of the world and the rest of social media. -can include a meme, though doesn’t have to. temperament: jovial, unpredictable, self-aware emotional impact: joy, happiness, confusion motivations: a desire to appear funny or make people laugh.

pictured, above: examples of original internet jokes from twitter comedians. topics center around the absurd and unconventional, but are at their core conventionally funny.


- RARE & ENDANGERED SPECIES (aka posts with little engagement)

The next few pages are a brief homage to the things we consider improper, too personal, or too revealing to post on the Internet.


The Mundane

pictured, above: twitter users @aklim75 and @ justinbieber tweet the exact same thing; however, bieber garners roughly 511,100 more likes and 16,100 more comments.

description: - centers around pretty insignificant occurrences or uninteresting happenings. - very rarely will a person share the ‘lowlights’ and commonalities of their life - unless of course, it is framed in an aesthetically pleasing way. - part of the rarity of these posts is because platforms’ algorithms often prioritize and favor showing highly engaged with content instead of chronologically, making it difficult for this post to thrive or even be seen on followers’ timelines temperament: Calm, serene, neutral motivations: A desire for authenticity. emotional impact: Varies


the journal entry temperament: vulnerable, open, revealing motivations: a cry for help emotional impact: ? description: - the most earnest and honest of posts. - reveals something extremely personal or valued to the user. - typically deemed too risky or too deep to exist on social media - the tools social media provides to empathize with others (via a transactional ‘like’, or a comment), are limited - sharing something deeply personal to a bunch of strangers (as people may not always be very close to all their followers) is scary - users can resort to sharing personal updates via ‘finstas’ (Fake Instagrams), that are only shared with people they are close with. - people scrolling through social media may not feel equipped or emotionally primed to help someone going through a crisis, either.


The Drafted


- posts that never made it to see the light of social media & sentenced to draft purgatory. - although social media and our existence on is ephemeral in the grand scheme of human existence, we usually post with clear intention. - each time we post is an opportunity to join a quickly moving stream of consciousness on someone’s timeline, and we want to say something that will matter or garner the validation of someone through a transactional like. temperament: insecure motivations: an idea that wasn’t good enough for consumption emotional impact: ?

pictured, above: an example of a twitter user’s drafts.


conceal hide camouflage suppress withhold mask obscure protect repress share flaunt experience receive dispense advertise broadcast consume witness engage

digest absorb observe watch envy immerse


-- an earnest (though unnecessary) note from the author Social media undoubtedly sucks. It can be incredibly exhausting, and wearying, and put us in a hypnotic trance of outrage, worry, and sadness. And perhaps this field guide was a weird way to romanticize social media or some futile attempt to help us co-exist with its presence in our lives. I wish I had concrete advice for you. You’d think I’d be able to sever my relationship with social media after looking it even MORE to make this ‘zine. I could give well-intentioned suggestions like finding a hobby instead to occupy your time, or trying to leave social media for a week and suddenly see the world change before your very eyes, but I don’t want to be dishonest or hypocritical. There’s something incredible in the ways we can instantly connect with one another, through memes, or shared experiences, or online communities. I don’t think social media, as an entity can be completely blamed. Perhaps the environments we subconsciously form through our reactions or the ways algorithms decide to serve the content they think we want (or will react to) both have room for improvement. 34

So that being said...maybe you can take a page out of Marie Kondo’s book and clean out your feeds. Does someone’s presence on your feed spark joy? If so, do you even want to see them on your feed anymore? Banish them into the unfollowed realm. Or mute them. Social media platforms are informed by our reactions, not necessarily what we like. Maybe in a small rebellious act, you can post with reckless abandon. You can post the mundanities of your commute, or the underwhelming breakfast you just had, or your uninstaworthy life. This isn’t an opportunity to spew horrible things on your account. But maybe post without subconsciously trying to make your thoughts more palatable or interesting? If all else fails, you can also just hurl your phone across the ocean. I’m still trying to figure out what’s best for me, too. GOOD LUCK OUT THERE


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