Using Social Network Sites with Interactive Documentaries

Web-based interactive documentary designers have flexibility when it comes to defining their online boundaries. They can create a self-contained experience within a single website, or they can use social network sites to expand their documentary’s reach onto other platforms.

This post details some possibilities, challenges, and considerations of incorporating social networking sites as part of your web-based interactive documentary.

Let’s begin with the possibilities:

Hosting Content

All social network sites host content. In fact, they need this content in order to exist. You might make some of your own content available on these sites.

Particularly useful are video-hosting options such as YouTube or Vimeo. YouTube remains free no matter how much content you upload, and your content becomes discoverable within the YouTube platform. On the downside, your content becomes part of the thousands of hours uploaded to the site each second. It also becomes subjected to possible unwanted advertising.

Though less known for video surfing, Vimeo offers ad-free video viewing with a much less cluttered interface. Vimeo requires a paid subscription after your videos reach a certain storage threshold.

Comment Functions

Chat and comment functions appear on most social network sites, including YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, and Instagram.

Consider carefully the kind of discussion you wish to encourage surrounding your topic and consider the level of control you wish to have over that discussion.

A private Facebook group allows greater oversight of memberships and members’ contributions than a public group anyone can join.

YouTube also encourages interaction with videos through threaded comments and reactions. Users can reply to other users’ comments through threaded conversations.

Sometimes, though, YouTube comment sections degenerate quickly into ad hominem attacks or worse. YouTube
comments allow moderation based on keywords. The held comments require manual review, which might become overwhelming if the quantity becomes too large or the content becomes threatening or abusive.

User Contributions

Social network sites offer a central location for users to share their related content, such as photos, videos, and more. Instead of them uploading to your website, they can share their content from their favorite social network site accounts.

A hashtag campaign, for example, might invite users to upload their content. A hashtag aggregator can be useful for bringing all the contributions together for people to browse. Tint is one site that offers this service.

Two challenges here. First, not everyone plays nicely when creating and sharing content. Some will troll just because they can, and they will upload inappropriate or unrelated materials. Since the materials come from the users’ accounts, there is little to nothing you can do to control it.

Similar warnings apply to hashtag campaigns. As hashtags are quite common, the same hashtags might have multiple uses. Research your chosen hashtags carefully before adopting them. Sites such as Keyhole and can be helpful for this kind of research.

Users might include your hashtags with their materials as part of hashtage stacking, a tactic used to generate traffic and views. Users also might try to hijack your hashtags for their own purposes, just as they do with corporations and other nonprofits. That said, corporations also might try to control hashtags, such as Disney tried to do with #MayThe4th.

Updated Information

Social network sites offer a way to share updated information about your interactive documentary, its participants, and its story quickly and easily.

Instead of updating the website or app with new materials, you can create a Facebook post and share it across other social network sites. This sharing might encourage new conversations surrounding your documentary’s topic or mission.

Just make sure to include a photo and a link back to your web-based documentary within the post.

With possibilities of social network sites also come limitations:

Business Model

The primary point to remember about almost all major social network sites is that they are for-profit businesses. They are marketing platforms that target advertising to their users, and they are data aggregators who sell that information to corporations, government, and other interested parties.

These sites’ serving of content reflects those priorities. Twitter will show a tweet because it is popular and will draw engagement, not necessarily because the individual user wants to see it. YouTube will show the same viral videos on its front pages because people start watching and keep watching other related videos.

It’s just business as usual.

Content Restrictions

These sites might prohibit the sharing of certain kinds of content based on their terms of service. Facebook frequently frustrates breast cancer advocates because the site removes breast pictures, or even diagrams. (The Know Your Lemons breast cancer awareness campaign offers a brilliant workaround to these restrictions.) These sites also might minimize access to hashtags, such as Instagram blocking the aubergine hashtag.

Content Locking

Some social network sites lock down their content and require a log in in order to access it. Facebook sometimes requires a login for viewing even public pages. Instagram and Pinterest require it after a brief glimpse, if even that. For those without accounts on these sites, that lockout might be discouraging.

Device Requirements

Some social network sites also require certain devices in order to access information. Snapchat, for example, is mobile only. Instagram requires the mobile app in order to upload pictures.

Global Availability

Not all social network sites are avaiable in all countries. China blocks access to YouTube, for example. India blocks access to TikTok, for another example. And political unrest might see popular sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram blocked by governments.

And finally, some considerations when using social network sites with your web-based interactive documentary:

Home Base

Unless part of your goals, avoid using social networking sites exclusively for your interactive documentary’s home page. While they might make for some interesting experiments, doing so causes more trouble than it is worth. Instead, sign up for a domain and establish your own website.

Choose Wisely

Choose what social network sites you want to use carefully. Use the social network sites that your audience is likely to be using already. Few, if any, people will sign up for yet another social network site just to participate.

Engagement Plan

Develop a small plan for handling the social network site connections to your interactive documentary. Do they require regular monitoring? Can they be checked once in a while? How often should they be updated? And, when can you stop monitoring and engaging that connection? One group active in advocacy documentary stopped when the campaign ended, for example.

For those of you who have created web-based interactive documentaries, what else do you suggest should go on this list? Please leave your comments below or on Twitter.

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