My thoughts on writing for social

In this post, I reflect on my approach to writing for social with platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Umar Hassan
Oct 17, 2020 · 9 min read
Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

For many years, I have had an active social media presence. When I did my undergraduate degree at Birmingham City University, I had one account per social media platform (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat), and a Facebook page to showcase my professional work as a journalist.

Even though I love a good tweet, I would admit that with Facebook and Instagram, I do neglect those platforms when it comes to writing for social. On my social media platforms, I follow a lot of journalists and news outlets so my tweets and posts tend to be very journalism-focused.

For this task, I wanted to bring a little bit of my personality out in my tweets and posts around my work and life on those social media platforms I have mentioned.


Photo by 🇨🇭 Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum on Unsplash

If you gave me a social media platform that I would like to spend my entire life on, it would be Twitter.

Twitter is a platform that allows you to share your updates and thoughts with other users in the world. More than 330 million monthly active users use the platform worldwide, Twitter say in its Q1 2019 report.

As someone who uses Twitter every day, I’m very careful about what I tweet on the platform. I’m always assuming the people that follow me (fellow journalists and editors) will become my manager one day if I work for a publisher or organisation (Financial Times or The Times).

Emojis in my tweet on The Economist’s analysis on F1 drivers and engineers

In this tweet, I shared some analysis that The Economist Data Team did around their analysis around how engineers are just as influential as the driver in winning Formula One World Championships.

Emojis are a great way of reducing the number of characters you use in your tweets. For this tweet, I used an emoji of a mechanic as an engineer and a racing car to explain my thoughts about The Economist’s Graphic detail article on this subject matter.

With the increase in characters from 140 to 280 for tweets in 2017, Twitter said that by increasing the character limit, it made it more easier for users to tweet. For me, the increased character limit reduced the amount of times I used to bang my head when I hit 140 characters for a tweet.

If there was one thing I would improve in this tweet, it is the lack of hashtags in this tweet. If I used a hashtag for F1 like this (#F1), that could drive more engagement (likes, retweets, quote tweets) to my account around the article I tweeted on my Twitter account.

Using GIFs in my tweets

The focus of those two tweets were on a car show I’m enjoying at the moment, called The Grand Tour on Amazon Prime. The other tweet’s subject was on finishing a gym workout to start my day before doing some more independent study.

These two tweets are very emoji-heavy as I wanted to play around with using emojis to reduce the number of characters I had on my tweets, but also use GIFs to make my tweet visual and more personal to my audience.

I used the GIF of Jeremy Clarkson saying yes to give the impression that he approved of my tweet about the show. Instead of using a GIF, it may be worth using a YouTube video of something Grand Tour-related to give my audience an opportunity to watch a clip of the programme.

Whereas with the other tweet that I used a GIF was around a session I did in the gym where I pushed myself to the limit. For this GIF, I used Rocky Balboa training in the boxing gym, as well as the #rstats hashtag to say that some of my study was focused around R.

In an ideal scenario, this may have been the wrong GIF to use in this tweet. Maybe a video of myself training in the gym would have been more appropriate than a GIF if I were to tweet this update again.

I could have been more inventive and created a GIF of myself in the gym working out, which would have made the tweet more human and engaging to my followers.

It’s about taking those editorial considerations into account whenever you write a tweet while considering the elements used (emojis, photographs, videos, hashtags) to make up your social media post. Are the elements you’ve used appropriate and adding value to your tweets or posts?

For example, with the F1 Twitter account, it used a GIF to show the different faces of Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen. The F1 Twitter account encourages other users to engage and take a screenshot to see which Kimi Raikkonen they are with this tweet.

Creating Twitter graphics for my stories in Canva

Alongside the use of emojis, quote tweets and GIFs, I created some Twitter graphics for my journalism work by using Canva to do this.

Canva’s intuitive drag and drop process made it simple for creating social media graphics quickly. I created two Twitter graphics for two pieces of work I did, which was a data piece around special educational needs and statements and an interview with Tom Fair.

For someone who is used to creating data visualisations and charts, getting up-to-speed with creating graphics for Canva was easy for me. All I needed to do was find a format that was tailored to my social media platform (Twitter) and I got on with creating the Twitter graphics.

One of the things I need to be wary of is cutting back on a quote or figure I have used in my graphic for social.

This is because a user on Twitter is likely to be scrolling through their timeline so I need to make sure the graphics I create are visually appealing to my audience.


Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

While my main choice for sharing posts on social media is Twitter, Instagram is a platform that has a lot of potential for me to share my work through photos, graphics and videos.

One of the struggles I have had with Instagram is branding and how I use the platform professionally. I’m keen to build a brand on Instagram that is recognisable and builds trust with my audience but I have often given up when it comes to posting updates on the platform.

Creating Instagram graphics for posts

I love the FT’s approach with their Instagram account, which includes some posts with simple, but effective graphics for their news and analysis stories.

This post, which focuses on the collective wealth of the world’s billionaires, uses mimesis to highlight the figure in question, which is $10.2tn.

This approach to storytelling is something I’ve tried to replicate in my own Instagram graphics for interviews I have done on Medium with Tom Fair and Adam Smith.

Before and after with the Instagram graphic for Adam Smith.

Again, I used Canva to create these graphics, which was easy to do. Getting the formatting right, as well as colour, the quote and picture was challenging because it had to be aligned correctly for the graphic to work on Instagram.

In the example above with Adam Smith, the first version of the Instagram graphic needed some editing tweaks with the text and quote. The quote was too long and needed to be cut down. Once I edited the quote and text, the graphic looked much better than the first version.

Whereas with the Tom Fair Instagram graphic, I wanted to change the format slightly in terms of iconography. Tilting the photo at an angle was one of the things I wanted to experiment with Tom’s graphic for Instagram.

The quote is slightly longer than Adam’s graphic, but would there have been a better quote somewhere else that could be used? Yes. The quote would benefit with some paring back so whenever I create graphics for Instagram posts, keep the quote text short.

Using hashtags in an Instagram post

Hashtags are a great way of getting more engagement and views in your posts and stories. I try to use at least more than one hashtag in any Instagram post I upload on my account, which is related to a subject that I’ve captured as a photo or video.

With my latest Instagram picture, it’s taken in the Curzon Library at Birmingham City University. The main focus in this photo is my laptop, which I’m telling my audience through my post that I’m working on some independent study tasks at the moment.

In the post’s description, I used the hashtags #mastersstudent #journalist #quietstudy #notimetowaste to categorise these posts for other Instagram users to look at. I need to use Instagram tags more often to make my posts and stories more engaging with my audience.


Out of the three social media platforms I use, Facebook is the one I use the least. But it gave me an opportunity to experiment and share posts with my friends and fellow journalists.

I shared this post of an interview I wrote on Medium with Adam Smith where the description of my Facebook post was short and to the point. The person I tagged in my post (Steve Zacharanda) was a friend on my Facebook account so by doing that, more of his friends would share the interview I did with him.

Facebook is more challenging as a platform for posting updates on social media due to the fact that your audience is more personal than professional.

One of the workarounds for sharing stories would be to create a Facebook page, focusing on my professional work while my Facebook account has more personal posts that I can share with my friends.

Overall Thoughts

Writing for social remains an area that I’m working on as a journalist. Using visual elements appropriately in tweets, Instagram and Facebook posts needs to be an area to focus on in my social media updates so I’m not tweeting or posting GIFs, emojis and photos daily.

With Instagram, I need to be posting more regularly so that I see my Instagram account as a personal brand for storytelling through the data journalism work I do.

As for Twitter, I need to use hashtags more regularly to increase engagement with my audience. Using emojis in my tweets is great, but if I don’t use one or more hashtags in a tweet, then I’m losing out on a lot of potential audience engagement that would otherwise be lost without hashtags in my tweets.

Meanwhile, I need to slowly increase my Facebook usage by creating a Facebook page to tell my stories on the platform more professionally. This means my personal usage of Facebook will fall, but it gives me a chance to develop a brand that I am proud of as a data journalist.

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