This Western University researcher looks at how poets can evolve alongside social media trends
Changing trends require writers to adopt dynamic ways to gain visibility, researcher says
As an English major at Western University in London, Ont., Tanja Grubnic was interested to see how poetry shared on social media became an important form of engagement among users and poets looking to create an online presence.
This led the PhD candidate to explore 'InstaPoetry', focusing on how social media is changing the way literature and popular culture are consumed and how writers are keeping up with ever-changing trends and algorithms.
"The heart of my research looks at how social media is changing the role of the author, how it's turning them into a new type of an online media celebrity and allowing them to have more influence in their communities," Grubnic said.
She says although writers branding themselves on social media can eventually become published authors, many must continue to maintain their large online presence.
"The way social media has intervened in our lives in almost every way imaginable is in keeping with the way literature is also consumed," she said.
Through studying the works of Instagram personalities such as Rupi Kaur, and Tenille K. Campbell, Grubnic's found that authors can connect with audiences in ways that authors in pre-social media eras may not have been able to do.
Rolling with the changes
Grubnic believes comment sections allow poets opportunities to engage in ongoing meaningful dialogues with their audiences. But with trends shifting to an emphasis on video-based media like TikTok and Reels, poets used to traditional print forms may have to find dynamic ways to maintain their brand value, she said.
"There's this increased emphasis on a 'Celebrity persona', so looking at how someone like Rupi Kaur turns her entire self into a brand with a very significant social media presence," she said.
Grubnic says changing algorithms present a unique challenge that makes it harder for new voices to gain the same amount of visibility, requiring them to go the extra mile aside from their writing.
"Some poets struggle to have their content made visible on their followers' feeds, for example, so less people are viewing their work, I think we're seeing a new set of issues unique to social media that authors are learning to navigate."
What peaked Grubnic's interest in studying Campbell's work was the way the Dene and Métis author used her platform to highlight her community's unique stories.
Campbell, who is from the English River First Nation in Saskatchewan, uses her #IndianLovePoems to share stories about Indigenous love and relationships, which was published into a book in 2017.
"I wanted it to be something easily searchable and shareable, which came very naturally on Instagram at a time where we could connect and find like-minded people to have these discussions, which opened up possibilities for the book and poems to reach," Campbell said.
Before publishing her book, Campbell released excerpts of her poems on Instagram, which allowed audiences to look forward to her work, and with character limits on posts, viewers could consume her content at a rate that works best for them, she said.
A big question that remains for Grubnic is whether social media is a sustainable environment for new authors to gain momentum at the fast rate at which it's changing.
To delve further into this, she's been awarded a Fullbright Canada scholarship for a nine-month exchange at Duke University in the U.S., where she'll look at how Canadian literary trends compare to American trends on social media.