To explain how improv relates to social media, I need to talk a bit about improv itself. I plan to dive into some of the mechanics and even some of the psychology, but I’ll start with the definition Wikipedia gives me:
Improvisation is the practice of acting, singing, talking and reacting, of making and creating, in the moment and in response to the stimulus of one’s immediate environment and inner feelings.
Not too shabby, as it covers three points I wanted to make quite nicely.
Improv isn’t just comedy
Most people associate improv either with the TV show Whose Line Is It Anyway, or the Improv chain of comedy clubs. Whose Line showcased what is generally known as short form improv comedy, while the Improv clubs generally have stand-up comics and very little improv of any sort.
Improv is a whole range of artistic expression far beyond just comedy. It evolves as you use it, and you really don’t know where it is going when you start. For social media, the art form is writing. It is very easy to write without being at all artistic, but you don’t have to. Combine your style and voice in a creative way and you’re doing more than stringing words together.
In the Moment
This is one of the two big keys in both improv’s power, and how it relates to social media. When you’re using improv you have to be fully present, or you’re on a train about to wreck.
If you’re on stage with three other people and the director says “you’re all vegetables and you just lost your jobs – Action!” you don’t have a damned thing to work with except your own experience and the people up there with you. If you don’t pay attention to what they say, if you don’t tune out the distractions and really listen, you will fail. Improv forces you to really listen and push your ego and preconceptions to the background – something sadly missing from many online interactions. People think several replies ahead, knowing where they think their discussion should go, and aren’t really listening to the other actors on stage with them.
This is the second key to improv’s power, and its connection to social media. If you don’t respond and support the people up there with you, you’re on a different car of that same train that’s about to wreck.
So you’re a vegetable on stage – that’s all you know until the performer next to you declares he’s a tomato and was fired because the police force discriminates against tomatoes. You now know something new, and have to build on that in your response. Are you a tomato, too? A carrot also discriminated against by the veggist police force?
When you respond directly to a fellow player, when you add information, you’re helping build your scene collaboratively. You’re giving something back that they can build on in turn. You give and you get, and everyone benefits. Too often in social media, people just want to restate their position, brand, idea, or perspective and not really respond to the other ideas coming their way. Honestly respond, and the discussion (and the scene) really starts to work.
Combine genuine listening with real responses and you have the heart of my whole idea around Improv + Social Media = BFF. I’ll crack both of these concepts open in much more depth, and look at techniques for developing them as genuine skills.
More info: If improv is of any interest, I highly recommend Keith Johnstone’s book Impro. It is an excellent discussion on the topic, and provided me with a number of epiphanies as I studied the topic.