Social Media Documentarian

In my ongoing struggle define what it is I do in a neat little package I’ve increasingly found myself using the words ‘Social Media Documentarian‘. Based on the spirit of the idea that ‘if you don’t stick it on the internet it didn’t really happen’, essentially this made-up term refers to the fact that there is huge value in having someone tell your story online in a real-time way through photos, videos, blog posts, tweets, podcasts, etc etc.


I think the ‘social media’ part of the ‘social media documentarian‘ description is a lil redundant insomuch as I’d use whatever the best mediums and tools available are do rich, immersive, engaging online storytelling but it definitely helps to use the buzz word when trying to describe the service to a budget-holder or other potential client.


Content is king and producing compelling creative content consistently is task not everyone is cut out for. Especially if you don’t want it to sound like advertising, marketing or promotional hype.


Some of the projects I’ve been lucky enough to play this role on are things like Geeks On A Plane, The Vancouver 2010 Olympics, The BP Oil Spill, Gowalla, The Waldorf Hotel and Eco Fashion Week. Coming up this year I’ve got some excited Social Media Documentarian projects in the works for SXSW, Chris Jordan’s Midway Journey, Make Web Not War, Tourism Vancouver and Jones Soda.


I’m also teaching two classes at Emily Carr Univesity of Art and Design in the area of ‘social media documentation’. The classes are “Photography for Social Change” and “Video for the Social Web” and are being offered as part of Alexandra Samuel’s new Social & Interactive Media Centre. Being an emerging ‘field’ I know it’s a topic others are thinking about as well and it’s something that I’m just wrapping my head around and would love to know your thoughts.

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9 thoughts on “Social Media Documentarian”

  1. Hey Kris,

    I’m guessing that most people who already follow you in some way online get a sense for what it is you do just by seeing your regular posts, photos etc.

    Makes sense though: you still need to boil it down into a phrase or two that new people can relate to. Packaging it up so to speak. Documentation makes sense to me!


  2. Way to grab the ambiguity and wrestle it to the ground! Also, its hella difficult to define trailblazin’ – so high-fives!

    I think the term “documentarian” sounds a bit passive and neglects the fact that you help clients find their voice and help them articulate their vision in the digital space. Which is something you have immensely helped me with.

    You create compelling content that inspires action. I’m not sure “documentarian” captures that. Um, but I don’t have an alternative suggestion 🙂

  3. Documentarian certainly sounds better than strategist, but I’m not sure it’s fitting. Literally the word means “Someone who makes a documentary”.

    Using the word documentarian may open you up to the same type of criticism that “Citizen Journalist” received during the Olympics.

    The medium itself(documentary) is debated rather fiercely inside film circles, some purists believe that documentaries are factual albeit dramatic representations of life as is(without slant). While others see no issue with documentaries pushing a certain message.

    I’d suggest Social Media Narrator. As a narrator your are both telling and part of the story, your also presenting that story/campaign from a certain point of view(clients/personal). Narrator doesn’t carry the ambiguity and potential critique that documentarian does in my opinion.

  4. Hi Kris,

    I think you’re on to something with this concept. I especially like what you said about “producing compelling creative content consistently is a task not everyone is cut out for”.

    It really does take a unique mindset and someone who identifies with (dare I say, even “loves”) the customer segments that your clients work with.

    Looking forward to your future insights on this!


  5. Producing great content is a lot harder than most people think. After a lot of years as a journalist and now teaching writing for the web, I’m constantly surprised by how many people consistently undervalue its importance.

    What about Social Media Maverick? It pretty much describes how I think of you? Or is it too gimmicky?


  6. “someone who exhibits great independence in thought and action”
    flattered, but stickin with documentarian for now. it’s more descriptive i think.

  7. It’s close as a term but doesn’t capture the point that you are a participant in the activities you are documenting. Hunter S. Thompson added the “Gonzo” descriptor to describe this “involved while covering” approach.

    Additionally, you are not just passively observing and passing along – you contextualize what you see and relay that into something which makes sense to regular folks who weren’t on the ground and apply multiple lenses (not a photo pun) to your experiences to relate in emotional, political and artistic perspectives.

    I call this Story-making.

    Regardless, whatever you call it – i dig it!

  8. I think social media today is one of those fascinating aspects of the ever-evolving internet.

    I’m pretty sure it’s there to stay, but how it will evolve exactly in the near future I don’t know. These are truly interesting times to be living in.

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