Don’t grow an audience, grow WITH your audience instead
As content creators, sometimes we all wish things would be a little bit easier.
Most days, I find myself wishing Instagram’s algorithm hadn’t shadow banned my content. I wish people would read my articles without having to invest hours or days promoting them. I wish I didn’t need to spread myself so thin across so many social media platforms. I wish these platforms wouldn’t restrict my organic reach whenever I need to take a short “sanity” break.
I think most content creators feel the same way I do. Probably, if you’ve read this far, there’s a good chance you were nodding all along.
On his paper—Creativity Under Fire, Daniel Gross wrote:
(…) I find that intensifying competition induces agents to produce original, untested ideas over tweaking their earlier work, but heavy competition drives them to stop investing altogether.Daniel Gross
Although the author originally analyzed teams of designers in a corporate environment, the same conclusion holds true for other creative endeavors.
I believe we all know this on an instinctive level. Competition can be fun and healthy. It can drive us to create unique content. It does this by pushing us out of our comfort zone, forcing us to test different approaches, and making us persist even when we don’t see any immediate results.
But at some point, that competition can become overwhelming. Instead of pushing us forward, it starts driving us apart.
The threshold is different for every one of us, but, to be honest, I start believing most of us just give up too soon.
One movie I always go to for inspiration is “Whiplash”.
The beauty of the movie lies in the fact that it doesn’t attempt to provide any concrete answers. It just tells the story of Andrew, a young drummer with big dreams, and Terence Fletcher, an abusive mentor who continuously pushes Andrews with shocking aggressiveness.
At some point, Andrew asks Terence if he doesn’t fear he will go too far and discourage the next potential genius of becoming so. Fletcher’s answer is a dismissive no. According to him, the next genius would never be discouraged, no matter how much hardship gets thrown his way.
Ultimately, I think it was because Andrew chose to believe in Fletcher’s words that the movie ended the way it did. And Andrew’s choice opened a strange new door in my life. A door to the realm of possibility, persistence, and perhaps of insanity too.
But what about our mental health?
In a world that continuously rewards mediocrity, Fletcher’s words sound shocking, blasphemous, and outdated to my ears. But part of me recognizes the unsexy truth behind them.
We never spoke or wrote so much about mental health as we do today. Yet as we focus so much of our efforts on not offending nor discouraging others, we may have inadvertently caused the rise of mediocrity.
With the fear of discouraging the next genius, we are failing to push her out of her comfort zone. You know this as well as I do – smart kinds are lazy, if they can get away with cheating their way through college, they will. If no one pushes them to go further, they’ll be happy with enough. So why do we think we need to treat adults differently? Why do we think that complimenting people for their small efforts will be enough to push them to become better?
Adversity introduces a man to himselfAlbert Einstein
Good ideas are born out of difficulties and out of necessity. If we had an easy road ahead of us, we would not be able to produce the type of content that moves people. All great art is born from friction with the world and with ourselves.
But how do we handle this pressure in the overwhelming era of social media?
Today’s world no longer plays solely by the rules of merit.
We may have easy access to the public, we may have abolished subjective gatekeepers. But now we need to be able to rise above the noise that populates our feeds.
It’s no longer enough to produce good content to be noticed. You need to produce astronomic amounts of great content regularly and get creative about how you promote it. Most platforms are ruled by algorithms that prize quantity over quality, and popularity over value.
On these platforms, it’s hard to stay atop of the competition without burning out and without despairing over things we cannot control. In these platforms, we’re playing a dangerous game.
Plugin on Instagram and you may find yourself trapped in the comparison game, jealous of other people’s successes and crushed by the lack of our own. And because these social media platforms only give a tight window of time to capture people’s attention, it’s only logical that we spend so much of our time perfecting our attention-grabbing hooks instead of focusing on our art.
We fragment our creativity, scattering it across the countless tasks we need to master if we are to succeed. For this reason, I believe it takes longer to master this game. We can’t be good at one thing only. It’s no longer enough to only write great stories.
You need to be able to wrap your stories around good pictures and witty tweets. You need to show up every day so people don’t forget you exist.
But will this fierce competition help us fulfill our true potential?
Or will it simply subvert our creations?
I have a very peculiar view of the topic. I believe most people playing the fast social media game, looking for their 5 minutes of fame, don’t deserve the popularity these platforms grant them.
In this age of metrics, superficiality beats quality. Shocking marketing strategies beat powerful messages. Beauty beats the truth.
The only way to escape this is to understand that you can’t win the game by doing what everyone else is doing. We can’t use social media for promotion, because 99% of your followers won’t care about our art.
When you’re virtually unknown, promoting your content will be a frustrating pursuit. You don’t get to be the hero on other people’s stories. You’re light-years away from deserving that label.
Interestingly, the conclusion is one you could easily make by observing how other writers are faring on these platforms.
We all follow writers with massive followings on Twitter that have little to no reviews on their books.
We all know the folk who keep pushing pictures of themselves writing through our Instagram feeds and have a staggering minuscule engagement.
Are they wrong in posting too much about themselves and trying to build a huge following straight away?
I don’t think they’re wrong. I just think they’re doing it too soon. They’re not prepared to be the heroes of other people’s stories. They are focused on the wrong things, obsessed by chasing vanity metrics instead of devoting their time creating a massive body of work.
If we can’t use social media for promotion, then what?
We’re playing the long game. This game requires a “blood sacrifice.” It requires that we build our platforms brick by brick, focusing on our audience and not on ourselves.
GaryVee says we need to provide value. As a fiction writer, the type of value we’ll be able to provide is often hard to grasp. We’re not here to solve people’s problems, we’re here to learn about them.
For me, it’s been infinitely valuable to interact with other writers and book lovers on social media. I have a reason for spending so many hours on Instagram, and that reason has nothing to do with self-promotion. If you look at my content, I’m way more likely to promote other people’s content than I am of promoting my own.
So why am I doing that?
I’m doing that to learn about people’s lives and pains. I’m soaking on their experiences, dreams, and hopes. And I’m letting those feelings guide me as I write the words I desperately need to write.
Long gone is the time when writers created in obscurity. Society is changing and progressing so quickly, that we risk telling irrelevant stories if we don’t stay in touch with the minds and lives of the people who drive and influence the book-loving community. Does this mean we should be writing for the market?
No, it means we should be writing for an audience.
It means we should get out there, connect with like-minded individuals and learn about their pains and joys before we sit down to write. It means we need to learn to “see” before we can learn to “tell” our stories. No writer, artist, or content creator should feel superior to his audience. At most, we should be grateful for being able to wander in the hidden circles of our society, drinking from their views of the world.
I hope you enjoyed this article. I also hope it brought you some peace. Don’t forget to share it with your artistic friends!
Featured image credit: Nicholas Green on Unsplash
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