Influencers have been creating content on the internet for over a decade, but something in recent years feels different. There seems to be a seismic shift in how we create and consume social media content.
Frequent conversations with influencers reveal frustration and confusion. They feel that things are different than before; content creation and working as a full-time influencer feel significantly more difficult. Why is that? Is it algorithmic changes? Cultural shifts? Boredom with the same?
The scapegoat for many influencers’ woes has always been the algorithm--social media’s boogeyman that purportedly quashes engagement rates and suffocates reach and followership. But as we watch the rise of TikTok competing (and inarguably winning) as a main platform of choice, it’s worth noting how TikTok is gradually changing our behavior and how we consume and create content.
First, we need to understand that TikTok is not a social network. It is a way to deliver hyper-curated entertainment directly to a user at a speed and volume that we have never experienced before in our lives. Considering it a social network is fundamentally wrong and leads you to misunderstand what the platform is, how it works, and how you can be successful.
In the early days of social media, platforms like Facebook brought us a way to easily connect and communicate with our friends to update them on the events happening in our lives. Then, the introduction of the ‘Like’ and ‘Share’ buttons fundamentally changed how we used social media.
New algorithms forced us to rethink how we created content to chase discovery and virality. Social media became a stage to entertain people we did not know, strangers who contributed to boosting your engagement metrics rather than your close friends, family, and community.
It set us up to treat social media as a performance. Now, especially on TikTok, many of the niche, edgy, dramatic, weird, and emotionally heightened (whether positive or negative) gets pushed out into the world because that’s what the algorithms have learned we’re likely to engage with.
We wrote about this in Fohr’s 2022 Predictions for Influencer Marketing. Prediction #6 was that influencers this year will work harder to hold attention as platforms become more competitive.
“Commanding attention means directing attention, and TikTok’s captured the mind of a generation.” - Robinhood Snacks
Most social content used to be about documenting the minutia of your life and sharing your personal interests. Today, this type of content isn’t performing as well. The users that grew up posting more down-to-earth content are having difficulty transitioning to this new performance-centric, video-only version of the Internet. And this is also the USP behind the latest app craze, BeReal, embracing the mundanity of life again.
We’re moving away from posting ‘just that beautiful photo’ and feeling the pressure to translate daily moments into fully-edited video highlights. Even Adam Mosseri, CEO of Instagram, recognizes and admits to this shift.
Instagram is still primarily an app that you open up to see what your friends, colleagues, and the influencers you follow are up to--though it's chasing TikTok's coattails with features like suggested Reels you may like. When you open TikTok, you aren't looking for updates from your friends, family, and colleagues. You're looking for the best content that the algorithm is ready to deliver for you.
I believe TikTok is a platform that mainly serves two purposes:
Our Sr. Creative Strategist Sophie Wood disagrees, arguing that TikTok has made a shift in recent months to push users towards content from your friends and those you follow rather than the For You Page.
For influencers and content creators, instead of a place to nurture your online community, TikTok serving as a platform to build a community of followers and move them somewhere else to monetize that audience.
Because of this shift in behavior, we are no longer rooted in service to our following or our online community; we are in service to the algorithm.
It changes the motivations. It changes the way we create content. It changes what becomes popular. We're flooding these platforms with content meant to reach unnamed, faceless people that we don't know anything about rather than helpful, inspiring, informative content for your audience.
As we wrote in the Influencer Marketing Predictions, we always tell creators to center their content on their audience and try and create in service of that audience. I worry that focusing on virality and clout chasing will create an environment where we abandon our audience and “jump the shark.” Have we walked down a path we can't turn around from?
We’ll leave you with this–evaluate the why behind the content you’re creating and who it ultimately serves. Is it for the metrics or your community?
This article was written as an opinion piece based on recent episodes of Negronis with Nord, a video podcast featuring James Nord.