February 27, 2023
Despite the massive reach and potential for virality that social media algorithms offer, the world of social media on algorithmic or feed-based platforms is not without its challenges. Content creators often struggle with the unpredictable nature of algorithms and the lack of alignment between their goals and those of the platform. Almost two-thirds of creators spend less than half their time actually creating, and ad revenue - the primary earnings source for feed-based creators - has declined by 33% since COVID.
Since feed-based platforms, powered by algorithms, have been the default option for social media, basically since the industry was founded, monetization opportunities for creators are more reactions to algorithms, rather than products of them. Monetization of traditional social media is an entire industry, so we won’t focus on it too much as we’ve covered it extensively in other blogs, such as here and here.
Algorithmic or feed-based platforms are not only integral to the social media landscape, but they have effectively become synonymous with the entire industry. They effectively facilitate both sides of the content marketplace, providing users with an easy way to discover content and creators with a mechanism to reach a massive audience.
One of the primary advantages of algorithmic platforms is their potential for virality. With the ability to reach millions of users, content creators can achieve significant growth and exposure.
While some creators opt for paid advertising to amplify their reach (⅓ of full-time creators use paid advertising) many creators experience explosive growth organically. The viral nature of algorithmic platforms means that the discovery of a piece of content can lead to a snowball effect, with more and more users sharing and engaging with it. This kind of reach and exposure would be challenging to achieve on a non-algorithmic platform, making algorithmic platforms a significant boon for creators looking to grow their audience.
Moreover, algorithmic platforms have a vast user base, making them the ideal place for creators to find an audience. Since these platforms have been the default for so long, users have grown accustomed to discovering content with minimal effort. The ease of use and the ability to discover content that is interesting to them makes algorithmic platforms highly appealing to users.
A massive migration away from algorithmic platforms will simply never happen. As a result, creators can take advantage of the diverse user base and reach audiences across multiple platforms.
If you are a content creator, I don’t need to tell you how unpredictable algorithms can be. It can be very difficult for creators to know and understand what types of content will do well. The unpredictability of algorithms can lead to frustration and discouragement among content creators, who may feel like they are at the mercy of the algorithm. Furthermore, the lack of transparency and clear guidelines from algorithmic platforms can make it challenging for creators to adjust their content strategy to improve their reach and engagement. As a result, creators may feel like they are constantly playing catch-up and struggling to keep up with the ever-changing landscape of algorithmic social media platforms.
Social media platforms are constantly tweaking their algorithms to improve user engagement and the user experience. These changes can have a significant impact on the reach and visibility of content, making it challenging for creators to stay on top of the latest trends and algorithmic updates.
Algorithmic platforms often do not provide clear and transparent guidelines for content creators. Creators may not know why their content is not reaching their intended audience, making it difficult for them to adjust their content strategy.
Algorithmic platforms may shadow-ban creators, which means their content is hidden from other users without any explanation. This can happen if the platform's algorithms determine that the content violates their community guidelines or is not suitable for certain audiences, which can significantly reduce a creator's reach and visibility.
On platforms like YouTube, for example, the algorithm can significantly impact a creator's reach and visibility if their content performs poorly. In some cases, a single video that underperforms can take weeks or even months to recover from, reducing the creator's overall viewership and revenue. The pressure to constantly produce high-performing content that resonates with their audience can be overwhelming, leading to burnout and discouragement. The lack of transparency in the algorithm can also make it difficult for creators to understand what went wrong and how to improve their content strategy moving forward.
As a result, creators must constantly adapt and evolve their content to keep up with the algorithmic changes, adding to the already substantial workload of being a content creator.
The expression “Instagram influencer is the new unpaid internship” has been floating around for the last few years. An influencers’ content drives growth of the platform by getting users to engage, which then brings more advertisers to the platform. Since these advertisers are the primary revenue model for the platforms, the platform benefits and the influencer, whose content is what originally brought the dollars in the door, is left empty-handed.
Algorithmic platforms may benefit creators, but don’t have a rewards system for those who drive the most growth. Their priority is gaining users and keeping them online, whereas creators have very different goals. The top priorities for creators are “creating the best content I can” (35.3%) and “connecting with my audience” (34.9%). Algorithmic platforms are not set up to help creators succeed here. In fact, when they do succeed, in hitting goals, it’s often in spite of the algorithms.
Algorithms are set up to reward content that drives engagement, which isn’t necessarily the highest quality content. This means a few things:
As creators evolve, it’s important to consider how platforms align themselves with their goals. The bottom line is that they have to service their followers, and the platform should be incentivized to help them do so.