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Open Road Leading to a Bright Horizon, Symbolizing Breaking Free from the Platform Trap for Content Creators


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The Platform Trap

Cam Mulvey

July 24, 2023

The Platform Trap: a predicament where creators become entirely reliant on a single social media platform 

The creator economy has seen more change in the last decade than other industries see in many decades. What started as an innocuous hobby has evolved into a self-sufficient economy, empowering people to build entire businesses around their passion. 

But the success of the many (the creators), has bolstered and accelerated the success of the few (the platforms). As platforms grow, they become embedded into our daily entertainment intake, forcing creators to latch on to an algorithm for their lifeblood. 

But creators are growing wary of the platform trap, acknowledging that they’re leaving their livelihoods at the mercy of an algorithmic roulette wheel. In this blog, we explore the depths of this trap, uncovering its mechanisms and its risks, clearing the path to freedom.

Defining the Platform Trap

The Platform Trap is a precarious situation where content creators become overly reliant on a single social media platform or a small group of the biggest platforms, placing their entire livelihood at the mercy of the platform's policies and algorithms.

Social media platforms serve as intermediaries between creators and their audiences, controlling content distribution through algorithms that dictate what is seen and by whom. They hold the power to cut off creators' access to their hard-earned audience at any moment, potentially leaving them stranded in a sea of uncertainty. 

Of course, big platforms are not without extraordinary benefits. They provide amazing opportunities for exposure and audience building. However, as creators embark on their growth journey, the platform, along with all of its defects, embeds itself into their brand. In an interview with Creator Economy Venture Capitalist Li Jin, creator expert Avi Gandhi argued "creators know they need the platforms to grow, but they don't like them. They don't want to be dependent on them."

The Risk of Entrapment 

The perpetuation of the Platform Trap is fueled by the algorithms and policies wielded by social media platforms. These platforms, while facilitating and profiting from the creators' content, maintain ultimate authority over how that content is distributed, seen, and interacted with by the audience. Their constantly-changing rules and policies, coupled with opaque algorithms, pose a threat to creators that perpetually looms over like a storm cloud on the horizon. The very platforms that creators rely on for growth can become the instruments of their downfall.

To illustrate this risk, consider what unfolded with Reddit only last month. Reddit made the decision to charge third-party developers for accessing data through their API, sparking outrage among Redditors who argued that it would hinder the creation of useful tools for the platform. This swift policy change left developers, who were dependent on the platform, with limited time to adapt and resulted in the forced shutdown of third-party apps. The platform held all the power and they implemented new policy changes, wiping out the third-party developer ecosystem. 

Read my full analysis of the Reddit fallout here.

Creators on Twitter face this challenge more explicitly. As noted by Eugene Wei: "All my followers are accumulated social capital that seem to have been rendered near worthless by algorithmic deflation." This quote highlights the impact of Twitter’s recent platform changes on creators' ability to reach and engage with their audience. Creators' hard-earned social capital, represented by their followers, is increasingly devalued by algorithm changes, leaving a once valuable asset “near worthless.” 

By placing all their eggs in one platform's basket, creators surrender control over their connection with their audience. No matter how diligently they work to build a dedicated following and engage with their audience, the platform holds the reins, dictating the visibility, reach, and presentation of their content. 

Big social media platforms have a tendency to move in lockstep, with actions that are so correlated, they appear to be coordinated. For example, this becomes evident when we consider the rise (and fall) of creator funds. One platform's (TikTok) introduction of a creator fund prompted many others to follow suit in order to retain or attract creators, but they all mostly had the same features and shortcomings. 

Escaping the Platform Trap

“Freedom, for creators, is in diversification, and I think most creators intuitively know that.”  - Avi Gandhi 

The best solution isn’t diversifying away from one mainstream platform to another, which will present the same problems as the original platform. The best solution is to diversify in a way that reduces, or even eliminates, platform dependency altogether.  The way to accomplish this is by owning your creator-follower relationship. 

The best way to establish ownership over your audience relationship is finding direct and linear means of content distribution. Here’s what that means: 

  • Direct: Every time to post (or upload or send) content, it goes directly to your audience’s “inbox”
  • Linear: Content is distributed and received chronologically. Content distribution is not dictated by an algorithm 

Two common examples are membership-based communities and email lists. With a community or an email list, you can ensure that 100% of your content will reach 100% of the people you want it to reach. 

They grant content creators true ownership and control over their interactions with their audience. Unlike social media platforms driven by algorithms, these avenues allow creators to establish personal connections, engage in meaningful conversations, foster a sense of belonging, and foster enhanced participation. Whether through email lists or dedicated community platforms like Sute, Discord, or Circle, creators can break free from their platform dependence and forge a direct, unmediated relationship with their audience.

The nature of the platform trap is not exactly new, and many creators have found success while never breaking free altogether. But it does present significant risks to content creators, leaving them vulnerable to social media platforms. By exploring alternative channels such as membership-based communities and email lists, creators can establish direct, uninhibited connections with their audience. 

If you’re a creator who’s interested in owning the relationship you have with your community, apply to join Sute and become a Founding Creator for our beta launch. 

We’re currently taking applications from the best creators in entrepreneurship, career development, and personal finance, so apply now to secure your spot! 

With Sute, you’ll get a premium membership community that will help you avoid platform disintermediation, build a monetized creator business, create a deep connection with your audience and understand them like never before!