The current social media age offers professional and amateur content creators opportunities for publishing and promotion that were just inexistent before. Unfortunately, it seems that instead of creating a community around shared opportunity, it divides us into consumers and producers. Why?
Over the past couple of months, I investigated using social media to promote my work, gauge what, if anything I made had any potential, and hopefully find my way towards becoming a content creator. I did not know how to use these platforms, some of them were completely new to me and others I had only minimal experience with from previous times I had experimented. I was in fact averse to much of what makes social media: showing off, throwing your two cents in the pot, and engaging in conversation with strangers, or worse, with people you know. I took to doing these things out of necessity.
I have not been all that successful so far due to a number of reasons: content quality (I am learning!), lack of social media skills (I can see why this can be someone’s job!), and the experimental nature of my content, otherwise said lacking consistency. People like consistency; the key to building an audience is to offer them the same things they like again and again.
And this brings me to what I see as the failure in social media’s mission of bringing us together. I am not naive, business is business. Those algorithms need running to ensure everyone gets what they want. However, I want to look at this from the user’s perspective. People settle into two roles: consumer and producer, and thus work against themselves.
The Consumer Perspective: We all have spent minutes or hours scrolling, sight out of focus, mind gone somewhere else, hoping to find.. what? This is why social media is addictive. I have experienced it myself. The brain gets satiated quickly, but we crave more and more and embark on a pointless quest: having more of the good stuff is not going to give us more of a kick. That’s how our biological brain is wired. Falling into this trap turns us into the consumer: we seek quantity, not quality, and forget that there is other kind of content out there. In this stupor it is hard to imagine how we could find it since we are so used to being fed (that’s what feeds are for, right?) what we like. Not all population using social media would have wanted to engage in sharing their own content. But for those who did, being bombarded with cherry-picked content makes them quit before even trying. ‘Why should I post when no one is going to like it?’ And unfortunately, the state of numbness the scrolling population finds itself in makes this prophecy come true. We don’t like (let alone comment on, or share) anything that is not superlative: massive achievement, big names, professional quality production. The average consumer, especially if not having any experience in production, forgets that such achievement is rare and such production quality is beyond the resources of the majority of the user base.
The Producer Perspective: In order to succeed, the producer hasn’t got much of a choice in terms of how to operate. All that I have described so far constrains the successful content creator to produce content according to a recipe they have had validated by the crowd, and at such a rate that creativity, and perhaps even quality, has to be thrown out the window. This brings further damage to originality: the recipe would have been validated by a crowd that was trained to crave more of what they already liked. New content will have to contort itself in ways that allow successful box-ticking. Things are even worse for the aspiring content creator. Unless they have bypassed their development period and jumped straight to being successful, they don’t have much of a chance. And that is a shame. Finally, if the producer has to spend all their time making content, they will not care to see what anyone else is doing, they won’t bother interacting. This further deepens the divide: the successful producer places themselves on a pedestal and the consumer becomes further alienated. One might say, it is not reasonable to expect someone with 1000 comments to reply to each one. No, but they can skim through them and give a public answer addressing the feeling. Social media is based on the concept of ‘following’. I feel it should be a responsibility of the successful ones to follow back to support creating a community. This one, I agree, can be trickier in practice. One might not want to follow back a follower without seeing what they are about: eg. not support someone with questionable values. And asking someone to check out each one of their thousands of new followers is too much..
But then my question is: Do they check out followers just to block the ones that don’t conform? I highly doubt it. So then, maybe the ‘Follow back automatically’ button would only cause trouble to the algorithms..