Today anyone can be a content creator. All it takes is a smart phone and access to the internet, both of which are easy. Applications have many features and people are no longer shy, be it in front of a camera or a microphone. Once upon a time, they viewed advertisements on television, then YouTube, and commented on social media. But these days they can come up with their own versions of any video, imitate routines from movies or even make a parody of a celebrity.
Instagram launched the Reels feature in August 2020 when the world was grappling with the hard reality of a pandemic. But the real truth behind the initiative was the tough competition from Tiktok on the short video format with an immense potential to go viral in minutes. Between the 2 players, they just set us on a straight pathway into the never ending whirlpool of swirling content, offering us the chance to stay at the top of “trends” before eventually being gazumped down below to make way for the next one. You could be a star or fade to a blackhole by the time earth decides to do one spin around its axis.
A few weeks back, Facebook or rather Meta announced a $10K bonus to content creators with more than 50K followers for posting reels. They have started the US rollout recently, though the exact criteria, frequency, genre or clauses for the incentive remain cloudy.
Strange, right? This aint the Oscars to have a jury or announce nominations or put out the red carpet.
But ideally if this is to encourage Content creators, shouldn’t it be accompanied with some justification on why some deserve to be paid more than others? If not, it signals another desperate attempt to stay relevant amidst the growing content creation madness.
So how does this add to the rising negativity around Social media platforms?
In 2019, Facebook added a feature to hide likes under the pretense of protecting users from worrying about the reaction to their content. They mentioned their intent was to keep the users happy while using their platform, but there was more to it. Data sources state around this time, there was a decline of engagement rates from 1.54% to 0.9% signaling the earliest fatigue on social media platforms. Hence it was considered an attempt to sweep dirt under the carpet with a well-intended excuse!
With this real data becoming inaccessible, more creators jumped into curating content chasing popularity. Like finding a microbrewery in every other street in Bengaluru, you may stumble upon an ‘Influencer’ in your apartment shooting videos in the street chased by dogs! (Even they are offended!). DUI has taken on a new meaning — there are less people taking the wheel while drunk than there are hooked onto their phones watching some ‘influencer’ doing their thing.
One of the most common reel trends is the Outfit challenge to showcase transformation. Background music that pairs with this is “Touch it” by Busta Rhymes. Wonder if the content creators who used it have considered listening to what exactly the lyrics say!!
This insane explosion of content posted every second has expanded the pool a brand can choose from. Instead of relying on in-house resources or agency, why not spread the net wider and generate more content from the larger population? And if it means purely hopping on to what the recent trending fad is, so be it. Brands realize that since the investment is low, the marketing team can purely piggy back on any trend force-fitting themselves into it. It’s fine even if it means you’re just pissing into a vast ocean. You can look for the next campaign with the next best trend later.
It sort of has some parallels to what happened with journalism in the past decade. Organizations realized they could get pieces done by ‘contributors’ from remote locations at much lesser pay than their own correspondents. In addition, these contributors could churn out content pieces that had the most sellable content rather than the most important news.
As long as it gathers eyeballs, Quality doesn’t matter!
Reach is another important factor. At times, brands and agencies are chasing aggressive targets and leveraging an influencer’s aura can just bring the much needed boost for business.
Now imagine, a Mom influencer with 1 Million followers and engagement rate of 5% shares a video stating how using an Electric lunch box is very useful when she has lunch at home in her dining table. (RIP Microwave, 4-burner Gas stove & freshly made rotis before lunch!). Ideally the product is relevant for an office-goer who misses the experience of hot food with the regular tiffin box. As long as the video gets 10K views, does it really matter if it is logical who is seen using it?
So channeling energies on such partnerships can set a dangerous precedent where you are moving away from core business goals to curate campaigns and taking it to the masses (influencers!) to dictate terms. It means brands have to keep shifting the goalposts frequently. As a result, creativity can take a hit or more likely be given short shrift in this never ending search for the next trending topic or influencer within the budget.
Brands prided themselves in being the differentiator, in coming up with a script that stood out from the rest. But now attuning to what is in fashion, makes standing out impossible and shockingly unworthy!
So why go the extra mile, just get a similar influencer!
Lush, a British Cosmetics company recently announced they are quitting social media. They would stop posting on the 4 major platforms — Facebook, Instagram, Tiktok & Snapchat, but retain the handles to receive Customer feedback. Chief Digital Officer, Jack Constantine made a bold statement, ”Social media was not designed to look after people’s health, but our products are.”
While a big brand can afford a gutsy move of this stature, not every other brand has that option. So, there looks to be no respite from death by content overload in near future.
We all know the history of stock markets. A relatively unknown, performing stock does well until it goes mainstream. Early adopters of the stock gain it’s benefit, but once it’s oversubscribed, it loses it’s value. This ride on the social stock exchange is appearing similar proportions.
Much like how the stock market implodes, this could too, the fallout of which could be extensive!
Views expressed are personal. Written with Virendra Karunakar.