Facebook’s outage could put off its most important users: Creators

October 6, 2021, 4:30 PM UTC
Social media platforms recently rolled out incentives for creators.
Picture Alliance - Getty Images

Feeds were quiet for 3.5-billion-plus people yesterday as Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp all went offline for roughly five hours. The total number of people affected by the outage was likely far higher, as millions depend on Facebook’s authorization code to access various sites and services.

Not a great day to be a part of the infrastructure team at Facebook. It was an inconvenience to everyday users who rely on their products to communicate with friends and family. For creators who rely on these social platforms to make a living, yesterday highlighted something many people in the industry have been feeling for a long time: a growing sense of helplessness and alienation from their communities despite having staggering numbers of followers.

Algorithm shifts, monetization policy changes, questionable data practices, favoritism, and platform toxicity have made for an increasingly shaky foundation on which to build a business if you’re a creator. The truth, as many people have experienced firsthand, is that on any of the primary social platforms you are kind of renting the relationship with your audience versus owning it.

The lure of sacrificing meaningful fan interactions at the altar of potential virality has many creators feeling burned out. As a Toronto creator recently told the New York Times, “It almost feels like I’m getting a taste of celebrity, but it’s never consistent and as soon as you get it, it’s gone and you’re constantly trying to get it back.” This type of fleeting interaction, underscored by the vanity metrics that track it, is built into the core user experience. Social platforms optimize for broad, shallow interactions that keep people scrolling in order to collect the reams of data necessary to support their advertising business.

However, creators are increasingly focusing on creating deep, consistent relationships with their biggest fans and using a variety of platforms outside of the traditional social media ecosystem to monetize those relationships.

I’m not sharing anything Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter aren’t all very much aware of. After spending years downplaying the contributions of the 50-million-plus people who consider themselves to be creators, the platforms have committed to spending billions to improve their offerings for creators and their fans. These incentives are designed to keep creators interested enough in the platform to continue to make content that supports the underlying ad-based business model and provide them with some financial value.

However, terms are often less than favorable and have a lot in common with the music industry in the 1950s and ’60s. It’s easy to draw the parallel between how some in the music industry provided production, distribution, and token financial incentives to talented artists in exchange for enduring rights to their work. Both offer distribution and paths to monetization, but in 2021 enduring value is tied to audience data and owning the means of communication. Creators want more than to make money on someone else’s platform. They want to be their own business.

Investments in the creator economy startups had already hit $2 billion in June, which really isn’t all that surprising given the activity in the space and the still relatively untapped opportunity. The question is who can most quickly and easily balance the needs of creators and their fans with avenues toward monetization that are unique and interesting.

Enter platforms like Patreon, Cameo, and Substack, as well as relatively new ones like OnlyFans, Subtext, and Koji. All take slightly different approaches, but the overarching philosophies are similar: empower creators to own the relationship with their fans while providing a turnkey monetization opportunity that fans love. For Cameo it’s videos, for Subtext it’s text message communication, for Patreon it might be merch or access to unique content. The revenue models are straightforward and allow creators to treat their primary social audiences as the top of the funnel they hope to convert into more valuable experiences that they own.

If you look at the evolution of the creator economy, there have really been four catalysts of growth:

1. The explosion of the social media platforms themselves (Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, etc.).

2. Fans viewing creators as more engaging than brands.

3. Brands viewing creators as individual media companies they can advertise through.

4.  Creators viewing themselves as businesses.

Ultimately, we’ve probably only started to realize the potential of the creator economy and the impact it has on the entire tech and media ecosystem. There’s likely much more experimentation and consolidation on the horizon, but the platforms that win will be focused on empowering creators to succeed on their own terms, instead of performing for tips on someone else’s stage. 

Mike Donoghue is the cofounder and CEO of Subtext.

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