The year is 2015; Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, and Instagram are all home to small artists, writers, musicians, and more.
Around this point in time, Facebook forced Facebook Page owners to pay to reach their earned audience with boostable posts.
As most small creatives didn't have the budget, and had since moved on from webrings, niche forums, and solo sites, this spelled disaster.
I refused to pay to win, and so, I left.
Time passed and Tumblr made their environment uninhabitable. Instead of cracking down on its child predator problem, it broad-brushed the issue and sent NSFW artists into a freefall. A large swath of fanartists, fanfic writers and sex workers were forced out.
I left the platform around this point. My aggressively nude, highly feminist art portfolio was made moot in an instant.
During this time, Medium rose up as a hotspot for independent writers. The singular writer was centered, publications could be made by users, and the reach was astronomical.
I made my entire freelance career off the back of just one Medium article on the hiring process, leveraged Reddit for this, and the rest as they say is—well it would've been, history.
Medium decided it wanted to cash-in on its explosive growth and also exert more control. So what did Medium do?
Medium made Medium-owned publications, made users paywall their writing to get in front of their earned audience, and pigeonholed the coveted 'featured' spot to an opaque set of standards hard to hit for many.
In recent days, Medium has decided to step back from this faux pas, but it looks to be an attempt at busting an Editor union effort than actually walking back to better times.
Throughout all this small creator cannibalism, Linkedin surprisingly took center stage as a place for small weirdos to find other small weirdos.
It was old (less algorithmic), less popular, and the users? They were bored of business, and so I elbowed my way in. It became my main source of reach, my key outlet for gigs, and a great place to make friends.
Sadly, LinkedIn is changing.
Its new "professional" standards are applied sporadically, and are often wielded against anything that might ruffle a "business" feather or twelve. Sexual harassment, sexism, racism, and misinfo campaigns are still allowed to thrive, however.
As an older millennial and small content creator, I've seen this before. I know what comes next.
If I'm honest, this terrifies me. If I lose LinkedIn, I'll probably have to pay to win, just like everyone else.
Here's How Small Content Creators Operate
We have highly engaged, niche followings
There's something beautiful about being able to stay small and still survive. Micro influencers with a highly engaged niche don't have to pander to get eyes. We exist, we make, and our merit shines through.
It's highly manageable, too. We get to actually form relationships with our followers—truly make friends—unlike Influencers, where their fans become a sea of avatars and a series of metrics.
As a notorious extrovert who craves friends, I've always loved being small and loud. Now, I don't think small and loud works.
Being a small creator who relies on their niche, highly engaged audience to actually make a living, I've seen every single social media platform become impossible for micro-influencers to operate on.
You either pay to re-earn your audience, or you go viral. Going viral isn't easy, or else everyone would do it.
Not only that, but going viral cannot be repeated with the tactics employed if every social media outlet and non-paid engine of content distribution gets gamified to shit.
Small creators live or die by algorithms. Big creators can take the hit, and that's where we find our current predicament.
What's happening with big tech and small creators, exactly?
The attention economy has starved out its "middle class."
There's a sweet spot between the big players and the little guys that offers creators with highly engaged, small audiences the ability to make a living. I've figured it out, and up until now, it's always worked.
It's the formula I've used during marketing consultations to help solopreneurs and tiny businesses survive when they don't have the budget for advertisements, Influencer marketing, or the privilege of powerful connections.
It's never failed me, until now.
I'm seeing the cracks in the formula. I'm seeing a very visible gap, created by big tech social media platforms honing their algorithm to the point of catering only to the big guys.
Instead of propping up budding content creators, big tech social media platforms have turned their algorithms to consumption of what's already guaranteed to sell, by merit of predisposed hyper-popularity.
What this creates is a feedback loop, where it becomes harder than it's ever been before to get in front of people, especially if you lack a budget.
To put it simply: big tech social media platforms, in an effort to create echo chamber click-factories for consumers, are destroying the "middle class" of the attention economy.
What can small creators do about it?
And what can we do for small creators?
Because I'm under no illusion that big tech won't continue to Amazonify the attention economy, I'm suggesting small creators band together and fuck shit up.
How we fuck shit up:
- Join small creator pods, form alliances, create groups.
- I've created a Discord channel for small creators and I'd like to invite you to join. Please know we may be picky about who stays, but we're all friends here.
- Employ the give and take model: if you want others to share your work, you have to be willing to share theirs too.
- Create an ecosystem where we help push each other beyond the stranglehold of algorithms. This is both egalitarian and requires no investment but your time.
You don't have to join my thing. You can join anything. I don't care what it is, but find it, go to it, and start asking and receiving support. You have to.
It's not negotiable anymore.
What I'm suggesting for people who want to support small creators is to share, subscribe, and engage with us.
I hate self promotion, personally. And, I'm sure a lot of small creators who have managed to elbow their way in feel the same way, too.
Today, pick a small creator, a baby Startup, or a passion project from anyone. Something that you enjoy, that you think needs a little push, and share it everywhere you can. Do it without being asked.
The only way to fuck shit up is to come together and decide that small creators are worth engaging with, too.
This also only works if we join forces, together. Perhaps we can wrestle back the attention economy from algorithmic echo-chambers that cater to those who can pay to win. Perhaps we can't.
However, if we don't take the steps to walk it back, the future of content, art, and writing online will homogenize further than it already has.
And I, for one, am sick to fucking death of seeing the same things from the same people over and over again.
It's about time we did something about it, together, wouldn't you say?