We’ve been taught to believe that creators are only truly successful when they reach the top echelon of their platform, with millions of followers and likes. But this is a false notion that doesn’t accurately reflect what success looks like for creators — or what “success” is about in the first place.
The truth is that success for creators comes in many different forms, and it usually doesn’t depend on reaching the top of the platform. There are many creators who have found success by building a loyal and engaged audience in a very specific niche, even if they “only” have a few thousand followers. These creators have found ways to meaningfully connect with their audience and provide value to them, which is what ultimately leads to success.
And that’s the open secret: they’re beloved by people, not metrics. There are real relationships at play, not just chasing the next biggest vanity number.
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In addition, the top circle of creators on any given platform is often dominated by a small group of individuals who have been able to manipulate the algorithms and gaming the system. This means that reaching the top of the platform doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re a successful creator, as it’s possible to achieve this through tactics that have nothing to do with creating something meaningful.
And honestly, I’d rather make something worthwhile than be considered a “top creator” who made it there by exploiting platform mechanics.
Let’s redefine what success looks like for creators and stop focusing on the wrong things.
Pushing an Atlas Stone up a Hill
As creators, we often put a lot of pressure on ourselves to reach certain numbers when it comes to our metrics. We might expect to see a certain number of likes or followers, or a certain amount of engagement on our posts. And when we don’t see these numbers, we often feel disappointed or even depressed. After all, our social media heroes reached these figures so easily, so we must be doing something wrong, right?
This tendency to focus on numbers without the context through which they were achieved can be damaging to our mental health and our overall well-being. It can lead to a lack of satisfaction and fulfillment, as we’re never truly happy with our journey, no matter how high our metrics may be. It can also lead to a lack of motivation and a lack of direction, as we’re constantly chasing after arbitrary numbers that we saw on the profile of someone else instead of focusing on creating great content ourselves.
It doesn’t help that there are platform out there ranking all users of a particular social media platform against each other. With nearly 100.000 followers on Twitter, the analytics tool SocialBlade gives me a B- grade. If I didn’t know any better, this would make me feel like all my work is still not good enough.
But I do know better. I understand that it’s all about what we focus on.
In order to avoid this negative mindset, we creators need to shift our focus away from numbers and towards creating valuable things and engaging in honest relationship-building. By focusing on the quality of our work and connections, we can find satisfaction and fulfillment, even if our metrics aren’t at the level we want them to end up at. This can help us maintain a healthy mindset and avoid the pitfalls of becoming overly fixated on numbers.
Engagement metrics are important indicators of how well content is performing, but they should not be considered the definitive measure of its value or quality. These metrics, which might include things like the number of likes, shares, or comments a piece of content receives, only provide a snapshot of how people are reacting to it at a particular moment in time. They do not necessarily reflect the long-term worth or impact of the content.
The engagement that a piece of content receives can vary greatly depending on the time it is published. For example, a piece of content that is written and published today might receive a different level of engagement than the same piece of content published a year ago or a year from now. This is because engagement is largely influenced by the current context and circumstances in which the content is being read. No two snapshots are alike.
One way to deal with this problem is to focus on the long-term effects of the content rather than the immediate engagement metrics. Instead of focusing solely on how people react today, focus on the broader impact of your content over the long term. Consider how it is contributing to your overall goals and objectives, and how it is benefiting your audience in the long run.
This also helps to establish a long tail for your personal brand of expertise. This means creating content that is relevant and valuable to your audience over an extended period of time, ready to be retrieved when it’s needed. This change in mindset allows you to create things that will continue to receive engagement and value from your audience over time. Remember that not everyone in your audience will be susceptible for your insights today, but might be ready a month from now. Allow them to find it then. They’ll be grateful for your long-term perspective.
Consider that leaving these traces of your expertise and ambition will attract more than just readers: you’ll find that potential customers and business partners end up stumbling over your work. They’ll be intrigued to follow that trail to your current offering, and join your audience as a pre-warmed connection.
Oh, and in case it’s still not obvious: people understand why you do things. They “get” that you’re running a growth hacking experiment with that time-limited “if you follow me you get a discount.” Nobody wants to be part of someone else’s experiment. Nobody wants to be objectified. And if you treat people as the means to an end, you turn what could have been a relational interaction into a transaction. And that cheapens the whole thing.
The Growth Curve
Many creators find more meaning in the relationships they build with their audience than in transactional gestures such as likes, retweets, or other artificially induced kinds of engagement. A relationship is just so much deeper when it’s full of mutual understanding. But many audience-builders shy away from building relationships because it takes a lot of time and effort.
But it’s absolutely worth it — in the end. And it takes some staying power to see it through.
It is important to remember that the growth of an audience and the development of relationships with them follows an exponential curve. This means that the initial growth of an audience is slow, but as the creator continues to engage with their audience and create high-quality content, the growth of their following will accelerate. This can be frustrating for creators who are starting out and may not see immediate results, but it is important to stay consistent and focused on building meaningful relationships with the audience over time. By continuing to engage honestly and intentionally with the audience, the creator will eventually see their following grow exponentially and the relationships they have built with their audience will deepen and strengthen.
It also help to understand that we all start at zero. Even start novelists like Stephen King or Margaret Atwood have stories of their early book signings attracting just a handful of people — or sometimes even none. And fortunately, they share these stories, which makes it easier for the rest of us to have something to compare our own journeys to.
But even that is often a problem.
Mental Health Challenges
Comparison is often the thief of joy, and it is important to avoid comparing oneself to others, particularly to one’s heroes. When we compare ourselves to others, we often focus on the ways in which we are lacking or falling short, which can lead to feelings of inadequacy and disappointment. Instead of comparing ourselves to others, it is better to focus on our own progress and growth. We can compare ourselves to how we were doing yesterday, and take into account not just the numbers, but also our emotional state and how fulfilled we feel. By reflecting on ourselves, we can avoid the negative effects of comparison and focus on our own progress — no matter how small it might seem any given day. It compounds.
But between projecting a self-confident image out into the world and how we actually feel, we will often find a looming divide. Many founders experience self-doubt, depression, and anxiety even without looking at their numbers —after all, the entrepreneurial journey is incredibly hard to begin with— but things get much more stressful when we add arbitrary numbers and goals into the mix. This happens in all sorts of industries, not just for founders or digital creators. Musicians feel it too. Wherever a dream is sold, people feel like they’re missing out or are made miserable by the very platforms they use to build their audiences on.
Ultimately, the most powerful mindset you can develop as a creator is ignoring vanity metrics such as likes, shares, and comments when assessing the worth and success of your content. Skip the low-hanging fruit of short-term number inflation opportunities. These metrics only provide a snapshot of how people are responding to your content at a particular moment in time, and they do not necessarily reflect its long-term value or impact.
Instead of focusing on these figures, build meaningful relationships with your audience and create high-quality content that is relevant and impactful for them. Remember, your following doesn’t love you (back) for your metrics – they love you for the value you selflessly provide and the connections you foster. By focusing on these things, you can create content that is truly fulfilling and successful.