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Being a content creator isn’t as easy as you think

On 13th June 2018 Tyler ‘Ninja’ Blevins, a popular streamer on Twitch, lost 40,000 subscribers after taking a break for less than 48 hours. The loss of subscribers wasn’t a great sign for content creators and could be interpreted as such: You stop to take a break and tens of thousands of subscribers that you have worked so hard to attain will leave.

Whether its on YouTube, TikTok, Facebook, Twitch or any other social media platform, content creation involves a lot of work, and can be particularly overwhelming for small content creators who don’t have a production team supporting them.

Whether accurate or not, for a while there’s been a general understanding that frequency of uploads is something that platforms reward. With this understanding creators often set themselves an objective of publishing content on a consistent basis, for example, one video a week on YouTube.

Ninja: "Wanna know the struggles of streaming over other jobs? I left for less than 48 hours and lost 40,000 subscribers on twitch. I'll be back today (Wednesday) grinding again."

While one video a week sounds doable, it’s easy to underestimate the time taken to produce quality videos. Fleshing out the content, the script, the location of filming and editing all takes time. The filming itself can take hours and many takes to get it right. Editing videos is another beast altogether, ensuring it’s a smooth and pleasant ‘journey’ for the viewer, and audio/music syncs well with the content.

Once a video is complete, the job is far from over. A good thumbnail needs to be designed to attract viewers’ attention, captions need to be written out to help with search results on Google (especially important for small creators who don’t have a fan base to fall back on), and the video needs to be promoted on social media. All of this work for what can amount to just 10-20 views.

The experience isn’t forgiving. As soon as the project cycle of one video is complete, work immediately starts on the next. In order to meet this seemingly doable goal of 1 video a week, creators notice they’re rushing conversations with friends and family and can go by hours without having eaten anything.

Creators then compare themselves with others, some of whom are uploading videos several times a day and then questions start to arise about the extent to which they can compromise quality in order to increase quantity.

Content creator / streamer

Sympathy among the general public for this and for the plight of the average content creator is pretty low. Many people will look at Ninja’s loss of subscribers and think all he has to do is play video games. How hard can it be?

These comments of course lack the understanding of how draining such work can be. Along with the streaming itself, there’s an expectation for streamers to engage with their fans. This in itself is a losing battle. There’ll inevitably be a time when a streamer is exhausted and misses or misinterprents comments by a viewer, after which their reputation changes into someone who doesn’t care about his subscribers.

It also doesn’t help that the reputation of influencers isn’t always positive. There have been numerous articles published that show how influencers with a few thousand followers on Instagram have requested free meals at restaurants, free accommodation at hotels and free services from web developers, wedding planners and so on. When some of these influencers are denied their partnership requests, they often resort to insulting the business professionals who they wanted to work with in the first place.

None of this helps content creators who are legitimately putting the work in and growing through consistent hard work.

Influencer in a coffee shop

The loss of 40k subscribers is indicative of the expectation that people have of streamers. People go on Twitch and subscribe to streamers, sometimes forgetting that they’re actual people who have to concentrate on the game they’re playing as well as providing commentary. Ask anyone to do this for several hours a day, consecutively day after day and you’ll soon realise that it’s no walk in the park.

The problem is that a subscription to a streamer is seen as a form of on-demand TV. The subscriber goes on to Twitch and will then want (and expect) to view in real-time the streamer they have an interest in. If the streamer isn’t available, this can result in an unsubscribe. Exactly what happened to Tyler Blevins for just being away for less than 48 hours.

Of course it’s not deliberate. Twitch users don’t just go onto the platform hoping to squeeze every ounce of energy from streamers, but often it’s viewer behaviour that drives this expectation. There is barely any effort required at all to subscribe (and to unsubscribe), but a considerable amount of effort required to stream. And when users are unsubscribing just because a streamer isn’t available, this sets a tone of expectation that is almost impossible to meet.

Social media influencer

With all the cards seemingly stacked against small-time creators, what’s the option? Some resort to buying subscribers or view-botting, a form of fake engagement whereby streamers pay for viewers with the hope of gaming the YouTube and Twitch algorithms. Gaming the algorithms, however, is rarely a good idea and can be counterproductive.

Others look for collaborations as a way to make thing work. A phenomenon that’s starting to pop up more and more is the collaborative house. A residence where influencers live together to create content and feature in each other’s videos. They’re not just a place for influencers to hang out and party. Contrary to this, the house is designed for “productivity” i.e. discussing ideas and churning out video after video on a daily basis.

The point is, being a content creator isn’t as easy as people think. And so it’s important to take time off. In November 2019 the then-CEO of YouTube, Susan Wojcicki, encouraged creators to take time off for their own mental health and to avoid burnout. She went on to explain that her team had analyzed data showing that creators can take time off without their viewership suffering.

Taking time off can give you space to breathe, to think about new ideas and to come back with more energy and creativity. Despite the desire to keep feeding the algorithm and pumping out content, taking a step back in order to keep moving forward can often be the most effective course of action.

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