How noble to think it will ever be different.
How to make stuff, online.
Note: This is the second VFD edition this week. I am aware. But yesterday’s email was more about The Future and less about giving you something new. This is that something new, for this week at least.
When you are trying to build something online most people start by looking at others. And this is not a Terrible idea but it isn’t the best approach, either, because others have done what the Tech Giants allowed in that moment and many of the choices and growth hacks they made come down to luck and circumstance and Mark Zuckerberg pulling a big Looney Tunes lever that says “traffic”.’
What I am trying to say is creativity is hard and making things is harder but there are some basic ideas that, in my time at least, stand up. I do not want to hear from another content marketing grifter, sapped onto the tit of venture capital, applauded all over the internet for, I don’t know, “finally figuring out” how to make good Twitter threads. You are on the internet, dammit. Everyone who is already better at this is doing it for free and is probably a teenager.
The challenge of TikTok is the challenge of working in any artistic pursuit: that is, creativity is not an endless stream and it is not a 24 hr pump. You cannot be truly creative and truly enigmatic and break down the barriers of how things were done before in every hour of Every Single Day. I’ll give you 30, no, maybe 45 days. After that people start to yell about burnout and overwork and Nothing Doing As Well As It Should. Suddenly, your boss who just wanted you to be creative and try things is wondering why there aren’t 15 articles about the latest trending episode of “Euphoria”.
And all of this is valid because the methods and ideas agreed upon at the start are broken and made to fail.
Euphoria, there is an idea.
So the challenge is: be creative every day. And the rule is: don’t do what others have done (that’s the hard part). Here is what I have done at multiple companies and on a personal level, finding success every time. It could work for any sort of creation online, truthfully, with tweaks. But I am not going to do all of that work for you.
Break down your creativity into blocks or frames of thought. Consider that you need 10 verticals of content: historical facts, on the ground reporting, dumb things online, you get the idea. Try and make some of those frames specific and suitable to the platform you’re on. With TikTok, this would mean using the filters and sounds and hashtags the damn thing pushes at you relentlessly (though, do not fall for the in-app “coins”. Kill me instead).
Then, talent. I am a strong believer that anyone can suit this. People say I Am Bad On Camera or I Am Just Shy or This Is Not For Me, which, fine, but many people said “writing for the website version of my newspaper is Not For Me” and those people are now unemployed or underemployed or holding deep resentment towards young people who took what they had away from them. I am not saying Adapt or Die but I am saying, look, it’s just a video — and if you are, like me, online in any way, there are already plenty of digital fingerprints and photos of your face and personal information databases all over Google. Do it - you will surprise yourself.
On-camera talent, mostly, comes with time. You need to be prepared to embarrass yourself, but do so with the knowledge that no one cares about you. In a bull market of content creation, everyone is trying to find the magic mushroom that takes them to the top of the mountain. We watch bald dudes on skateboards chug cranberry juice and find themselves with a new car, we watch kids at sleepovers invent dances before landing on-stage at the MTV Awards (no one watches it, but it’s still cool). And so understand that you are in a game with more competitors than winners, and most people are focusing on themselves because that is the way it works and the way it was designed to work and the way it is going to work until we all decide that the internet, actually, being symbiotic with our personal lives and sense of self is… bad.
How noble to think it will ever be different.
Do not present to camera. Do NOT present to camera. For the love of god, the news reader is dead. And we killed it! You do not have to consider yourself a YouTuber or Content Creator or Influencer to understand and observe what People actually like to see and watch online and it is rarely someone in a pantsuit reading a teleprompter about something they have no interest in with fluorescent lights and makeup and ad breaks for the new Bleeding Red Meat 60-second burger. Talk to your camera as if you are talking to a friend, a family member, something. Understand that you need to move your face. Smile, raise your eyebrows, be a HUMAN BEING. Be yourself. Dial it up. Try to be something worth watching. Know that when you feel like you’re being Too Much you are 100% still well below the threshold.
Now, scale. Set yourself up with a creation cycle that is repeatable and dependable. You need to be able to do this for a long time and at a minimum you should be planning to do it for six months before giving up or changing. So pick a level of creation you are comfortable with but please, you are not Tom Cruise, you are not Will Smith, you are not Jenna Marbles. People do not have a reason to care about you (yet) and you should not assume that will happen for at least a year. I would recommend making one thing a day, if you really want to swing for the fences, and if your response to that is Oh, that’s so much, I can’t, I challenge you to ask yourself if that is the truth or if you just have other things to prioritise. There is nothing wrong with that, but if that is reality, either change the content, change lanes, or change ambition, because baby you aren’t getting anywhere. In a crowded field where everyone’s willing to Die For It, you’ll be first at the guillotine.
And so you make one thing a day and each of those things fits a different frame or “vertical (which you have already decided upon) and with each passing moment your skill on camera gets better and you embarrassment recedes and you begin to realise whether this really is for you or Worth The Money or whatever. It is that simple. No one said it was complicated.
Sometimes, though, the circumstances of your success are decided by people other than yourself. Think back to the digital media boom of the 2010s, where many media and content PROPHETS who now stand on top of big Scrooge McDuck piles of cash or plummeting SPAC deals made careers out of knowing what worked and what was best. Truthfully, be honest, none of them are that great other than being obviously and objectively very smart - but the creativity and the content and the creation is something outside of themselves. There is no shame in admitting your 2015 video of piglets looking cute probably did not deserve 15 million views and there is no shame in admitting that advertisers have bought into this game too. If we all agree that the views are what They say they are, then the system works. Let’s just not talk about the other side of that coin. Not yet.
That is where I will leave it. It is late, I am tired. These are my opinions.
See you down the road.