Between trying to rank on Google, hoping to pop off on TikTok, maintaining steady growth on Instagram, and wanting to go viral on Pinterest… it sometimes feels like there are way too many platforms we need to impress.
So, I have a crazy idea. Let’s stop trying to impress them.
Now, hearing that from a digital marketer like me may make you wonder “um, wait, what?” but stick with me on this one – I’m onto something here.
Creating content to please an algorithm isn’t going to work for you as well as creating content for your audience. As one of my favorite writers (and educators), Ann Handley (or Bestie Ann as I typically refer to her) says in her book Everybody Writes, “content created merely to further a search engine ranking is a waste of time and effort.”
At the end of the day, no social media *algorithm* is going to care about you and your business as much as your ideal clients are. They’re the ones you need to keep in mind when you’re creating your content. Let’s dive a little deeper into why that’s important, shall we?
I think this is why trying to please Internet algorithms is such a juicy topic—for the challenge.
Everyone wants to say that they know exactly how to help you show up as #1 in a search, or that there’s a specific technique to gaining followers on Instagram, or that they possess the surefire way to make every video go viral. In reality, though? These things are always changing.
I can write blog posts like these til I’m blue in the face, because I am very knowledgeable about SEO, and I genuinely do want to help you show up in search results… but you def won’t catch me claiming that I have some expert formula to get your link to show up as number one for the rest of your days in biz.
Because I’m willing to tell you the one thing that (apparently) other content strategists don’t want you to realize: these systems aren’t that easy to please.
However, far as algorithms go, Google is actually a pretty trusty one—especially because they publish details about how it works on their forums, and they have plenty of articles about how to best optimize your sites for their system.
When it comes to other apps like Instagram, Pinterest, TikTok… you’re lucky if you can even find a strategy that works for you. Their apps are much more inconsistent, with different users having different features, and people gaining success through all sorts of different functions (Reels, story pins, going live on TikTok—you name it).
You see, the creators of these social media platforms want to give you a taste of success now and then to keep you coming back, but not enough success to make you believe that you can post any less consistently. They’re temperamental mofos, if you ask me.
There’s only one true way that is certain to help you grow on any platform, and that’s through creating an engaged audience. In fact, that brings me to my next point…
For the sake of this example, let’s say I’m a new creator on TikTok and I’m trying to pop off. I’ve seen my friends grow to tens of thousands of followers on the app, and most of the creators I follow post content that feels pretty simple. I think I can do this. So, I get to work. I use the trending sounds and effects, I post frequently, and I talk about what I love—digital marketing. But my videos aren’t really getting the views I’m hoping for.
Now, I decide to switch it up and post things that have a better chance of going viral, favoring funny trends and dance routines over helpful tips and marketing tactics. And finally, now that I’ve started to create content for the algorithm, I’m seeing a spike in my views.
OMG, wait—I just went viral! 100k likes on my newest video of me dancing and singing in my kitchen! Now I’m getting a good amount of followers and comments.
Wrong. The second I switch back to my original content, my views go down again. Because the people who followed me from my trendy comedy are not the same people who care about marketing tips.
I’ve found myself on the wrong side of TikTok, because I worried more about the algorithm than my ideal audience.
My ideal audience is out there, and maaaybe a few of them trickled in from those trendy videos because their interests (luckily for me) overlapped, but ultimately I’ll end up feeling like I’m back to square one. But this time, I’m actually much worse off than before, because now I have all of these followers, but they’re not an engaged audience.
They don’t care about me, and they don’t view me as an expert in my field, which means they likely will unfollow, or *gasp* even worse: become a ghost follower. This will bring down my engagement rate, which—you guessed it—will hurt my views even more.
Rats. Should have just created the content me and my ideal audience liked from the beginning, huh?
In this day and age of Internet 15 minutes of fame being so accessible, especially with the explosion of newer social media outlets like Reels, TikTok, and even Clubhouse, everyone wants to skip right over the hard work part and land right in the lap of the Viral Post Gods. And no one is wrong for wanting that.
I mean, it would be ideal to skip over months of content planning, providing value, taking time to create meaningful posts, responding to comments and DMs, going live on social media, recording yourself talking on stories, feeling ridiculous filming videos that don’t perform well… yeah, social media is a lot of work.
But you know what happens if you don’t put in that time and effort, and end up viral by accident over night?
(And before you tell me Sara, you just told us what happens… this point is separate from that previous point about an audience that doesn’t actually want to engage with you.)
You won’t have an audience that trusts you. If they found you from a viral video, and you don’t have valuable posts, an active account, an engaged following, and all of the other bells and whistles that come only from hard work, those new faces are going to quickly fade away, because why would they want to follow someone who isn’t providing them value? I don’t know about you guys, but there are only a few reasons I’d follow someone on social media:
I’m learning something from them — hi, value!
I like their personality & I think they’re interesting or funny (which, you guessed it, I only know because they consistently show up on their socials)
Their pictures are too pretty not to follow, but not unattainable enough to make me unhappy to exist in my own life
And I’m sure that most people would agree with one of those being the reason why they follow their favorite creators.
I’m not gonna lie to you guys, though, I’m pretty stingy when it comes to giving a follow on the ‘gram. If I’m clicking that follow button, it’s because I genuinely care about the content you create and what you have to say—and you bet your ass I’ll be an engaged follower.
I personally believe there is no point in following someone that you aren’t benefiting from, because life’s too short to see random shit you don’t care about on your social media feed. By only following people that truly interest me, I’m creating a positive space for myself online, with no room for comparison, competition, jealousy, or any other negative emotions that can be evoked on social media.
Social media positivity speech aside, creating content for your audience may feel like a bigger responsibility, a harder task, and a longer road, but at the end of the day, it will be so much more worth it than hopping on a few trends and gaining empty-promise followers. Ultimately, your follower count is only a vanity metric, and the numbers that actually matter aren’t numbers at all—they’re faces.
The faces you recognize when they comment on your photo, the faces you see in your DMs, the faces you scroll through and save posts from. Those are the people that truly matter, and if you create content for them, they’ll be there for you whether you have 48 followers of 48,000.
If we haven’t had the chance to *virtually* meet yet, hi! I’m Sara Noel—website copywriter and marketing mentor for creatives, copywriters, and all-around cool people. If you like my content and you want even more BTL in your life, here are a few ways you can connect with me:
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