Have you ever had one of those dreams where you’re being chased? You don’t know exactly what’s chasing you, what it looks like, or why it’s after you, but you’re certain in your bones if you slow down and allow it to catch up to you nothing good will happen? If in these panicked moments my unconscious self had enough courage just once to stop and look back to see what my mysterious foe was, I’d bet I’d find a tangled, towering mass of words, photos, videos, GIFs, graphics, and URLs. I’d find myself being chased by a content monster, specifically one of the species that’s constantly ravenous for social media content.
I know this probably sounds childish – like the Home Alone kid imagining his furnace as a monster. But as a social media professional this is definitely what my relationship with content feels like sometimes. It’s that constant pressure to have something of value to offer and attract an audience, to fight against the algorithms that seem more and more determined to relegate accounts to obscurity. “Publish or perish” is a common saying applied to life as an academic, but it’d work as well to describe life in social media.
As a social media professional this is definitely what my relationship with content feels like sometimes. It’s that constant pressure to have something of value to offer and attract an audience.
Now don’t get me wrong I still enjoy ideating and creating a piece of content that ends up receiving killer engagement and earns my brand positive attention, but that doesn’t happen every day, not even every week. And as soon as that great piece of content has run its course in a day or 2 the pressure’s back on to fill the calendar and come up with the next great idea because time never ends therefore social media content production can never end.
This reality didn’t bother me when I first started working in social media almost a decade ago. Fresh off my theatre degree I thought of myself as an artist, a creator. When the term “content” was introduced to me in the context of marketing and social media I was excited at the idea of creating things to put in front of thousands of eyeballs just like I had with plays.
Content ideas would pop in my head left and right. I’d stay up late learning new software, turning big ideas around in 24 to 48 hours before sprinting on to the next opportunity. I’d obsessively watch analytics to learn how to do incrementally better, how to give my audience more of what they liked. I should have known I couldn’t keep that up forever.
Somewhere around the 2-year mark of my first full-time job in which I was the sole person responsible for my organization’s social media presence that fun and enthusiasm wore off. I realized that no matter how much content I pre-planned and built or how well my content did today, it would mean virtually nothing tomorrow.
The world of social media always demands more, and everything you publish better be good if you actually want to achieve a goal with it. And even then, it can still all feel for naught if pop culture or politics or world events suddenly shift and your content becomes irrelevant or, worse, tone-deaf.
In reaction to these thoughts, I placed a Post-It on my computer monitor at work that half-jokingly read “Feed the Facebook monster.” I had started to feel like I was being stalked from day to day by a ruthless, content-hungry monster. Hence my previous monster talk.
I named it Facebook at the time because that was the platform central to my then organization’s social media presence, but really it was all of social media. Now, I had other responsibilities in that job – e-blasts, website content management – and social media can certainly be a monster in other ways too – misinformation, negativity, and hate come to mind – but there was just something about the constant content generation for social media that caused the most anxiety.
I’d like to think I’ve outrun or slain the monster 4 years after writing that note, but as most social media professionals will probably tell you – especially the generalists who work for smaller businesses on teams of 1 or 2 – the pressure my monster personifies is always there in the back of your head. “What if I can’t produce enough to post daily?” “What if I just can’t think of something clever/funny/genuine on-demand again?” “What if I run out of new ideas?” “What if one day I just hit a wall and can’t get past it?”
These are all thoughts that can still pop in my head on any given day while working. In a digital world that’s always on no one can vanquish the bottomless pit that is the content monster, but I have learned how to take the teeth out of it a little. I’ve realized that even though the monster eats content, it can’t eat me. It can annoy me, nag me, and sometimes make my day miserable, but it can’t consume me because I no longer define myself, my worth, and my success professionally by only the content I send out in the world.
I plan the content. I make the content. I post the content. I analyze the reaction to the content. My job may revolve around content, but I AM NOT the content. Now if only someone could tell that to whatever’s been chasing me in my dreams. That’d be great.