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marketing Social Media

Creators to Social Media Platforms: We Were On A Break!

Everyone needs some time off now and again.

Social media influencers, it seems, are increasingly deciding to log off for a bit, burnt out by the time and effort needed to keep up with the schedules they’ve established for publishing new material. They know that doing so is filled with risks, as whatever success they’ve achieved has depended greatly on constantly pushing out new content and staying at the top of people’s minds. If they are seen as no longer relevant they could start to lose subscribers/followers, which could then lead to fewer sponsorship/revenue opportunities, and once lost it could be hard to regain their previous position.

The story reminds me of the conversations that used to take place in the early days of Web 2.0’s mainstream adoption. People would regularly take time off from their blogs because of work commitments or just because they needed to catch their breath a bit and recharge their creative batteries. A running joke (rooted in reality, as most things are) was that those who started podcasts – in the first wave of that format’s popularity – were likely to abandon the project before the tenth episode. If it went beyond that it might go on for years, but that seemed to be the point where burnt out set in.

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In those days – now 15 or more years ago – taking a break was something that just happened. Announcing it on your blog was kind of a joke, as people had a laugh at the author for taking themselves so seriously as to think it was a Big Deal and had to be addressed publicly. You opened yourself up for comments being left on the post that tweaked you for feeling so important and essential.

For most people at that time a personal blog was either a branding mechanism – showing off your skills in the hopes it would lead to job advancement in some manner or to further writing opportunities – or simply a passion project where you let your freak flag fly on a topic you loved or were passionate about. Revenue wasn’t really a concern, so a heads-up to readers about a break was more about showing you hadn’t abandoned the blog.

Taking time off may have been important to you, but because a good amount of reading happened via RSS and links from other blogs it didn’t impact your audience much unless it extended for a significant period. Whenever you picked back up, your readers would know about it and things continued on.

That the stakes are so much higher now for taking the kind of break independent online publishers have needed from time to time for over a decade says something about the state of internet media. Social media platforms own a sizable percentage of online behavior, taken in large part from blogs. LiveJournal has shuttered, Tumblr has fallen from grace after multiple acquisitions. Medium isn’t the hot site it once was and other platforms have come and gone.

A break of some duration is understandable, then. When the stakes were much lower it made sense, especially for people who produced podcasts or held themselves to a strict, heavy publishing schedule. Now, with so much more on the line it’s even more justifiable, especially since time off might mean a producer’s content is weighted differently in the platform algorithms that determine who succeeds and who doesn’t.

While I’ve been critical of “influencer marketing” over the last several years, that’s mostly because it feels like a cheapening of the infrastructure that was built by the early online publishing pioneers. It used to take hard work and dedication to amass a substantial readership, now it takes a bit of spending on Promoted Posts and some help from the brand that hired you to make their new product introduction video.

But it is a job, and a hard one. Many of the best ones, the ones who aren’t overt Nazis or misogynists, put a lot of effort into their channels and productions and depend on the revenue generated in the same way a freelancer or other independent worker would. Many companies offer long-term employees a sabbatical of some length after X number of years to help avoid burnout, and people can use their vacation time to get away from the office (hypothetically, at least, since a big percentage never really does) and gain some perspective.

Just like what the article mentions about online influencers, those employees face some amount of risk by taking advantage of the time off available to them. They may come back and find their responsibilities have been assigned to others, or that they’ve been cut out of an important upcoming project. The boss might have a new favorite or they may receive negative feedback on their next performance review as they’re seen as not fully committed to the company and its success.

All of that is to say the problems faced by these individuals are common, felt by people in a variety of positions and circumstances and should therefore be taken seriously. Everyone needs a break now and then, as long as both parties are aware it’s happening.

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