I don’t know about you but when I go shopping online, at a retailer such as Amazon, the first thing I check to help me make my purchasing decisions are the customer reviews. I’m sure most people probably do the same thing and check for the item with the most positive reviews for any product before making a purchase. This behavior deals with the concept known as perceived value.
Perceived value is the customer’s evaluation of the value and ability of the product or service to meet their needs compared to other similar products or services. And in the present world where online shopping is prevalent, a customer is not able to observe the product in person for themselves. This in turn, lead to the growth of customer reviews having a huge influence on the perceived value of the product, especially for products from companies with weaker brand recognition.
If you don’t believe me, this shift in purchases having a heavy reliance on customer reviews have created the problem of a massive flood of fake reviews from less then scrupulous companies taking advantage of this purchasing behavior. Fake reviews have become such a problem that sites like Fakespot are solely dedicated to determining the reliability of reviews. I won’t get into the details about how this works but generally speaking it analyzes the reviews to see if there are accounts spamming similar products from related companies and analyzing the text of the reviews to see if they are generated from bots. A surprising number of products listed on Amazon right now, that are best sellers, are products with fake reviews. So how does this concept tie in with the world of content creation?
Content is a product. And the people who consume the content are your customers. Perceived value is especially important because without it, there is no reason for someone to check out your content over someone else’s. The world of content creation is very competitive because the barrier to entry is very low. Anyone with a computer or even a smart phone, an internet connection, some software, and an idea can create content for any of the existing platforms such as YouTube, Twitch, etc. Since these platforms are so saturated with content creators, people consuming content rely on perceived value to choose the creators they will want to support.
I want take an aside here to note that some content creation “gurus” have this absurd notion that there is unlimited potential growth for every single content creator. This is a flat out lie. Just as people have limited incomes and they cannot purchase everything they want to, people also have limited time and cannot consume all the content they would like to, whether it be games, movies, music, books, etc. What this boils down to, is the fact that your content needs to have more perceived value over someone else’s for you to experience growth. This begs the question then, how do you increase the perceived value of your content?
The sad reality is that perceived value is not necessarily tied to the actual value of your content. The old adage of “make quality content” has absolutely no correlation to growth. There are so many content creators out there, making content with either no originality and blatantly copying other people’s ideas or trends, poorly produced, lacking any artistic or academic value, and etc. that have a massive following. Whereas incredibly talented creators with well thought out, original, and well produced content are constantly passed over. This is due to the criteria that people have come to use to determine the perceived value of content. The bad news is that it is very similar to the criteria most people use to judge the perceived value of a product sold online, positive reviews.
By positive reviews, I simply mean the number of followers, subscribers, views, likes, comments, favorites, etc. that you have for your content on that specific platform. This is more true than you realize. Many of the larger streamers on Twitch are actually not that great at playing games. They don’t really offer more insight, or a higher level of skill than most other streamers. There is no academic value whatsoever as watching these people will not make you better at playing the games. So then people might argue that they offer more entertainment or are more engaging than other streamers. This is not even true as well. You have no chance to actually connect with a larger streamer due to the massive spam in chat. Let’s take a look at the massive success of Valorant to show how its perceived value grew exponentially due to one simple factor, the number of views on Twitch.
I know I’m going to upset a lot of fans here but Valorant is not a good game. It is very limited in both game play and balance, as well as the amount of content available in its current form. I would argue that it’s not even as fun as many people make it out to be. Now before all of the internet gets their pitchforks and torches, hear me out a little bit. The game play in Valorant is a realistic shooter where it heavily relies on the angle of approach you take to an encounter. By this I mean, the game is heavily reliant on making sure you have the higher chance of survival for any angle that you choose to peek. These types of games bring balance to this style of game play by allowing you multiple paths to a destination, abilities such as flash and smoke grenades to obscure sight lines and increase your chance of survival, and etc.
Games like Valorant already exist. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, as well as Rainbow Six Siege, offer very similar game play but with way more more maps, more characters, more styles of play, and more polish created by years and years of play testing. So why aren’t these games achieving the same level of success and acclaim as Valorant, a game that is realistically in a beta phase. Even as of this writing, Valorant has a concurrent viewership of 149k, CS:GO with 40k, and R6 Siege with 13k. The difference is astounding and it’s certainly not due to the actual quality of these games.
So how did Valorant increase its perceived value so heavily? The answer is a genius, and rather devious (and in my opinion very dishonest), method of marketing. Riot locked access to the game by making people who wanted to play it watch large content creators streaming Valorant, and hope they get a key for the game to drop. It took many viewers a couple days of watching before they managed to get a key and some even took weeks. This lead to very inflated concurrent viewer numbers for the larger content creators streaming Valorant. Many of them had numbers twice their normal averages, and some even up to five times. This in turn, lead to Valorant being the top live category for a long while. The combination of many of the largest content creators playing the game, as well as most people on Twitch watching Valorant, lead to an impressive chain reaction where the perceived value of Valorant sky rocketed.
Notice here how it had nothing to do with the actual quality of the game, and simply with how many people were watching it, and how many of the largest content creators were streaming the game. This is quite the similar situation if you want to grow as a content creator. You can be streaming on Twitch all day, every day and not see growth for many years despite having quality. You can spend years and years making videos on YouTube, music on SoundCloud, photography on Instagram and never see growth. If you don’t believe me, the numbers don’t lie. Only around 1% of Twitch streamers ever make partner. The literal one percent. The key to growth is not based on making content but rather on marketing your content.
This relates to my previous article on networking. For a platform like Twitch, you need to increase the number of people following you and watching you for you to stand out amongst the sea of other streamers. You can use many methods to do this but the most reliable one is to work on networking with other content creators of a similar size and genre as you. You need to spend just as much time streaming, as you do being an active viewer that brings value in other people’s streams. By being active and supportive in other streams, those streamers are more likely to support you as well (by following, hosting, or even raiding). Why would someone support you when you don’t do anything to support them? In turn, this additional increase in traffic will increase your overall visibility and in turn, your perceived value.
The same general concept can be used for YouTube as well. By being active in other channels, they may be more likely to support you as well. By taking advantage of social media platforms, such as Reddit, Discord, Twitter, Instagram, etc. you can start networking with other content creators, as well as your audience, to create a faster growth in followers, subscribers, views, likes, etc. and in turn increase your perceived value, which will in turn increase the possibility of others checking out your content. Notice here how there is no correlation to the quality or subject of your content and simply on perceived value. This is the sad reality of success.
The ethical ramifications of this trend is very distressing. I see a constant plague of bots on both Twitch (to artificially inflate view counts) and on YouTube (to spam other channels to redirect traffic to themselves) because it works. Especially for YouTube, these dishonest folk who use bots gain tens of thousands of subscribers daily even though this is a simple problem to fix. And these are content creators that don’t care about the impact their content has on the future generations. I’ll go over this problem for the next time as it would make this long article even longer.
I for one, want to encourage you to stay true to the course you are taking and to always consider the ethical ramifications of the content you are creating as well as the methods you are using to foster growth. I am a firm believer that focusing on making the best quality content you can make will see growth but it will take considerably longer without focusing on marketing. There’s no reason you can’t do both but oftentimes it leads to situations where you may be tempted to cross some lines for the sake of what looks like a faster path to success. I’ll end by paraphrasing a quote from Chamath Palihapitiya, “The longer it takes to build something, the longer it’ll take for it to be torn down.”
I know being a content creator is depressing most of the time. We’re all in the same boat, and hopefully, the seas become a bit more manageable. Here’s to a brighter tomorrow. Or maybe someone will make a platform that finally rewards quality, honesty, and hard work. I challenge you Chamath!