If you are an American of a certain age you might remember the phrase, “build it and they will come” from the film Field of Dreams.
Even if you know this is not necessarily true, many people believe that with hard work and perseverance you can achieve your goals.
People also believe write it, film it and the audience will watch.
If you create content, this article is for you.
What happens if you post something and the audience doesn’t come? Do you think you did something wrong?
Maybe you think the story wasn’t interesting, or it was too long, or nobody is interested in this topic, or people only click on click-bate these days…
Your mind might go down a long and winding road out of hope and into despair.
When content doesn’t get views, I see often see one of these three mistakes.
1. The lack of a point of connecting – jumping into the story without first relating the story to your audience.
2. A lack of story structure – creating content that doesn’t draw something through the story from beginning to end
3. A lack of allies – sending content out into the world on its own, posting and praying
It is this third mistake I want to focus on today.
And by the way, I am not immune to making this mistake.
In fact, I spent the last year working on two personal projects for which I did not build allies. And now I’m having to work extra hard to get these works seen. So, I’m writing from experience and also as a note to self.
The origin of the American Dream and why it needs an upgrade
First let me admit, I was never a fan of history. My high school European history teacher was a football coach and most of what I recall from that class is sitting through a lot of battle diagrams drawn up like something you would see on a whiteboard in a football locker room (I think they might do this for soccer, too).
One of my art projects, Park Project Berlin, involved going to parks in Berlin every week and collecting images and conversations. Parks in Europe are full of history so I started to take an interest. And it is through looking at statues of poets that I recognized some of the origins of the American Dream.
I feel like America has been operating with this idea of the American Dream since its birth 200 years ago. The American Dream is about self-determination and as a nation the story starts with Americans escaping religious persecution, gaining our freedom from the British monarchy and creating a democracy. Our forefathers fought and worked and created a nation.
In school, I was given the idea of the American dream through the stories of Horacio Alger who individualized this national creation story.
I doubt I even read one of Alger’s young adult tales but I learned of his penchant for writing “rags to riches” stories about poor white boys and their rise to middle-class through hard work and determination.
Living in Europe and studying statues here, I realized that this dream of self-determination came before the birth of our nation. There was lots of writing and fighting happening in Europe that inspired the American Dream. There were scientific advances (think Newton and gravity and political power was shifting.
Yet we remember Alger. He just told a good story. And he grounded this concept in the “every man.”
Even that idea needed allies. Publishers. Book agents. News kiosks to sell the books.
We need to think of the way to success to being heard as a collaborative effort rather than an individual journey.
Can the internet create free movement of our ideas?
There might have been a few moments where the internet allowed your voice to percolate up and be heard without you needing these allies.
I experienced this with a video in 2011 that I posted to YouTube. At the time YouTube was awash in cat videos and I posted a video about urban biking. I didn’t even pay attention to it and a few weeks later I looked at it had over 10,000 views. At the time that was amazing.
But that was before YouTube’s move towards channels, the current Google algorithms, the end of net neutrality and recent use of artificial intelligence for writing and curating content.
Yes, AI is now writing sports news articles at Axel Springer in Germany.
YouTube search does not work like it used to work
Last year, just six years after my bike video experience, I created a new channel. I posted a series of videos on storytelling for social change.
Yes, it is a niche topic but one that a growing number of people are concerned about. I researched my keyword and it appeared there were no other series using that phrase.
Yet, after posting my video I searched on my keywords – even five layers deep, and none of my videos appeared in YouTube search results.
I searched using the keyword, the exact title of my video in quotes, and my name – still, I couldn’t find my video on YouTube.
The only way I managed to view my video was via a direct link.
Something has changed.
What rises to the top of Google?
Nowadays when I search a trendy business topic, do I see clever Medium articles or blogs from influencers or authors writing about the topic?
Yes, but I now see more articles from major media outlets. Entrepreneur. Forbes. Business Insider.
Even a few months ago I rarely saw content from these major media outlets in the first page of search.
It doesn’t necessarily mean they are paying for placement but they are now getting better at SEO. They see what is hot and create content for that niche. They automatically have better numbers than someone just starting to write about the topic so their content appears first.
AI is here
We’ve seen it with Cambridge Analytics and the election scandal but in reality, AI is being used for advertising of all sorts of products and ideas.
Media companies and digital marketers are doing research on what people click and how they move through websites.
The criteria used for content curation is more and more about ad spend.
In this new world, numbers matter if you are going to be found
Search isn’t what it used to be. It feels less about relevance and more about numbers.
And one way to build numbers is to share and get others to share.
You can do this by joining a larger conversation in person, on Twitter (which I have but haven’t really used), through Facebook groups, and podcasts.
There are many ways to join a conversation but you first have to make the decision that you have something to say that is worth sharing.
Last year I was shy about telling people about my YouTube series because I was on camera and I didn’t like how I looked or sounded. I wrote about the YouTube series but didn’t even share a link to it on my personal Facebook page where I’m most active.
So in a world where the video won’t be presented by organic search and I’m afraid to talk about it, there was no way for the video to start gaining views.
Rather than operating in the framework of I can write something, create something and post it and gain viewers, we all need to operate with the assumption that nobody will see anything I post unless I have an army of allies who will talk about and share links to the content with their tribes.
Sometimes those people will be friends. Sometimes those people will be writers on a blog with bigger and different reach than your blog. Sometimes they will be podcasters or people you chat with on Twitter or Instagram.
It is important to start having conversations online or in person with people who care about the work that you do and are trying to put out into the world.
Your story needs and deserves allies.
If you like this article, please share it with a friend. This story also needs allies.