The Exchange

Kelly Evans: Big Algo Vs. Big Corporate

Scott Mlyn | CNBC

I was speaking with a friend recently who is making a job change. She wanted to get out of digital media and back into "old" media. Why? "I'm sick of trying to figure out what Google wants all day long," she mentioned. 

I thought about that when I saw this New York Times story about TikTok influencers: "Young Creators Are Burning Out and Breaking Down," was the headline. It mentioned that more than 50 million people now consider themselves social media creators/influencers, making it one of the country's fastest-growing small business segments. But many "weren't prepared for the draining work of building, maintaining, and monetizing an audience"--especially when your viewership is almost entirely determined by TikTok's inscrutable algorithms.  

It absolutely is exhausting, not least because TikTok is an extremely difficult platform to create content for (as I've experienced first-hand watching my husband). It's meant for dancing to music, so doing audio yourself and then adding labels and/or captions and splicing it all together so it looks spiffier and spiffier as competition for eyeballs grows takes enormous effort. My husband actually hired a video producer to do the bulk of it for him.  

A lot of people who strike out on their own with early, breakthrough success as creators initially find it liberating. Forget "Big Corporate"! You can create fun, breezy, exciting content all by yourself, invent your own brand, start making money and be off to the races as a self-employed social media star. Trouble is, it's really hard to keep feeding the beast. You can't afford to take a day or days off. There's no vacation time, no holidays--and no benefits. And it might be even harder to figure out what your new boss--the algorithm--wants. 

 I spoke with a talent agent about the success my neighbors were having on TikTok (they now have hundreds of thousands of followers for their product reviews) and he said that wasn't good enough--they want people who are successful on multiple platforms, including YouTube. Trouble is, what YouTube wants (longer, educational videos) is completely different from what TikTok or Instagram Reels might want. Not all creators can successfully translate. And almost none of them have the time and energy to do so.  

It's not to say that people can't have tremendous, lasting success on social media. I follow fitness stars, Catholic artisans, education consultants and others whose livelihoods almost entirely depend upon their online followings. It's just to say that it is a real commitment--as much a full-time, exhausting, draining job as any cubicle one. What it does offer is tremendous work-from-home, on-the-go flexibility--except that now Big Corporate is starting to offer that, too.  

So, which would you rather? Big Corporate, or Big Algo? At least if you have a difficult boss, you might be able to switch departments or get a new one. You can always try to sit down with different managers over coffee and find someone you click with. Good luck trying that with Google or TikTok. If I were those platforms, or any would-be rival, I'd be trying to make content creation as easy and successful as possible right now.  

See you at 1 p.m! 

Kelly

Twitter: @KellyCNBC

Instagram: @realkellyevans

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