Episode 11


Don't make your art for the algorithm

About this episode

Why it's important not to make your art for algoriths, not to put your growth on social media as your priority, realising that most of your followers are people who won't buy your art, and how to think about what you put out into the world - "is it interesting, or is it interesting to me?".

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Don't make your art for the algorithm

Let’s talk about why numbers are a load of rubbish and what’s interesting or not, on today’s episode of The Positive Creatives!


Hello my creative friend, I’m Adam and I’m here to help you live a positive creative life by talking about stuff to help you do that! Welcome if you’re new here and welcome back if you’re not.

Episode 11 already! And I’ve still got a head full of ideas for a load more episodes so I should be here for a while I think.

Last week I talked about doing it for the love, and how we often need a reminder of that as I told you about an epiphany moment for me when I was in New Orleans.

Since last week I’ve had some very cool chats about it and also discovered some great new music off the back of people realising I love brass and jazz and blues so thanks for the recommendations and messages!

This week kind of follows on from last week because I want to talk about numbers.

I don’t want to be a broken record but if you’ve listened to other episodes you’ll know that since the beginning of this podcast I’ve tried to turn a blind eye to the numbers. The number of listeners, the number of people signing up for my email list, the number of people following my instagram and all that stuff.

I mentioned last week briefly that it’s not because I don’t care if anyone listens… I massively care that you’re listening and I’m grateful for everyone who listens, follows or pays any kind of attention to what I’m doing.

Not to get all philosophical here but if a podcast falls over in the woods and nobody hears the scream, is it really a podcast?

The reason I’m trying not to pay attention to the numbers is because I know how demotivating it can be if you’re not seeing the kind of numbers you wish you we’re seeing.

And of course I have given in and checked the numbers in moments of weakness.

Why though? If I want more people to listen then I just have to make it good. Good enough that next time you’re chatting to a creative friend you say ‘oh there’s this cool podcast I listen to…’ and that’s really the only way I want this podcast to grow. Because people like you think it’s good and think it’s share worthy.

I also mentioned maybe last week or the week before that one of my Instagram reels had a good number of views and it got in my head and meant that since then I’ve found it hard not to think my newer reels are rubbish.

But of course they’re not rubbish. And the one which tricked its way past the algorithm… yeah it got loads of views but hardly anyone actually interacted with it or followed me anyway so it’s just vanity.

You know how in business they say turnover is vanity and profit is sanity. Well all the numbers on social media are vanity, and ignoring them is sanity. It’s not as catchy but I’m sticking with it.

Anyway, enough about me. I’m not here to talk about me. Why am I bringing this up?

Mainly it’s because I want you to know that the numbers attached to your work on the internet say absolutely nothing about you or your work. It’s true. So stop letting your self-worth as an artist be determined by them.

We know that comparison is the thief of joy. Theodore Roosevelt said it, so it must be true. But comparison, followed by the despair it can often cause, is a creativity killer.

Because comparing yourself to another artist based on numbers, and then deciding if your numbers are lower that you’re worse than them or they’re better than you… it’s as ridiculous as it sounds!

Let’s think about numbers for a minute.

I saw a great analogy recently where someone said imagine all your followers in a room with you. Physically. In real life. An actual room with actual people.

Say you’ve got 300 followers. Imagine a room where you’re there and there are 300 people who really like you and your work.

Like, they’re really into your work. They love it. You’ve worked hard on building engagement with them, making them feel connected to what you make… you care about them and they know it, and they care about you in return.

How good does that room feel? Feels great, right?

Now imagine you’ve used loads of algorithm beating tactics to build a bigger following. Maybe you’ve jumped on trendy bandwagons and done stuff with the sole reason of growing your followers… and it’s worked. Maybe you even at some point bought some followers to make your numbers look a bit better to the outside world… But even if your followers all came organically from doing the things we’re constantly told to do to grow our numbers…

So you’ve ended up with quite a few thousand followers.

Now imagine a real life room again. You’re there with your thousands of followers. The trouble is they don’t actually know who you are or what you do really. Or maybe they do but they’re not massively engaged or interested. Maybe they’re industry peers, and they’re just there to know what equipment you use and boring stuff like that… which I’ll talk more about in a minute.

Your 300 engaged followers who love you are still in the room but you can’t hear them and they can’t hear you. It’s a mess. You’re basically surrounded by a load of disinterested people who are never going to support you financially or in any other way.

Forget the actual numbers I mentioned. Which room do you want to be in? I know which one I choose, and I know it’s not the disinterested masses!

I mentioned industry peers… The reality of social media these days, instagram especially, is that looooads of our followers will be our industry peers. And sure the more famous we get in our industry the more of those we will pick up.

This gets a bit blurry if you sell to industry peers as well, but let’s assume for the sake of me not going off on twenty tangents that we don’t.

Your peers will invariably engage more with your content than prospective clients, or customers would. So that tricks you into thinking the content they like is your popular content… so you make more of that… so you pick up more likes and follows from industry peers… and you end up in a vicious cycle.

But why is that bad? Well if all you care about is numbers it isn’t bad. You’ll pick up follows and likes and comments, and the algorithms apparently love all those things.

But if your industry peers are never going to buy your stuff, or support your business in a meaningful way, you’re effectively just getting distracted.

I’ll tangent for a minute here…

Before I was a photographer I studied marketing… and one line I remember sticking out for me was where it said when deciding your messaging for your customers, ask yourself a question…

“Is it interesting… or is it interesting to me?”

I’m bringing this up here because it adds to my point that what’s interesting to one of your industry peers – so in my case another wedding photographer – probably won’t be as interesting to someone who might book me to be their photographer.

So asking yourself that question: “Is it interesting, or is it interesting to me…” it takes some work to shift your mindset if you’ve fallen into the trap of making content mainly for people who do the same job as you because that’s what gets you the likes…

I feel like I need to use an example… so I’ll use two…

There’s a trend in wedding photography thinking that the algorithm prefers “epic wedding day portraits” to simple, beautiful photos of real moments.

If you really realise that the vast majority of your followers as a wedding photographer are other wedding photographers, this is no surprise. Photographers applaud technique, equipment, editing, all that stuff that clients will never see or know they care about.

So you’re tricked into sharing more of the stuff that only your colleagues care about.

That question – is it interesting, or is it interesting to me, instead of me you can say ‘is it interesting to photographers’.

Another example is that there’s a painter I love on instagram – Benjamin Smith Art. I’ve only discovered his work since starting the instagram for my podcast but I love his work and I will buy one of his pieces in the future without a doubt.

I engage with his work as a prospective buyer, and because I love his creations. I’ve never wondered what paper he uses, which brush manufacturer he favours or which shade of red it was he used on his latest artwork.

If he talked about any of that stuff regularly, I’d probably feel less engaged with his account because it wouldn’t feel like it was for me so much.

It’s the same with my podcast – you don’t care which microphone I use… as long as what I’m saying is clear and makes sense and is of some kind of use to you… which I hope it is.

I care about what microphones I use. I even have a mild obsession about microphones. Other podcasters might care about my microphones or a multitude of other boring stuff that goes into making a podcast.

But as a listener, I think all that matters is what I’m saying and how I say it.

What’s interesting to me about my podcast, won’t be interesting to you about my podcast, so I won’t bother trying to tell you about it.

I also noticed that if I add podcast related hashtags to my content I get more podcasters following me. And what’s the point in that really?

Obviously I know community can be important in creativity but I’ll talk about that on another episode.

So I want you to remember two main things from this week’s episode…

First it’s about picturing your followers in a room with you. You’d much rather have a smaller pool of highly engaged followers than a bigger pool of people who don’t give much of a crap.

As a slight aside here, if you were in a room with 300 you’d never moan that there weren’t enough of them either would you? So bear that in mind too.

The second thing is about always ensuring you’re not making content for the algorithm above all else. Ask yourself the question ‘is it interesting, or is it interesting to me and my peers?’

You’ll get more engagement from your peers probably, and most of your followers are people who do the same thing as you, but they just want information from you, and probably won’t support your business beyond those likes and comments.

Stay true to why you started and always remind yourself who you’re making your art for, keep making it for them, keep making it good, and keep putting it out into the world for them. They’re your sanity – your industry fans are your vanity.

If you do this you’ll have a more fulfilling career and even though you might not have as many followers as that cool person in Southern California, your followers will love you way more.

Right finishing off with this week’s listen, read and watch recommendations!

Listen – I’m recommending one of my favourite all time albums which is Morning Phase by Beck. I’ve been listening to it while exercising this week and I’d forgotten how amazing it was.

Read – It’s called The Talent Code, and it’s a reminder of how nobody is just naturally talented.

Watch – I’m re-recommending last week’s Inside Pixar series on Disney+ as it’s honestly just absolutely brilliant and I want you to check it out!

Thanks for being here again with me this week – check out some of my other episodes if this was your first, come follow me on Instagram @thepositivecreatives and I’ll see you next time.

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