We’ve had it drilled into our heads about a thousand times by now. Content is King. Context is God. Maybe Distribution is Queen. Either way, there’s some mystical deity out there that all creators need to bow their heads down to in order to succeed, get clients, get famous, get paid.
Every creator believes that there’s just that one thing you have to focus all your attention on — maybe it’s writing enough on your personal blog to tickle that SEO algorithm. Maybe it’s figuring out that titles give you a viral video. Every effort is spent on trying to work out the formula for successful content creation.
Perhaps it’s because we’re terrified of depending on others and want to believe that we can go it alone. But the truth is, no matter how much we want to deny it, the future of successful content creation is collaboration.
Humans are social, and creators are no different
The reason humans have been so successful, profligate, and creative over so many millennia is that we network. We teach and we learn. We developed a language to retain and build on knowledge. We use each others’ strengths to grow together.
Most people have figured this out. A successful CEO doesn’t try to build a solitary empire — she builds a company. A successful governor doesn’t make all his own decisions — he relies on a team of people he trusts. Beyond being at the top, most people in power (whether corporate or governmental) understand the benefit of collaboration. Who you know, and how you use those connections, matters.
Why is content creation viewed differently?
The reason content creators have such a different view of the world is twofold.
First, so many content creators start solitarily at home. We invest in a stick that holds our camera for us; we script our own videos and publish our own blogs. We take courses alone. It’s hard to see a path from those lonely beginnings.
Second, there’s a competitive edge. All content creators are excruciatingly aware of the fact that every person who might consume what we create only has 16 waking hours and two eyeballs. We understand we need to capture our audience and fight others to keep it. We jealously guard our secrets of success to ourselves. When you don’t have healthcare, benefits, or even a regular salary, it can feel like your audience is the only thing you can rely on, and we fight bitterly to keep them engaged.
But competition will only increase. Content will only increase. Creators will only increase. Instead of fighting the same battles over and over again, creators should instead look at a way out: collaboration.
Three ways content creators need to start collaborating
There are three ways content creators can begin collaborating, and I’ve successfully used all three.
First, simple cross-promotion is constantly overlooked as an option to expand and retain audiences. Take my YouTube channel as an example. Believing my audience only wanted to hear from me (and a little nervous about what would happen if I found out they didn't) I resisted speaking to other creators in similar boats as myself.
But when I finally opened up and began interviewing others for my YouTube channel, I saw a huge breakthrough. My views increased, my earnings increased, and my audience came back for more.
Second, networking. Again, choosing to believe in a nonexistent meritocracy, I struggled alone writing and videoing for a year. If I couldn’t do it on my own, I didn’t want to do it. Misplaced pride made me feel like I needed to earn every single one of my wins.
This changed the first time one of my contacts, an editor at a publication here, put me forth as a possible new member of a writing Slack group he belonged to. Since joining that group, I’ve received opportunity after opportunity to help grow my business. Just a few weeks ago, my friend Mike Thompson messaged me. “Hey,” he wrote, “I’ve just got off the phone with a really cool woman who’s building her business on Medium. I think you two should speak.” We spoke, and now we have a good partnership.
Third, collaborating. In the truest sense of the word, I mean working with other content creators to build something new that your combined audiences would be interested in. We’ve seen an excellent example of this recently — Barack Obama and Burce Springsteen collaborated to create the “Renegades: Born in the USA” podcast. Each could probably have done an exceptionally popular podcast alone, but by working together, they made something greater than the sum of the parts.
I’ve recently done this myself, working with three other writers to create a weekly newsletter that gives advice on how to make money writing online, called Write Your Future. It’s made our friendships stronger, it’s been an absolute blast, I’ve learned a ton, and it’s earned us all a good chunk of change.
No person is an island, and that’s true if you’re an account manager for a tech company or a content creator looking for a steady flow of income.
We can’t change the facts: creating content is tiring and hard, and if you depend only on yourself and the platforms you distribute content on, you’re in for a tough future.
By collaborating with other creators, I’ve increased my income. Far more importantly, I’ve found a lot more enjoyment in what I do. The specter of burnout has stopped looking over my shoulder and I’ve rediscovered the value in creating content for myself and my audience.
I don’t know what the rest of you are waiting for — the future of successful content creation is collaboration.