The prison of an audience

jasonleow  •  3 Aug 2022   •  

Creators often talk about building an audience, like how a speaker talks to an auditorium of passive, quiet people. The interaction is often one way, from creator to audience. The creator is at the centre, the hub, and the spokes are the different platforms and channels reaching out to his audience. It’s creator-centric. The creator is an influencer, influencing his audience with his content.

Yet nobody talks about the influencer being influenced by his audience. With feedback mechanisms like comment threads readily available on every platform, it’s now easy to hear what your audience thinks about your content. In fact, super amplified.

I think it’s arguable that the the influence in fact might be more the other way, from audience to creator, since it’s one-to-many.

Reading this Substack article by gurwinder made me realise that it could very likely be the case. The horrifying example he gave was that of the YouTube influencer Nikocado Avocado, a creator of mukbang videos, who went from “mild-mannered and health conscious” to “loud, abrasive, and spectacularly grotesque”. This is the phenomenon called “audience capture”.

It’s scary how you can lose yourself when you listen to what your audience finds entertaining and wants more of.

Likewise on Twitter. You hear a lot about tracking data and analytics on your best tweets, and “doubling down” on the best ones. I tried, and it does work. Admittedly, I found myself threading uncomfortable territory when tweeting out a strong opinion on contentious topics relating to entrepreneurship. Yeah I believe it, but the lack of nuance was disconcerting to me. That’s not how I like to have my discourse. Yet it’s tweets like that that do really well. Attention follows drama and controversy, but I don’t like drama.

Of course, this is in no way as serious as the situation with Nikocado Avocado, but a glimpse into the future if I truly followed the data and what audience wanted.

“This is the ultimate trapdoor in the hall of fame; to become a prisoner of one’s own persona. The desire for recognition in an increasingly atomized world lures us to be who strangers wish us to be. And with personal development so arduous and lonely, there is ease and comfort in crowdsourcing your identity. But amid such temptations, it’s worth remembering that when you become who your audience expects at the expense of who you are, the affection you receive is not intended for you but for the character you’re playing, a character you’ll eventually tire of. And so be warned: being someone often means being fake, and if you chase the approval of others, you may, in the end, lose the approval of yourself.” – gurwinder

The article got me thinking about just how much I’m being influenced by my efforts in building in public, building an audience. And I suspect, a lot more than I think. As much as I try to assert my own autonomy and be an independent thinker, I’m still human. We’re never as immune to audience capture as we think we are. I did notice my mental health isn’t all that good since I went serious on Twitter. I try not to compare myself with others, but seeing MRR updates and wins everyday doesn’t help.

It’s death by a thousand paper cuts.

So what can I do, to preserve my sanity, mental health and not be dis-functionally influenced by my audience? Some ideas:

  • Engage more with folks who are moderate and balanced
  • Avoid accounts who brag, bring drama and make me feel unbalanced
  • Have frequent digital detox
  • Let go of expectations of fast growth (which really is greed, which in turn makes you do things you wouldn’t want to)
  • Avoid being too clear on labelling myself, who I am and what my niche is (makes it hard to escape)
  • Just be myself and play the long game

Anything else I can do to avoid audience capture?

Comments

Nikocado Avocado is a great name. That guy has definitely gotten out of control. I had no idea about these mukbang videos. I’ve seen professional eating contests and Man vs. Food, but I didn’t know this genre existed for ordinary people. Personally, I don’t want to watch someone eat a large, unhealthy meal. I’d rather just eat it myself. (oops that was the old me). And I will be so bold as to say I am immune to audience capture.

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therealbrandonwilson  •  4 Aug 2022, 2:17 am

@therealbrandonwilson yeah haha I would say you’re pretty immune too. But I believe it’s still a good practice to always be suspicious of one’s immunity level, and have ways to check frequently so that we don’t get blindsided.

jasonleow  •  5 Aug 2022, 1:30 am