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Facebook’s Zuckerberg wants to court influencers. It could be a tough sell

“Facebook is basically saying, ‘Hey, Instagram was the biggest influencer platform, and now we’re losing our influence in that space,’” said Nicole Quinn, a venture capitalist at Lightspeed Venture Partners who studies the influencer and creator market. “If I were Facebook, I would be thinking, ‘I need to stay relevant. How do we bring people back here again?’”

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Yet it won’t be easy to win over creators, who increasingly have choices. Apart from Facebook, YouTube and TikTok, other platforms are also chasing influencers. Last November, Snapchat began paying creators up to $US1 million a day to post on its platform and it is rolling out more ways for creators to make money, like tipping. Twitter also introduced tipping and will soon let creators put their content behind a paywall and charge a monthly subscription fee.

At least 50 million people around the world now consider themselves content creators, according to SignalFire, a venture capital firm.

“There’s a total arms race underway to attract and retain creators across the social media landscape,” said Li Jin, founder of Atelier Ventures, a venture capital firm focused on the creator economy. “All of the major platforms have realised that the nexus of value comes from the creators who make the content that keeps people coming back regularly.”

The shift has posed challenges for Facebook. The company has focused primarily on selling advertising to big brands and small- and medium-size businesses. It also failed to seize opportunities to win over creators.

In 2016, after the short-form video app Vine shut down, top creators like Logan Paul and Piques dove into Facebook to post their videos. But Facebook didn’t have enough tools for influencers to make money at the time, so many shifted their efforts to YouTube.

One issue for Facebook and Instagram is that a user’s posts and videos are only served to people who follow them, which means it can take years to build up a large audience to make money from. Facebook also has more than 3 billion users worldwide, so standing out from the crowd is no easy feat.

At least 50 million people around the world now consider themselves content creators, according to SignalFire, a venture capital firm.

By contrast, TikTok has a “For You” discovery algorithm that enables new users with no followings to easily upload a video and have it immediately be shown to millions of other users. TikTok also forged relationships with popular creators on its platform early on by building out “partnerships” teams, which help creators grow and manage their followings and streamline their tech support issues.

Facebook is also promoting more of its tools and features to help creators make money. That includes monthly paid subscriptions to influencer pages and the ability to post advertising within short-form videos and livestreams. Zuckerberg has pledged that Facebook will not take a cut of creators’ earnings on the platform until 2023 at the earliest.

Instagram is planning to make its app look more like TikTok.

Instagram is planning to make its app look more like TikTok.

Facebook is also falling back on a familiar strategy: looking more like its competitors. This month, Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, said the app would make changes to keep up with the popularity of video-sharing apps. That includes tweaking Instagram’s algorithm to begin showing users more videos from people they don’t follow — in other words, doing what TikTok does.

“We’re no longer a photo-sharing app,” Mosseri said in an Instagram video this month. (He later tweeted that Instagram wasn’t abandoning photos, but leaning in to video.)

Facebook is building out other products to draw all kinds of creators, from writers to podcasters and beyond. Last month, it unveiled Bulletin, a newsletter service aimed at attracting independent writers and authors to build their audiences on Facebook. It has also released Audio Rooms, a feature where people hold live audio chats with fans and followers. The company is using these tools to target the podcasting market and compete with apps like Clubhouse and Twitter “Spaces.”

Lately, Zuckerberg has also leaned into viral memes about himself. He recently posted a photo of a surfboard he commissioned, with an artistic rendering of his face covered in stark white suntan lotion, a meme that circulated widely online last year.

Over the Fourth of July weekend, Zuckerberg also tried creating a meme of his own. He posted a video of himself on Facebook surfing on an electric surfboard in Lake Tahoe, California, clutching a giant American flag waving in the wind. The video was set to the sounds of John Denver singing “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”

Creators pounced; it became meme-ified almost instantly.

New York Times

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