When you hear the phrase “content creation,” what comes to mind? Like most, you may think about your favorite influencer, a recent sponsored post you saw, or the last viral video to take over your timeline. But past virality and clickbait, content creation in its purest form has always been about one thing: self-expression.
And while many creators and companies rack their minds (and pressure their creative teams) to keep up with the times, it’s worth looking back and seeing the evolution of content creation.
It’s hard to remember life before iPhones and Netflix binges, but content creation was alive and well long before YouTube and Instagram. Before social media, creators and artists expressed themselves through speeches, books, and photography. Bylines by Jane Austen, George Eliot, and Shakespeare were the trending topics of their time and helped influence many of today's mediums.
The turn of the last century yielded content creation’s greatest leaps. In the mid-90s, more families and creatives were being introduced and enamored by technology. Search engines like Ask Jeeves and Yahoo!, narrowed the gap between friends, families, and communities across state lines. People were worlds away but connected through devices and dial-up.
By the end of the 90s, blogging was a mainstream idea and a newfound obsession for anyone with something to say. Experts believe Justin Hall launched the first blog in 1994. He wrote about the art he enjoyed at the time and published work of his own as well. And before we had the word “blog” in our vernacular, we called this form of self-expression “online diaries.” (Shout-out to those who remember LiveJournal in this prime.)
Blogging evolved from a landing page that housed our thoughts to a refreshed medium for journalists to share global breaking news, updates, and social commentary. In 2005, two major strides happened for content creation: Garrett Graff became the first blogger to be granted a press pass for the White House, and a little thing called The Huffington Post went live. Today news cycles continue to live around the clock via Twitter, news stations, and blogs.
Today blogging feels necessary to a business or product launch. Companies host employer blogs to share their thoughts on industry trends, leadership profiles, and peaks into internal operations. While it’s been seen more as a tool to leverage search engine optimization (SEO) in 2021, it remains one of the fastest, most relevant ways for creators to get their thoughts, stories, and breaking headlines into the lives of millions.
And, of course, blogging gave way to microblogging (think Twitter) and social media. Though social media was introduced in 1997 with Six Degrees, the platform we understand today was made popular in 2003 by everyone’s friend — Tom from Myspace. Known for its customizations and connection to music, Myspace became a corner of the Internet where users could “invent” themselves, sharing their favorite music, personal aspirations, and thoughts.
Myspace would give way to the platforms we still use today: Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Just like we saw with blogging, social media became monetized and a bare minimum necessity for any business or entrepreneur. In fact, 73% of marketers attribute their brands’ success and relevancy to social media, and 54% of consumers use it to research upcoming purchases.
So it comes as no surprise that advertising on social media has influenced the landscape of marketing. For a long time, traditional media struggled to keep up with social media. For the first time, we saw audiences disillusioned with the idea of a Hollywood “it girl.” Instead, followers were buying from beauty vloggers, content creators, and self-proclaimed artists that weren’t backed by a management team or entourage of handlers. Companies began to take their marketing dollars away from commercial ads with A-list celebrities and put them toward content creators and influencers with organic reach and high engagement rates.
With most highs come the lows and a stark pendulum swing in the opposite direction; and the content creation is no different. What was once a space for ‘ordinary people’ to find their communities and showcase their talents without “knowing the right people” has become a place to boast, brag, and misrepresent our lives. There have been entire documentaries and studies on how social media pressures contribute to mental health and quality of life. And after a decade of trying too hard, users are pushing baThe Social Dilemma - Wikipediack on the pressure and moving forward to a new era of content creation, an era that celebrates raw, real, authentic, and unfiltered life.
The Atlantic’s Taylor Lorenz focused on influencers evolving past the curated, perfected feed and embracing messier, more authentic life moments. “Instagram museums and walls were built to allow normal people to take influencer-quality photographs—but they worked so well, those types of photos became common enough that they don’t resonate like they used to. [...] We’re living in influencer overload.”
As we’ve mentioned, it’s a task to remember that at its core, social media is a place built on the foundation of connection, community, and free thought. We’ve seen social media used as a tool in many ways, mostly in terms of capitalism and consumerism. Still, we’ve also been witness to social media being an instrumental tool for social justice.
From capturing graphic acts on video to sharing photos from a protest, individuals across generations have a platform to speak up and be heard. We really saw this unfold in the summer of 2020 with marches, fireside chats, and black squares. “Utilizing social media and tools such as hashtags encouraged information sharing, helped spread awareness, and provided a space online for the Black Lives Matter community to form and organize.”
In addition to civil rights, social media is helping with fundraising, education, and sharing the lived experiences of millions.
So what’s next? Video content. Even the head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, says so. As The Verge reported earlier this year, Instagram—arguably the king of social media for well over a decade—understands that content creation is evolving and to remain relevant, they need to evolve too. Instead, the former photo-sharing app wants to be “seen as a general entertainment app driven by algorithms and videos.”
It’s hard to deny the impact Covid-19 left on content creation. With nowhere to go and no one to see (and plenty to argue about), video was the most viable option for creators. It seemed TikTok lapped Instagram in the race to win over users and eyeballs, and creators took notice.
Over the last year, more users have begun to adopt video-focused features such as Reels, Instagram Stories, live streaming, and native video content. And users appear to be as creative as ever before with content based around comedy; education; and sharing honest, helpful information with one another.
In a sense, it almost feels full circle. The beauty is that we, as users, have agency and influence over what’s coming. How would you like to see apps and tech companies evolve over the next decade? What role do you want social media to play in your day to day life?
If we play our cards right, we can be the determining factor in content creation for our age.