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Instagram Blackout: Global Wake Up Call To Social Media Influencers, Small Businesses

It’s time to diversify away from Facebook products and any legacy social media app where you’re making money on content, or using it as a shingle to your business. Last week’s Facebook blackout serves as yet another reminder. It doesn’t matter where you are. These things go down, if you’re reliant on them for revenue, it’s a day off without pay.


It is unclear exactly how Facebook social media platforms went dark for around six (glorious) hours last week, but people from around the world lost money, not just billionaire Mark Zuckerberg.


In India, small online businesses and re-sellers were amongst the worst affected, according to Judy Morris, a travel and lifestyle blogger quoted by India Express.


Neha Puri, CEO and founder of Vavo Digital, an influencer marketing company, said that businesses and social media influencers rely too much on single social media platforms.


“When a store is shut down for a particular period, the shopkeeper incurs losses, (just like) when a major social media platform going down,” Puri said. “Small businesses lost potential customers.”


Instagram is more famously known for its influencers. The risk associated with dependency on a single system that can either demonetize you, or cut your pay drastically at a moments notice, is risky business.


Victoria MacGrath in September 2017 in Paris, France. She is a social media influencer, reliant in ... [+]


“I’ve always been very aware, especially since the collapse of Vine, that holding your business name and brand on an external social media platform is a risk,” Victoria MacGrath, fashion influencer at In The Frow, warned over a year ago. “To base your livelihood, income and brand on platforms you don’t own, is a huge gamble.”


There are at at least 500 million daily active Stories users on Instagram. Sixty per cent of them seek out and discover new products on Instagram. Brand collaborations have grown 44% between 2018 and 2019, according to Vuelio, a data solutions company serving the public relations and marketing industries.


Instagram’s ‘Creator’ accounts are where short, content creators do their thing as influencers. This is a huge business for some, worldwide. Creator accounts and influencer access to Instagram’s Checkout – in simple terms, Insta’s e-commerce solution — are aimed at keeping creators happy everywhere.


In 2019, even before Instagram’s blackout, influencer marketing expert Scott Guthrie, was saying that as growth flattens at Facebook, the company has been forced to look elsewhere for advertising revenue to prop up the business. “Eyes are now focused squarely on Instagram. The photo-sharing app contributed less than $5 billion to Facebook in 2017. Income nearly doubled in 2018. eMarketer has forecast revenue will exceed $25 billion in 2021,” he says.


“Creator accounts and branded content ads appear, on the surface, to be putting community first but it is surely more about cash than community. The next step will be to kill off organic reach,” Guthrie warns. “Just as Instagram’s parent, Facebook, did with brand pages. If branded content ads currently provide brands with an opportunity to boost influencer content to their pages, what if that opportunity becomes an obligation? What if the only way to reach your audience is by paying to boost your content?”


This sounds like evil genius level business planning. And should be a good reason why those making money off these platforms need to diversify.


“I think creators have many reasons to move over to new platforms,” says Melanie Mohr, Founder & CEO of BULLZ in Singapore. “One reason might be due to certain content restrictions, another reason one might be more innovative creator tools or content approaches. But the driving reason for most creators is going to be better monetization model.”


Regular content creators provide social media platforms with the most value.


An old picture of Scott Adams, "the Dilbert guy". He diversified away from Google's YouTube out of ... [+]


Whether they have their own equivalent of a talk show on YouTube, and make money that way, or are selling their fashion sense on Instagram, thousands of creators worldwide are worried about their reliance on Instagram and YouTube.


“It is impossible to monetize solely from those platforms. You have to look out for brand deals or sponsored content to make a living,” says Mohr.


BULLZ is an app that allows for content creators to diversity into crypto, though it is geared to the true crypto gear heads to talk about crypto and new crypto-related startups in short videos. Users share videos of themselves, or others, talking about crypto and blockchain. BULLZ is in the Promote-To-Earn space, where users can find trending projects, discuss them together with other crypto enthusiasts and experts and get rewarded in crypto for their shares.


“Some crypto savvy YouTube creators call it a new TikTok for crypto,” Mohr says. “We have more platforms lined up to integrate the protocol.” They work with two I have never heard of. One is called YEAY. The other protocol is the WOM Authenticator. It’s for branded content promotion. BULLZ pays in WOM tokens.


Rofkin is arguably the pioneer social media platform that came with a crypto component. Content creators on Rofkin earn in the RAE token. Rofkin is for the long-content creator.


Another key alternative to YouTube is the Locals platform. That one pays in fiat. Greg Gutfield is on Locals. And Scott Adams has some of his shows on Locals in order to diversify away from YouTube and reduce demonetization risks for running afoul of the Google GOOG -0.9% wrong-think police.


This summer, Twitter TWTR -2.5% chief Jack Dorsey said cryptocurrencies would be "a big part" of the company's future. Last month, they announced they will roll out a tipping feature in crypto (and fiat), which is another way to diversify income streams for influencers.


Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. Got content? Want to get paid in tips from fans? They can pay you in ... [+]


"We want everyone on Twitter to have access to avenues to get paid," staff product manager Esther Crawford posted on September 23.


People can tip with Bitcoin using Strike – a payments application built on the Bitcoin Lightning Network that allows Twitter users to send and receive Bitcoin. Strike is extremely limited. Only El Salvador and the U.S. have it, and not all 50 states. (Hawaii and New York do not have it). People in the eligible markets will have to sign up for a Strike account and add their Strike username to receive Bitcoin tips over the Lightning Network. And Twitter users will need a Bitcoin Lightning wallet to send tips to someone’s Strike account, which might be more of a headache than it is worth.


Twitter’s foray is just another example of crypto becoming a payment alternative for creators.


And BULLZ’s foray is a crypto-centric solution for those looking to diversify income streams and escape the mainstream platforms. Maybe if they are crazy lucky, they become the Twitch of crypto videos. If you’re a fashion influencer, though, better get into fashion NFTs, if that’s a thing. It’s probably a thing. (Oh, God, I was right.)


“You are free to create any kind of content but based on blockchain projects that got you excited or wallets you use to store your assets or crypto exchanges you like,” says Mohr. “The only thing that matters is that the content is authentic, and has value to the audience.”


Instagram wants people piped in all the time, and wants its influencers to be more dependent on it. Last week’s blackout shows what that kind of centralization means.


Still, people are lazy, and idle when it comes to these things. Instagram blackouts would probably have to be a regular occurrence before people really diversified in large numbers.


“We think it is crucial that influencers diversify,” digital legal specialists TLT Solicitor’s head of digital future law, James Touzel, says. There’s just one major caveat. He added that content creators should keeping “using Instagram to their full advantage.”


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