Game of Cults: How Social Media Platforms Exploit Your Marketing Efforts

I said we would talk about conspiracy theories. Let’s start right now. This is the game of cults, after all. Why not ratchet up the paranoia?

Here it is…

Social media companies and gamification

Social media companies purposely subvert your marketing in order to create ad inventory, not to be social or build trust.

Social media uses gamification to change your behavior.

The lie we want to believe is that followers will translate into sales.

The more we follow the rules, the more visibility and followers we will get, then followers will become sales.

For 98% of us, social media delivers nothing.

Social media is another power-law-driven market. This creates a few influencers with all the followers and a long tail of those with only a few followers.

Every new social media company has a cycle. Early adopters get visibility and tell others. Then, we all run to the new platform, hoping to gain visibility. The very act of us all trying to get visibility dilutes everyone’s visibility. At some point, the platform brings in advertising to monetize the audience.

Rinse and repeat.

My research shows the average earnings per follower on Instagram is two to eight cents. You have to acquire millions of followers to earn thousands of dollars.

Don’t believe me? Do your research on the average revenues for creators on YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram.

We get scammed into thinking social media is the easier way to sell. We forget to stop and ask what we want.

I don’t want clicks and opens. I want attention and trust.

Clicks and opens can be gamified and hacked. Once earned, attention and trust will circumvent whatever big tech does to optimize advertising revenue.

Big tech has used gamification to influence behavior.

The premise of social media is that you want to be there because it’s a method for you to be entertained or to socialize. While there, occasionally, you’ll be served a well-targeted advertisement.

There needs to be either a viable social network or content to entertain users to make this work.

Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok infer visibility when you create content. They deliver a meaningless scorecard via followers and likes—rudimentary gamification.

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Along the way, they adjust the game’s rules to make you adjust the format, duration, and type of content they require.

It’s powerful, but it’s abusive. You’re being used.

Resist it.

You’ll learn better gamification strategies in the coming months—strategies that create joy and meaning rather than focus on a reward that is always just out of reach.

Think about how you have adjusted your content creation on social media in the last few years to try and win followers.

Did any of it work?

In the last year, Instagram has drastically changed what it awards visibility on based on corporate concerns about losing eyeballs to TikTok.

We are being used.

Step off the social media treadmill.

Social media trains content creators to work full-time creating clickbait content that does nothing to help you build trust.

Social media provides no hard data on whether the audience is the right audience or engaging with advertising in a meaningful way.

Maybe you’re like me and have fallen for others’ use of gamification to modify your behavior. It’s easy to do.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t use social media. I suggest you take the time to produce content that fits your marketing process. If it fits social media, then put the content there.

Stop and ask if what you’re doing is driven by a visibility algorithm designed to hold eyeballs or earn trust and attention.

Sure, you must honor the two-second window of attention you’re given on TikTok, but what do you do with it?

Is your social media presence on brand and helping awareness?

Is your social media structured to bring prospects to a place where they can learn about what you do on their timeline?

These ideas contradict what the socials want you to do.

Social media wants you to create content that keeps viewers around to serve ads. Then they change the story after what little organic reach you were getting goes away by design so that you too must advertise.

The point of this article is to:

  1. Get you to question what you’re doing on various platforms and if it is congruent with your brand.
  2. Show you how subversive and powerful gamification is to modify customer behavior.

Think about it. As frustrating as social media is, we continue to go back to it even when there is no solid data that it delivers sales.

As the season progresses, we will unpack gamification and explain why it works and how to use it. That will come after we explore individual behavior and group behavior.

A game within a game.

I’ll be using gamification strategies developed by Yu-kai Chou to demonstrate gamification.

You’ll see tactics like placing an Easter egg in a communication and the strategy for why an Easter egg is compelling (curiosity, accomplishment, scarcity, meaning).

If you’re not familiar with an Easter egg, it’s the idea of something being hidden in plain sight. You’ll find them in movies, books, and video games.

It gives you a clue and leads to more information, an added tidbit that those less curious don’t see.

Many say Warren Robinett created the first in the Atari 2600 game Adventure.

I mentioned in season one how the alternative reality game (ARG) I Love Bees was promoting a video game. It became a popular internet-based scavenger hunt that started with a phrase word added to a URL. Its larger purpose was to bring attention to the brand HALO, but it created a community of scavengers who promoted the game.

To make Game of Cults an adventure, I’ve built in a scavenger hunt. The start of the trail is in plain sight.

One more thing…

If you are active on social media, take a break. Stop it for two weeks and see if it impacts your business at all. You can use a performance indicator like a trailing thirty-day average of sales to remove noise and see if larger trends are at play.

During that time off, create products for your existing audience.

Read: When Logical Decision-Making Leads to the Wrong Solution