Jack Conte at the Featured Session: Keynote: Death of the Follower & the Future of Creativity on the … [+] Web as part of SXSW 2024 Conference and Festivals held at the Austin Convention on March 15, 2024 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Hutton Supancic/SXSW Conference & Festivals via Getty Images)

The death of the follower has profound implications for the future of creativity online. Jack Conte, the co-founder and CEO of Patreon, recently delivered a thought-provoking keynote at SXSW 2024 that tackled this issue head-on. Drawing from his own experience as a musician and entrepreneur, he offered invaluable insights into the challenges creators face and how they can navigate the changing tides of social media.

Conte’s journey began in the early days of Web 2.0, when platforms like YouTube and Facebook ushered in a new era of creator-driven content. “For the first time as a creative person, you could easily participate on the internet,” he said. “You could post and tweet and upload instead of just being a passenger.”

This revolution enabled Conte and his wife, Natalie, to build a dedicated following for their band, Pomplamoose, through a direct connection with fans. The “subscribe” button, Conte emphasized, was “foundational” to this success, allowing them to cultivate a loyal community that bought their music, attended their shows, and actively engaged with their work.

However, the 2010s ushered in the “decade of ranking,” where platforms like Facebook began prioritizing content based on engagement algorithms, effectively breaking the direct creator-fan relationship. “My fans don’t see as much of my stuff anymore,” Conte lamented. “It’s harder to sell tickets to a show, it’s harder to reach people with my new work, it’s harder to build community, it’s harder to build a business.”

The situation was exacerbated by the rise of TikTok and it’s “For You” feed, which abandoned the concept of subscriptions altogether. Instead of seeing content from creators they chose to follow, users were served a constant stream of videos curated by TikTok’s algorithms.

As Conte pointed out, this model “completely abandoned the concept of the follow,” forcing other platforms like YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter to adopt similar approaches to remain competitive. The result? A further erosion of the direct creator-fan connection that had once fuelled the success of artists like Pomplamoose.

In the face of these challenges, Conte offers three pieces of advice to the next generation of content creators:

Recognizing the challenges faced by creators, Patreon is positioning itself as a platform to facilitate deeper connections between artists and their true fans. Through features like community forums, commerce tools, and live experiences, Patreon aims to empower creators to build energized fandoms and sustainable businesses around their work.

As Conte passionately declared, “I want Patreon to build an internet where creators have true creative freedom, where creators have control of their businesses and their careers, and I want it to feel like fire to be part of a creator community.”

Jack Conte’s message is one of empowerment and resilience. “I believe this in my bones: it is possible to build an internet where fandoms thrive and where professional creativity is possible for anyone.”

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