A photo of Emma holding a coffee cup and leaning on the kitchen bench

Social Media Trends, Original Concepts and Stealing Like An Artist

Season 3

Episode 10

As we move deeper into a world of shorter form content and essentially more touch points, a business is often drawn to create more often, at least more often than they might have five years ago. That's overwhelming, which is why at a peak of expectations of volume, we saw the repetition and so called trends become super common.

Sometimes it got to the point where businesses shared things that might be catchy, but weren't adding to the business's message and also weren't original. It felt like a lot of whispering that added up to a high volume of noise instead of clear, definitive original messages.

We do seem to have gotten to the point of the cycle where people realised that copying left right and centre didn't add anything to the businesses and didn't help with growing any kind of leads or website visitors.

Watch or listen to the episode

Pointing at things, dancing to random songs, or showing a piece of text on screen that said "read the caption for the answer" didn't add much but a vanity metric for most and only sometimes saw real engagement by comments and saves. Especially for businesses, personal brands truly are different. So just because someone with a million followers does something, that doesn't mean it's right for you.

We seem to have seen a small rebound not a full one, but a small step back towards being clear, with an original message that matches the business, but being different usually means doing something completely new. And that takes time to formulate well.

hen you're jumping on a social media trend, you might get the reward of likes or reach. But if it is too similar to what others are posting, you don't break through the noise to become memorable. It was essentially an accepted form of plagiarism for a while there, since all you changed was the face in the video. Just because it's accepted though, doesn't mean it works.

I don't know how widespread this saying is, but I grew up with Poor Man's Version as part of my repertoire. Essentially, all it means is that it's a duplicate, but a lesser version, and that ultimately it isn't as good as the original or better done version, whether that's due to input, research or maybe talent. That's not to say you need a budget though, the currency is more about the quality of the content and its connection back to the business. Instead of copying something you've seen, you want to find your own thing, feel like you're making progress along the way towards your goals, and being original enough to stand out from the crowd.

In marketing, you might end up sharing so infrequently that it doesn't add up to an audience, but there's a balance of doing something new without spending so many hours on it that you only publish something once in a blue moon. It's adding to the conversation, but with your own original thoughts, examples or by linking to other concepts. We want you to be inspired, take action, share something, then see what happens, move on to the next thing and evolve as an artist, author, creator, and then see what the knock on effect is.

In the book Steal Like an Artist, Austin Kleon breaks down how great artists are inspired yet create unique and exciting work. I looked at the book through the lens of marketing content to pull together Austin's concept with how I find businesses can best approach being original without the overwhelm. I'm obviously not covering the whole book, just a few of the points Austin made that are most relevant. So if you find this episode useful, I'd recommend you check out Steal Like An artist and Austin's other work.

But first, let's talk about brand identity. A brand's identity is mostly made of its values, mission, voice and target audience. It's essentially how your business shows up in the world. For a brand to be memorable and identifiable. It needs to be both consistent and somewhat unique. Jumping on every social media trend could potentially harm a brand's identity if the trend doesn't align with its values and voice. You want to balance personality and on brand content with trends. If you're jumping on a trend, are you adding to the conversation? Are you just repeating something someone else already said dancing on TikTok, for example, or following trends that don't match your business aren't adding to the narrative you truly want.

There is a small amount of personality that needs to be getting across, but regurgitating something that someone else said isn't always the best way to stand out. Dancing might be obvious depending on your business, it would certainly be for mine, but the smaller mismatches aren't so glaringly obvious, and sometimes you do have to try something on to see how it feels. To get yourself used to creation, a little copying or inspiration might be needed. You don't need to create something wholly original to have it worthy of publishing. Again, it's a balance. It's best to seek inspiration from multiple sources. And I don't mean finding trends in multiple places.

In Steal Like An Artist, Austin breaks down how artists recreate to try things. They don't remake, because that would be plagiarism, but they put their spin on things. They copy the thinking instead of the work. That might mean that you like how someone else documents their week, so you take the same approach while using your own style completely.

Artists remix. It's not only a mix of a couple of other things, it also adds their own touch. Austin talks about your DNA and how you're a mix of your parents but also you unique and I think that is a really great breakdown. But with more points of inspiration. Artists consolidate inspiration by finding multiple people who inspire them, then looking at who those artists are inspired by, til they have a wider range of work that inspires them and can better understand what they like about different art. Over time, an artists can refine what is their thing, what makes them unique and what only they can create. They ultimately transform that inspiration with what only they can add to it.

So many so called trends or trending audios can be adjusted to work for your industry, we've seen countless trends go from the travel space to photography to weddings, to product businesses, make it more relevant for you by adding a twist. That twist could be something that makes it super relevant for your product or service specifically, your team or your audience. You can use the sound but then none of the visual cues anyone else has done and create your own completely original video, just with that trending audio. To figure out what feels right, you will have to try things, not all of which might get published. You'll also need to dabble to find what resonates most on each platform. Every social media platform has a unique audience and culture. What works on one platform may not work on another.

Businesses should identify their target audience and determine which platforms are best suited for reaching them, then make content that is best suited for that platform. This is why you might limit yourself to two places where you create content that is right for the platform. If you want to be present elsewhere, you might repost but with lower expectations of performance. Plus, you might find you get a surprise every so often as well. For instance, TikTok is a popular platform with Gen Z and millennials, often as a place to be entertained. While LinkedIn as popular among professionals and B2B companies, regardless of their generation.

The content that will perform best on each would be very different. Sometimes you can think of this like being the same person, but in different contexts. The core brand identity is the same, but the types of content and how you interact with the audience may shift. There's an element of vulnerability here where you have to be willing to post something and see what happens.

The good thing is there's so much content out there, people will move on quickly if they don't necessarily vibe with your content. So as long as you're not saying something offensive, you can sort of move on to the next thing too. This is why it can help to have a few things created ahead, so you don't often dwell on an average post or negative feedback and stop creating altogether.

Graphic of 4 different people using their phones in different ways

In Steal Like An Artist Austin also covers the concept of new ideas and how to harness them. To hone them in order to create that unique thing that only the individual artists can create. It can help to start going through the motions. This can often inspire you because the motions kickstart the brain. This is essentially a habit or routine or by having a template or framework so you don't start from a blank page and lose momentum or feel stuck. This also relates to a type of content that is clips from larger content, like an hour long podcast cut down into the best 5 to 10 bits. They lack total context, but they might be funny, engaging or conversation starter nuggets.

Hobbies can also spark creativity, this is not always going to loop back to your business in a way that picking up a craft might be for an artist, but it might give you extra insights or spark an idea every so often. It might also allow your brain to have a break that allows your subconscious to push a thought to the forefront. Same thing happens when you're in the shower, or when you're out for a walk. You're not focusing on anything in particular, and something just pops into your head. But really it was just hidden before, the quicker you can take action on it, the simpler it is to ride that wave.

You might also like to switch up your space or curate scenarios in which you do your best work. In the book, Austin talks about how he created an analogue station to use his hands when writing. He has two desks, the one where he sits and writes notes or on paper in some other way, then a separate desk with his computer where he types and finishes. I do this less than I used to, but I do often start with pen and paper before I hit the keyboard and it does genuinely help me. I write down my core points and often write a stream of consciousness, that I later type and format into something a bit more cohesive.

I used to print off my reports and you need to see them from a different perspective when I didn't have time to just sleep on it. Austin also talks about how you should be consistent enough to shake something good loose, and how that act of starting to do the work helps you to create more good work by default. Not everything might make it out into the world. But the consistent writing can mean that you regularly have something good that sparks a little extra and becomes a thing that you publish. There's also the practicality of doing something enough that you get better in practice.

Five years ago, going viral was much more safe than it is now. Going viral now means multiple millions of views well outside of your audience to people who have zero context and also those who might oppose your thoughts or beliefs in some way. This can be scary, but it's also somewhat rare. We shouldn't actually aim for viral we should aim for remarkable or shareable. Since that's kind of the original way that things used to go viral was that they had to get tweeted or sent a link in an email or something like them.

Back to that branding and marketing balancing act, you could be ruining your brand through so called viral marketing unnecessarily. The more you get positive feedback, when you push the envelope can lead you to push more, until it's way too far. Maybe it's best for you to create a checklist that things have to match 90% of the time. That gives you room for a bit of personality and fun, but doesn't allow it to take over.

Austin talks about creating good work, and then telling people about it and how that's so much easier on the internet. Essentially, though, getting your reps in is so much more valuable than the virality of each individual piece since, as he says it, it's simpler and more enjoyable as an artist to make things and share them and do what you want before you become famous. As a business, the goal should be to put stuff out there and attract those who love that thing just like an artist does. Consistency allows for the surprises and happy coincidences that happen along the way.

Especially when thinking like an artist it can sometimes make you think only of individual pieces of content. You can also take that same creativity to a campaign and look at something holistically. When you execute across multiple platforms, you might have a campaign focused around a saying, a point, a collection or a service. If you think of the point or creative to get across and total, then split that across each platform it builds into a cohesive experience for people to discover each part of. This might mean that you run one set of ads for a month, then tell the next part of the story of the coming months.

Placement wise, you might use retargeting or put the ads in a place people visit or see regularly like running ads on the same TV show, magazine, billboard, website. Austin spells out for the reader how they should simply build what they want to use, or what you would have wanted to see in your earlier years. The resource you wish you could share. He breaks down some great examples, but so often your own need is mirrored by others. So in creating something to solve a solution for you others want it too. He asks his readers to challenge their desire for something to exist into creating it.

Click To Tweet

Pointing at things, dancing to random songs, or showing a piece of text on screen that said "read the caption for the answer" didn't add much but a vanity metric for most and only sometimes saw real engagement by comments and saves.

By far my favourite piece of the book is when Austin adds that creativity is subtraction. In choosing what to leave out. This allows you to focus on what matters most, it is not just the things we put in, it is also the things we choose to leave out. That might be the trends we choose not to jump on or the content we decide is either not on brand, not up to scratch, not quite ready. That not quite ready work can be something you come back to.

Other times, it might be as simple as removing a few of the points to make something more concise and punchy or cutting down a few sentences. That's another beauty of short form content is that when you have 90 seconds, you tend to make each one count.

If you are focused heavily on trends, or struggling to create original content, this change of marketing approach might seem like a lot of friction, and you have to push harder to make things work. I like to think of it as short term resistance for long term gain, which it kind of is because the resistance is just that creating is harder. But in the end, it's worth it, you have refined more of what you like what your audience likes, what platform algorithms like and can use that information when the wind inevitably changes. We all know empty content is often quite a fake productivity feeling anyway, so we just have to hold out a little longer.

It might help to consider these few things when looking at what to let go of in your marketing.

When approaching trends they so often are a great fit for the platform, but you might ask yourself:

Subscribe to the show

Watch on YouTube

Listen to the audio

Direct to your inbox