Friday, September 25, 2020

Beware Chasing Follower Counts

When trying to build your channel on Twitch, what's the easiest way to measure progress? Most people use the same metric they'd use on any content platform: the follower count. After all, this is one handy number which essentially boils down the popularity of all your efforts. Convenient, right? 

Sort of. 

The issue with a follower count is that it only reflects a very slim portion of an otherwise balanced channel. Chasing that number, only for the sake of making it grow faster, is a very dangerous practice, because it will leave you unsatisfied with the actual content you have to make each day. And the last thing we all want is for a Twitch channel to be just another place where we clock in and out, not loving what we do. In this entry we'll cover why you should beware chasing follower counts, and what you can do instead to love streaming even more.


Consider the choices you make every day when eating food. Whenever you go with junk food over something substantial, it might taste good but it doesn't really nourish you. And because you enjoy the taste, eating junk food can begin a vicious cycle. It's easy to fall into a habit of eating more and more junk food, because you want to chase that feeling of intense flavor. Even though you know it's bad for you, it slowly starts to phase out healthier options from your diet until every meal leaves you simultaneously full and malnourished. This exact same phenomenon happens with Twitch streaming as well. There are things that you may want to do on your channel because they're the core of your being, they reflect who you are as a person, and they're what you would love to do every day in a perfect world. These might be your favorite obscure games, your life's passion to paint, or your desire to study ancient history. But similar to how the healthiest foods usually don't taste as good as the junk food, the streams which truly nourish your life's deepest passions usually don't attract as much audience attention. So most streamers just opt for the junk food by chasing their follower count, concurrent viewers, chat activity, and other ego-boosting metrics, rather than feeding their creative passions.

There's a difference between 'eating' and 
'being nourished.'

And once you've started chasing a follower count, it can become difficult to stop. It creates the same kind of vicious cycle as eating unhealthy foods. If all you want to do is make the number go up, you're going to keep doing everything you can to force that number to go up faster and faster. You'll slash more of the things you might actually enjoy doing, in favor of the things that get what you consider to be 'results.' Of course, these results are inherently skewed. The follower number is going up, so they're fulfilling their objective, but that blinds you to the bigger picture. What we all really want when Twitch streaming is to be happy in what we do. And if you do a song and dance every time you go live, putting on an artificial facade, being unable to express yourself in your truest form, where does that leave you in the end? If you suddenly had no more viewers, would you still be doing the same thing on your channel? 

Of course, most streamers don't even reach the stage where they start removing things they enjoy, because they begin their channels from the opposite direction. Twitch streaming is intimidating, and at the beginning most of us just want to fit in. So we file all the things we really love away, without ever having actually tried them on stream in the first place. The amount of streamers I hear talking about how much they love JRPGs, or indie platformers, or adventure games, but would never broadcast them because, "they wouldn't make good stream games," is staggering and heartbreaking. When I started, I fell into this category too. Many of the streams I do currently, I would never have dreamed of doing at the beginning. But now when I stream, I'm doing what I truly love every single day- never again do I want to be chained to an idea of what can or can't work. 


Here's the thing about people saying X or Y won't make a good stream game: They're right. Those games probably won't work on their channel. But only because they've cultivated an audience that doesn't want to watch these games. 

Some games can get you results quick, but those results
won't scale once you stop playing those games.

When you worry too much about your follower count, you reap exactly what you sow. If all you play is Jackbox Games because they bring in lots of people, you're not magically going to attract a viewerbase that wants to watch Subnautica, or Madden, or oil painting. You're going to attract a community that wants to watch Jackbox Games. So of course when you try doing a different kind of stream, your viewers are going to get upset, tune out, possibly even unfollow. The issue isn't that nobody wants to watch the thing you want to play, it's that nobody in the community you built wants to watch the thing you want to play. Do you see the difference? You have the power to change what kind of community you cultivate- all you have to do is stick to your guns by doing what you love and let the new viewerbase come in.


If you want to stream the content that nourishes you creatively, then stop chasing a follower count. It's important to stream what you actually want to stream. And even that's a tricky thing to find. You might have streamed some game that gets you followers for so long that you've confused wanting to play that game with needing to play it. Saying, "I want to play Tarkov because it's the only game where I can get over 50 concurrent viewers," isn't the same thing as, "I want to play Tarkov because I live and breathe this game, and I'd be streaming it even if I had zero concurrent viewers for 30 days straight." That's how you can identify what you truly love doing: Which activity would you continue to stream, even if you got absolutely zero viewers while doing it? The nice part is, you won't actually have zero viewers, no matter what you do. If you stay consistent long enough, anything can attract a community. So why not attract a community of people who want to watch what you actually want to play? 

Of course, it's fine to build a following. I'm not saying you should actively try not to grow. But if you're only growing for growing's sake, when do you actually get to enjoy what you're doing? As many rich people have learned throughout history, success doesn't mean much if you don't actually like what you do each day once you get there. So beware chasing your follower count, and let it chase you instead. 

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