The Repetition Incentive on Content Platforms

In my last article, I defined “content platforms” and “follower platforms”. To summarize, follower platforms (e.g. old Instagram, old Twitter) serve content based on followership, whereas content platforms (e.g. Instagram Reels, TikTok) serve media based on relevance.

I covered in some detail why this trend is bad for creators (even the most successful ones), because it reduces their career longevity, since they are forced not only to go viral but also to stay viral.

But there are also interesting implications for content itself. That is the focus of this piece.

Content platforms encourage shortform videos, high-intensity content, and limited storytelling across videos. From my last article:

The relationship between creators and their audience is moving from a friend-like interaction (follower platform), cultivated by engagements and storytelling over months and years, to a transactional court-jester style relationship (content platform), optimized for maximizing short term views, clicks and hormones.

But there is another, more subtle change in style that content platforms encourage: that of repetition. I call this the Repetition Incentive.

The Repetition Incentive

In September 2020, TikTok user @eviemareee, who had only a few thousand followers, uploaded a video of her walking into a room with a speaker over her head, to the soundtrack of “Short Dick Man” (lyrics: ”Eeny weeny teeny weeny shriveled little short dick man, don't want don’t want don’t want don’t want don’t want”). The caption was “When your girls laying in bed crying over a guy”.

It got over a million views and she gained 12,000 followers in a month. This was by far her biggest hit to date.

What came next? Disappointment. She kept posting new content, but nothing came close to being as successful as the “short dick man” post.

Then, over two years later in November 2021, she had an idea. She posted a near-identical post to her September 2020 success, again entitled “When your girls laying in bed crying over a guy”, with an almost identical video. She included the caption “It was time for an updated version x”.

This time the video got over 10 million views, and she grew by 30 thousand followers.

An incredible result! Sensing a winning formula, she decided to post another twenty near-identical videos to TikTok, each time in a different outfit and with slight variations. In the course of a month, she grew her followers by more than 20x to almost 2 million, and got over 100 million views for her combined posts that month. She has continued to post variations of the same video, and she is now one of the largest creators on TikTok, with over 2 million followers and many hundreds of millions of views in just a few months.

So what’s the lesson here?

On content platforms like TikTok, winning content can be recycled almost infinitely. When most of the people seeing your content have never seen you before, you do not need to offer something different each time.

For an example closer to home for the VC community, see some of 2021's Midas List topper Chris Dixon’s posts, a few which follow a very similar pattern to each other. Twitter is effectively a content platform for large creators, as their audience likes and shares their content, meaning it is ultimately mostly seen by non-followers.

These near-identical posts continue to perform, further growing Dixon's reputation, category leadership and reach; there is little reason for him to stop posting them.

Repetition can be banal, but the (perhaps unfortunate) truth is that in a world of content platforms where most viewers are more committed to the feed than the creator, it works. And as we have seen time and time again in the history of consumer-social, while it works, it doesn't stop. Time will tell whether this is the exception or the rule.

Join the conversation

or to participate.