How X can become a leading social video player by fuelling controversy over creativity
Photo: Igor Omilaev
Elon Musk has celebrated a small win after persuading Jimmy Donaldson – aka Mr Beast – to post a video on Twitter/ X. Until now, X’s attempts to woo the superstar creator have been rebuffed. Mr Beast had spoken openly about how he would only make a small amount of money on X compared to video posts on YouTube. Musk followed up by promising creator rewards would “increase significantly” in the coming months. The pair found some middle ground on Tuesday, January 17, when Mr Beast posted his first video on X – albeit one that first appeared on YouTube in September. This will prove an interesting test for both parties: X will get some understanding of what it takes to support the world’s biggest video creators, while Mr Beast will see X’s monetisation potential. In a best-case scenario, Musk will persuade Mr Beast to keep posting on X by implementing his feedback. The flipside is that Mr Beast opts to never post videos on X again because his initial concerns are proven correct.
Superstar creators: expectation versus reality
Trying to poach superstar creators to drive publicity anduser growth often works better in theory than in practice. Microsoft failed to disrupt Twitch when it launched Mixer – despite hiring the superstar livestreamer Ninja to spearhead the platform. Mixer was shut down in 2020 and Ninja has returned to livestreaming on Twitch. Rather than spending big money on superstars, X would be better off trying to incentivise the Twitch, YouTube and Instagram users who already use the platform to promote their content. Monetisation is one key area: X has claimed that it will offer creators 97%of the revenue they make on the platform. This compares to the 50/50 split for most monetised users on Twitch and the 70% of net revenues YouTube Partnered creators get from channel memberships. User growth would also be a big lure. Many creators are suffering from stagnate growth, which has persisted since stay-at-home workers returned to the office post the Covid lockdowns. To keep growing, some creators have traded creativity for suggestive content or political controversy knowing that this will drive clicks. Given X’s more lenient approach to content moderation, this may persuade these creators that they will have greater freedom to pursue growth on X if they make the platform their main distribution channel.
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X must play to its strengths
X can take advantage of this opportunity because of how the social video ecosystem now works. It is commonplace for creators to spread their brand across multiple social platforms in pursuit of a virtuous circle of engagement. Such is the embedded nature of this practice that Twitch created a native video editing tool so that users could transform livestream clips into vertical videos for posting onto TikTok and YouTube Shorts. Social video platforms have effectively given up trying to erect walls around their userbase. Now, the tactic is to cede engagement by helping creators post on rival platforms in the belief that it will drive audiences back to the mothership. Therefore, success is about being that the central hub where content is first made, before it is cut, spliced and distributed onto other social platforms. The danger is that users end up making a support platform their main distribution channel because they are seeing better growth or financial returns elsewhere.
This is where X needs to focus its attention. X is already key to corralling audiences around content on YouTube and Twitch. Livestreamers often post on X to tell their communities that they are going live. Meanwhile, nearly a third of consumers used X each week in Q3 2023 compared to around 40% and 70% on TikTok and YouTube, respectively. To persuade creators to make X their primary platform, it needs to lean harder into its USP. That being controversial content, rather than creative content. This is may well be the fork in the road for Musk and X. X can either grow ad revenue by assuaging brands advertisers through agreeing to clamp down on controversial content, or it can make audiences the key revenue drivers by enabling them to support creators who are given free rein to say what they want, how they want, regardless of who is offended along the way.
Creating standout, original content is becoming harder for creators. Many of the so-called “meta trends” that have driven growth in the past are now exhausted. Controversy has, and always will be, a short way to explosive engagement. X will not make many friends with governing bodies and brands by going down this route. But this could be its best route for achieving the level of engagement needed to become viewed as a leading social video platform by creators and consumers alike.