In order for Pakistani content creators to thrive in a rapidly morphing digital landscape, mastering the algorithm is key.
However, with constant app modifications and people’s short attention spans, it can be challenging for creators to keep up with the latest trends and reach their desired audiences.
At +92Disrupt: KHI Edition our panel of Pakistani content creators and artists shared their journeys. The panel consisted of Bilal Hassan, Kazi Akber, Areeba Siddique, and Hassaan Bin Shaheen and was moderated by Sabah Bano Malik. The content creators shed light on the Pakistani audience’s consumption and their experiences in building online communities.
Cracking the Social Media Code
Social media has come a long way. Before the Facebook boom, Myspace was where the majority of the younger generation spent their time. However, Gen Z has flocked to platforms such as Instagram and TikTok where video content is predominant. Instagram has accommodated the audience’s shift to video consumption through the introduction of reels.
In any case, the algorithm is a tricky beast, and it can be hard to keep up with trends. One day it’ll show your posts to all your audience, the next day it’ll hide them in the depths of the internet, never to be seen again.
Rifts and Shifts in Content Consumption
Podcaster, Kazi Akber attributed the shift in short-form content consumption to a depleted cognitive capital. The average user today craves shorter, easily consumable content. This leaves content creators, particularly those making long-form content, in a conundrum as it is hard to strike a balance between engaging content condensed to a mere few seconds.
However, for podcasters looking to have meaningful conversations this can be a struggle because as Akber put it, conversations can’t be brief – it’s life, it’s happening every day.
“More and more the story matters, but how do you shorten stories? A story is everything. I’m a story. I’m 30 years old, that’s 30 years of stories – how am I going to synthesize that in a minute?” – Kazi Akber
Often creators find themselves struggling to shorten their work in order to capture the attention of a distracted generation. Content creators have experimented and gone to great lengths to put out work that is more digestible for a wider audience.
The Plight of Instagram’s Artist Community
Areeba – a young digital illustrator – provided an artist’s perspective on how the changing algorithm has impacted the reach of her art. Areeba felt that her work has doubled, having to expand her skillset to now include animations.
Several artists have had to look into other mediums and embrace alternative platforms to showcase their work. A large chunk of the artist community on Instagram has suffered due to the algorithm. With the algorithm prioritizing content from accounts that users engage with the most, it can be harder for new or less established artists to gain visibility.
Additionally, the algorithm also prioritizes content that receives high engagement (likes, comments, and shares) which can put pressure on artists to create content that is more likely to receive engagement, rather than content that is true to their artistic vision.
Pakistan’s TikTok Boom
One in four Pakistanis uses TikTok, with it being the most downloaded social media app in Pakistan. Our panelists had plenty to share when it came to the platform. The popularity of the app can be attributed to the algorithm, an endless scroll that reels the viewer in as well as its accessibility.
“Pulling the plug is not as easy as it was back then [the Youtube ban], people can make a lot of noise now and we all have the power to do that.” – Bilal Hassan
TikTok has been banned four times in Pakistan since 2020 amidst protests of it spreading immoral and obscene content. But it keeps bouncing back. In a state that enforces narratives of who and what to be, TikTok empowers the individual. On TikTok, the common man has a voice and he can use it to gain an audience and monetize content.
How is TikTok Leveling the Playing Field for Pakistani Content Creators?
As per Bilal Hassan who goes by the handle MystaPaki on Instagram, TikTok is an inherently democratic platform, simply because it challenges the notions of what it means to be Pakistani. Pakistan has had a long history when it comes to curtailing freedom of individual expression and dictating narratives.
However, TikTok has leveled the playing field for Pakistani content creators as it allows talent across all socioeconomic classes to be recognized. One such example is that of Phoollu, a farmer from rural Punjab who skyrocketed to TikTok fame.
Tauqeer Abbas who goes by Phoollu on social media lives in a village close to Mandi Bahauddin. A father of six who has worked for a zamindar for seven years of his life, Phoollu has now become a viral TikTok sensation with 9.8 million followers.
Phoollu is an example of how TikTok allows individuals to transcend class and socioeconomic barriers. Statistics show that 24% of TikTok users in Pakistan belong to rural areas, gone are the days when social media was a tool exclusive to the privileged. With just a smartphone and internet access, anyone can carve out a space for themselves on social media platforms such as Tiktok, highlighting its democratic nature.
The Pakistani Audience
It is no doubt that separating the art from the artist rarely applies in the digital age. When it comes to the Pakistani audience, the panel noted that it can be a bit of a double-edged sword.
“In today’s day and age, you are the work and everyone needs to understand that. The bifurcation between yourself and your social media presence doesn’t matter.” – Kazi Akber
On one hand, the audience is conservative and traditional. This can make it hard to create and distribute certain types of content. But on the other, the audience is diverse and creators can find success by understanding the specific needs and interests of different segments of the population.
However, the accessibility of social media can often create an unsafe environment for many women in Pakistan. Areeba further elaborated upon this when asked to comment on why she had not yet transitioned to using TikTok, stating that she feels safer conveying messages through her art. Areeba’s work often features a hijabi woman in sunglasses, who has come to represent the artist herself.
— Areeba Siddique (@areebasiddique) August 1, 2021
Adopting the persona of a character allows Areeba to protect herself, fully aware of the limitations society and conservative Pakistani audiences place on female content creators. However, this does not act as a deterrent for many female Pakistani content creators such as Areeba who uses her persona to explore topics such as feminine rage.
Building an online community is crucial for any content creator, and the panel had some great advice on that too. They stressed the importance of authenticity and building trust with your audience.
In order to create a community it is important to first focus on creating content that is true to the creators and their values. As individuals start embracing their own interests and showcasing them to a wider audience they can spark conversations.
Using Privilege for Progress
The conversation on communities fed into a greater point related to acknowledging one’s privilege as a man in Pakistan. According to Bilal Hassan, men, particularly those building online communities have the responsibility to speak up.
“This conversation needs to happen with the boys in this country – in Pakistan, it is the men with privilege that do not stand up for what is wrong.”
One must use their privilege to their advantage to make a societal change and make use of the voice that they have been given to make a difference.
What is the Future of Content Creation in Pakistan?
The panelists were positive about the impact social media can make on a large scale for the future of Pakistan. The emphasis was on taking the plunge and embracing social media. This can lead to possibilities one could never have even dreamed of – such as being on a panel at +92Disrupt!
Lawyer-turned-Comedian, Hassaan bin Shaheen urged the audience to create content for themselves. Likening social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and TikTok to CVs. Making content for yourself is key, but building a following is not the primary concern.
Kazi Akber left the audience with some sage words of advice:
“I think the future is us taking our space back. For far too long in we have relinquished our space to people who are louder…but they’re the minority, we’re the majority. We need to take the space back. It’s in the name, right? Disrupt! Take your space back!”
To recap, the panel touched upon how content consumption patterns have changed, the rise of TikTok, and the importance of one using their platform to create a change. Leaving the audience with a sense of responsibility and the impact a simple six-second video can have on your life.