Comparing your content performance to other creators can be very valuable. It can also send you down an unhelpful rabbit hole and make you completely miserable. So how do you strike the delicate balance between comparing yourself to others in order to better understand your performance and, you know, staying happy?
There's a common saying: "Comparison is the thief of joy."
And there's plenty of truth to it, too, depending on the context. Success means different things to different people. Most content creators simply want to make things that feel meaningful to them and impactful to others — and then hopefully do it in a way that sustains their livelihood.
But it's also human nature to look around and pay attention to what other people are doing and compare yourself to them. It can also make you go from being happy with what you made and proud of what you've accomplished to disappointed in yourself and envious of others' success. And that cycle is unproductive and dangerous for your mental health.
So let's look at productive ways of comparing your content to others.
When Comparing Your Content To Others Can Be Helpful
It’s important to understand that comparing yourself to others can be both beneficial for your business and healthy for your mindset. But not necessarily in the way you might think.
But before you even decide what you want to try to measure yourself against, you have to decide if you’re in the right head space to do it and what your motivations are. For instance, if you’re feeling angry or bummed that your content isn’t performing as well as you’d like, it’s probably not a great time to start scrolling the most popular posts in your niche. Because not only will it make you second-guess something you probably genuinely enjoyed creating, but it will also have you looking at the wrong things and probably thinking, “Clearly I'm just not lucky like them.”
Instead, you need to approach other peoples’ content from a neutral and objective place. Also, as best you can, try to approach somebody else’s viral success with a sense of appreciation and respect. Because anybody making content a significant part of their creative brand knows how hard it is. And if there's one consistent lesson in the crazy new creator economy, it's that there is room for everybody.
Ok, so you've got yourself in the right mindset. Now it’s time to get to work.
Be Choosy With What You Compare Yourself To
This seem obvious, but you need to compare yourself to videos that actually make sense to compare yourself to. Just because a video is popular or shows up on your feed, it doesn't mean analyzing it will actually be helpful to you.
First of all: do you like it? While we want to take an academic approach here, this should still be fun. When you make your content, it should be intentional and designed to give value to your audience, but it should also be fun for you. Your approach to comparing your content should be similar. You should feel inspired and entertained by the videos you're analyzing, whether you're trying to hop on a trend, replicate a format, add your own take to a topic, or merely just using it as a thought exercise.
We can't stress this enough — making stuff you don't actually like in order to try and build your brand isn't sustainable. At least not in a mentally healthy way, and if you know anything about RootNote, you know we're all about taking a balanced approach to being a content creator.
Second of all: is it the kind of content that makes sense for you, your audience, or your niche? This doesn't mean it has to be the same thing you do (i.e. reaction videos, studio skits, story time posts), but it should feel like a video that your current audience might like or that you can very easily adapt into a way that your current audience would like. We all love cat videos. But if your channel has nothing to do with animals, simply trying to film a funny thing your pet does probably isn't going to help build your brand (could be great content for your Discord, though...).
Alright, to recap, make sure the posts you choose to analyze are ones you actually enjoy, not just ones that are popular. If you don’t personally find it entertaining, or if it’s completely unrelated to anything like what you do, you’re not going to be as engaged in the exercise.
The First Things To Focus On:
Now that you have a video (or three) to analyze, start by looking at these things.
- First, go to the comments and see if there are any specific trends you can identify. Do certain words or phrases pop up a lot? Are the comments overall positive? Negative? Or do they have a particular emotional theme? The comment section isn't always a key indicator of a successful video, but you can usually find some great clues.
- Next, figure out if something in the video inspired those comments or that sense of communal reaction. In most cases, the video has a clever way of baiting those responses, whether it’s in the on-screen text, the description, something somebody says, or a specific action that is very visible and evocative.
- If you’re looking at vertical videos on social media (this doesn’t apply as much to standard YouTube videos), pay attention to the first 5 seconds or so of the video and see if there’s anything that really caught your attention and made you stay.
Now, go back to your video and ask yourself if you inspired a conversation. Sometimes people get caught up on the wrong things and forget that, at its core, social media is about community. Videos mostly go viral because people see a familiar experience and then either want to have a conversation about that experience, share it with their friends, or both. There may be other noise. Block it out. Just focus on the positive intent signals.
The Less Important (But Still Somewhat Important) Things To Focus On:
These are aspects of a video that you probably already know inherently but may not be as critical of. In other words, these are the types of things that feel effortless but are actually quite intentional.
- Analyze things like lighting, sound quality, and pacing. You probably already understand the importance of good lighting and audio, but you should also think about other things in the frame that might draw the eye.
- Does the viral video have anything other than a main subject that feels visually interesting?
- If it’s a skit or a video with a lot of dialogue, what is the pace? Typically, the less dead space, the better, unless you’re using it for dramatic effect or a very specific, obvious reason. If the popular video doesn't have dialogue, what's the rest of the audio and is it telling the story dialogue otherwise would?
- How long is the video? Some platforms are encouraging creators to make longer videos (over 60 seconds, in TikTok's case) while some won't leave let you upload something longer than 60 seconds (YouTube Shorts). There's no real answer to the, "How long should my video be?" question that's better than the very generic, "How long does it need to be?" answer. But when looking at successful videos and how long they are, worry less about the specific length and more about if they stayed engaging for as long as they were.
- Check the viral video and see if the creator is already established (at least tens of thousands of followers) or if this is one of their first viral pieces of content. Sometimes a video with hundreds of thousands of views is actually an "underperformer" for creators with millions and millions of followers. And in that case, the video may not be as good to use for comparison. But this is really right on the verge of "doesn't matter," because anybody with millions of followers has definitely done a few things right in the past!
The Things To Not Really Worry About
Getting caught up in every little detail about social media content can be draining. But here's the good news: you really don't need to worry about a lot of it. Now, could you obsess over things like
- when to post
- which hashtags to use
- what trending sounds to use
- where to place your overlayed text
and so on? Absolutely. Will those things improve your content? Maybe! But they're almost certainly not going to make a video that otherwise gets 200 views get 200,000.
At the end of the day, it's all about giving value to people on the other side of the screen. And, usually, telling stories. Whether those stories take five seconds or five minutes, it's really up to you. Have fun with it, experiment with it, repeat things that work, and if something isn't really "working" but it's still bringing you joy to make, KEEP MAKING IT.
Sometimes you do everything right and it still just doesn't work out like you'd hoped. Keep creating.
Oh, and don't forget about crossposting.
Bonus Things To Look At When Comparing Your Content
Alright, so you can't do this when comparing your content to other people, but you can do it when comparing your content to, uh, your other content. Some of these statistics only you have access to in your creator account backend.
Try to compare which of your videos got a lot of engagement versus which ones generated more followers. We see major discrepancies all the time with content that will get 300,000 views, 50,000 likes, and only 100 followers, while another video will get 50,000 views, 5,000 likes, and 500 followers. There's a place for both, but just remember this content is ultimately meant to be a "top of funnel" way to build your community. Singular engagement can be nice, but it's the repeated engagement from new community members that really builds the brand. Just remember you may need to wait a few days before getting an accurate count of followers associated with a specific post.
You can also try to see what the average watch time of your most successful videos is. There's no exact science, but typically if you're averaging 30-40 percent of the video length per user, you've got a much better chance of reaching more people with that content than a video where people are dropping off quickly. Of course, this changes depending on the length of the video, too. Either way, watch time is key! With short videos it's about repeated watches, and with longer videos, it's about keeping people engaged in the story you're telling.
Lastly, try to evaluate which of your videos have a higher percentage of "likes to views" than others. Again, this isn't as big of a deal as watch time, but it's still a good metric. Having a video whose likes are around 5 to 10 percent of its views is a decent benchmark (though, again, not really an indicator of larger success one way or another).
The Bottom Line
Making content is hard. Dealing with underperforming content takes resilience. Making something you love but not having it get the same love back can be disappointing. Negative comments are energy vampires. Finding time to make good content can be anxiety-inducing.
And when you then add the fact that you're constantly inundated with other creators' success all around you? Yikes. It's a lot.
But there is a healthy balance that will keep you motivated and fulfilled if you look for it. Understand yourself and the early signs of burnout. And lastly, talk to other creators. Find a community (in person or online) where you can openly share your wins and struggles. Most creators, from 70 followers to 70 million followers, deal with or have dealt with the same obstacles. If you need support, look no further than the ones in the content trenches with you.