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The creator economy is booming. At last count, its total size was estimated at more than 50 million people. With such an influx of independent influencers, bloggers and videographers using social media to build online communities, it was only a matter of time before investors took notice.
In 2021 alone, VCs invested roughly $2 billion into 50 creator-focused startups. Such a move will likely fuel the next stage of growth for the content creation industry. I say this with firsthand experience as the general manager of a payment automation software provider.
Mainstream platforms have certainly gotten on board the short-form content craze, launching new monetization features and creator funds. Last year, Meta announced its plans to invest more than $1 billion in programs for creators to earn more money on Facebook and Instagram. YouTube has done something similar with the introduction of its Shorts Fund, which coincides with its “Shorts” feature and competes directly with TikTok.
TikTok was quick to respond, establishing its own channel-specific creator fund. Much like other platforms, the investment supports those in the content creation industry hoping to bring in additional earnings. Short-form content monetization spells huge growth potential for the creator economy and the platforms that give creators a home. TikTok, for example, expects its ad revenue to triple this year, going from $3.88 billion in 2021 to $11.64 billion.
The natural evolution of short-form content monetization
Short-form content creation is extremely accessible. All you need is a smartphone and an internet connection to create and upload content. The most significant change to the content creation industry is the rapid rise of monetization, causing brands to do much more than just pay attention to the potential influence. They’re now treating creators like true talent, streamlining the entire experience and making the relationship more lucrative. Even something that might seem as trivial as a complicated payout system can have a negative impact on creator satisfaction. A creator will not want to create for a platform that makes it hard to get paid.
If anything, monetizing both short- and long-form content has led to an even greater rise in influencer marketing. It makes sense: As more people stayed home and boosted their screen time, sponsorships and promoted ads became more prominent in the marketing scene. Advertising has always followed the eyeballs, and if the eyeballs are on content creators, they will also be on the ads. Marketing teams must approach content creation differently.
This goes beyond mere personalization. Using a person’s name in an email just doesn’t cut it anymore. Instead, marketers are now tasked with creating content that genuinely reflects individuals.
Segmentation can take you only so far, leading marketers to leverage the power of influencers — and the content creation industry as a whole — to diversify their messaging and improve their reach.
As more and more brands establish relationships with content creators, a shift will inevitably occur. How this shift will change the brand-creator relationship is still unknown, but a few likely scenarios will occur. Here’s where the content creation industry is headed.
1. The relationship will become even more symbiotic
Brands need content creators to bring in audiences to monetize either short-form or long-form content. On the other hand, creators need both brands and platforms to create and host content — and get a cut of the monetization pie. As the importance of monetization grows, an increasing number of creators will begin creating full time. New (and old) platforms must then find ways to attract talent to continue driving traffic and ad spending.
YouTube has a long-establish ad-sharing model, taking 45% of the ad revenue, with the remaining 55% going to creators. On the surface, it sounds like a boon for the content creation industry. If you dig deeper, however, the reverse is often true. Channel holders only get paid when audience members watch full ads, but 65% of people report skipping online video ads.
2. The relationship will place greater focus on creator experiences
User experience has long been all about the end user. That’s likely to change with the inclusion of creators themselves. TikTok and Instagram are making moves to turn active audience members into creators. The creator funds serve as an example of that, but so do new app functionalities. With just the press of a button or swipe of the screen, creators can post content in moments. Other brands need to make similar moves.
Nike has done as much, flying several influencers out to its facilities a few years ago to explore the brand’s products — naturally, free merch was also part of the equation. But the gesture wasn’t all about goodwill. The influencers were set to create a series of videos to be published on a popular YouTube channel, but it’s hard to deny the focus Nike placed on the creator experience.
3. The relationship will continue to be about talent and compensation
Exclusivity deals are nothing new. But as brands become more reliant on creators’ talents, the competition for these independent influencers, bloggers and videographers will only heat up. Chances are, you’ll see higher revenue-share and sponsorship deals to secure creators. Streamlined payment options and other incentives will come down the line soon.
Amazon recently struck a multiyear exclusivity deal with Tyler “Ninja” Blevins to return to its Twitch platform, who’d left for another exclusivity deal for a reported $30 million. Before the controversy, YouTube struck an exclusive live-streaming deal with Swedish gaming star Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg in 2020. The list goes on and on.
Influencer marketing has already been around for years, and the creator economy is following a similar trajectory. So, it’s up to brands and platforms to establish these relationships now or risk losing talent to whatever competition lies ahead.