Creators without influence (gasp!) can still benefit your brand
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In today’s digital age, the term “creator” has been taken hostage by those with a critical mass of followers and who make money exclusively from growing an audience.
But the reality is that being a creator doesn’t mean you have to have hundreds of thousands of TikTok followers, and being an influencer doesn’t mean you’re qualified to ‘create.’
Justin Moore, founder of Creator Wizard, explains that, “Anyone who creates content is a creator. You don’t need a following to be a creator. But, today in the general sense of the word, we mostly think of creators in terms of economic parlance.”
The typical brand-creator partnership arrangement supports this idea. Marketers often gravitate to creators with a relevant following (aka influencers) with the intent to leverage that creator’s audience to grow sales.
It makes sense. Forty-nine percent of consumers depend on influencer recommendations and look to their favorite influencers for product discovery.
But, what happens if creatives reclaim the term “creator,” regardless of how much influence they have? What value can creators offer brands if they don’t have a following? And, how can creators with little to no influence make money?
Brand deals are the most popular way creators and influencers make money. “Brand deals are the lifeblood of the Creator Economy,” says Sasha Kaletsky, co-founder and managing partner of Creator Ventures.
“Ask any mainstream creator, the vast majority (70%+) of them are still primarily eating from their brand deal money.”
Brand deals come in many shapes and sizes, and they don't always leverage a creator's audience for increased exposure.
Here are some examples:
Content that brands can use on their owned platforms
Brands with robust audiences across platforms are everywhere. But, that doesn’t always mean the social media content they are producing is resonating well with their audience.
“Brands are always looking for new ways to reach consumers, and partnering with small creators can be an effective way to do this,” says Obero, founder and CEO of Very Informed.
As a creator, you have a valuable skill that brands are looking for—you know how to create content that slaps.
As such it makes sense to stop selling your following to brands, and sell your creativity instead. The brands you pitch can use the cool content you create to level up the content on their own platforms, including TikTok, Instagram, and their website.
“Create content for the brand to use on their platforms or on their website. Figure out the brands that are your dream brands you’d love to partner with and analyze their social presence. Are they not posting often? Is it low quality?” says Moore.
“Your pitch won’t be that you will talk about their brand on your YouTube or TikTok with a small following. Your pitch will be helping them launch on their own TikTok.”
Moore also explains how this approach helps creators earn more money. “The beautiful thing about this type of setup is that the amount of money that you charge is completely detached from how many followers you have. You're creating content for them on a freelance basis.”
What’s more, it saves brands money too. “Brands don't have to go out and hire a full-time employee, an agency, or a production company to make content. They can hire a creator instead,” says Moore.
Gymshark is an example of a brand that uses this approach.
Gymshark hires content creators (aka Gymshark athletes) to make content for its TikTok page. The fitness and clothing brand pays its creators through its Gymshark creators fund.
Local brands need help
“A lot of creators get fixated on nationwide brands, but there are hundreds to thousands of stores within your own community that need help,” says Moore.
“They need a social presence. They need to understand how to bring more foot traffic into their locations. Local brands have different challenges than nationwide brands, and you can help, especially since these brands don’t have a full-time marketing staff. There are so many opportunities to make thousands of dollars a month working with local brands—most creators don’t even think about this.”
Serg Aspidoff, founder & CEO of Shoutcart echoes this sentiment. “One great way to get monetized by brands, even if you have a small but loyal audience, is to form partnerships with like-minded brands who share your values and are looking for ways to reach your audience. By collaborating on content, sponsorships, or giveaways, both you and the brand can benefit.”
Kala Art Institute, an arts organization in California, used this strategy. Instead of relying on their own content or reaching out to a huge influencer, they partnered with one of their students, Chelsea Wong, for an Instagram takeover.
Wong used her artistic prowess to generate more interest in the Kala Art Institute.
Aspidoff offers advice on how creators can secure local brand deals with an organized strategy. “The smartest thing you can do is to submit a pitch deck or media kit to any brand you want to partner with—this will give them a clear idea of your content, your audience, and your value.”
Partnering with local brands isn’t only beneficial to creators. It’s hugely impactful for brands.
“Some brands have a hard time keeping their finger on the pulse of what's actually working on the different social platforms that they're on, and what's most important to their customers. It’s essential for brands to understand trends, be nimble, capture cultural trends, and be able to speak to their demographic,” says Moore.
“One of the benefits brands of partnering with creatives is that creatives know the trends. They know what is working and what is not on social media—especially if they are in a defined niche.”
Creators need other creators
At 97 million subscribers, Mr. Beast (Jimmy Donaldson) is one of the most popular YouTube content creators in the world.
Not only does Mr. Beast put out highly engaging and interactive content and contests, but he also relies on a team of other great content creators to help his channel grow.
When Mr. Beast’s channel started taking off, he hired a group of his childhood friends—Chris Tyson, Chandler Hallow, Garrett Ronalds, and Jake Franklin—to help with content.
If you’re looking to grow as a creator and brand partnerships aren’t working out, offer your services to another creator.
“Creators with no influence can provide their services to other creators. For example, a creator who wants to be a tech reviewer can offer their writing services for the blogs of bigger creators. In this way they can get a good number of eyeballs and some money in the bank without even having a following,” says Vishant Bhatta, Product Manager at GraphyRepo.
Moore agrees, “You could pitch another creator in your niche or outside your niche. You could help pitch brands for a more well-known creator and secure deals for them for a percentage or flat fee every month.”
“The awesome additional benefit to this approach is you get to learn the inside of a larger creators business so that when you do get to that point, you have experience and knowledge from when you were helping this other creator. I'm a big fan of this apprenticeship model,” says Moore.
It’s easy to assume big content creators are going it alone, but the truth is, they need help from other creators to grow.
“There are lots of creators who need help and launched jobs on the job board in my private community. They need editors, thumbnail artists, content strategy, writers, script writers, etc.,” says Moore.
Agencies need help, and are more open to freelancers than ever
It’s challenging for creators to grow an audience quickly. For example, I’ve been on Twitter for 14 years and just recently reached 10K followers. Not a fast process.
If I’d been relying on the size of my Twitter audience over the past 14 years to support my writing career, I’d be positively broke.
Instead of pitching the size of my audience to make money—I pitch my skill and expertise to brands and also to agency owners.
Agencies often have an overflow of work, and need help from talented writers, designers, influencers, videographers, and photographers, and it’s a great way to get extra work.
“Agencies can help connect you with the right campaign that has the right budget for your audience. Not every campaign is looking for mega influencers and you might have more success working finding smaller campaigns, or big campaigns looking for a lot of small influencers, through an agency,” says Angelou Masters, agency owner and e-commerce marketer at Jacker Digital.
It’s also common for agencies to share the content you create across social media, resulting in more exposure to your personal brand. I’ve gained new Twitter and LinkedIn followers from agency owners sharing my work across their social channels.
Creators without influence can still have influence
There’s no question that influencer marketing works. Influencers with large and niche followings alike have tremendous power to sway consumers and impact purchasing decisions.
But, that doesn’t mean creators with influence are the only creators valuable to brands. Similarly, it doesn’t mean creators who don’t have influence can’t make money from their creativity.
The Creator Economy is growing rapidly, and that includes creators with and without influence.