Inventive ways creators are monetizing
Here's something that might shock you: Most creators aren't satisfied with the revenue they're earning.
Yes, we see tons of influencers living lavish lifestyles, working with the industry's biggest names, and earning millions. But for the vast majority, making a living from being a creator is a huge struggle.
To paint you a picture, 96.5% of YouTubers bring home about $12,140 a year, which sits slightly below the poverty line. That doesn't seem like a lucrative career path, right?
And yet, many individuals are making a bold move and joining the creator economy. Currently, more than 50 million people consider themselves to be creators. That's a huge number for an industry that did not exist over a decade ago.
Not even COVID-19 could disrupt the creator economy. In fact, there have been consistent reports of increased usage across various social media platforms during the pandemic, resulting in sponsored content seeing more engagement. These 25 examples are proof that influencer marketing on social media is alive and well.
You can't help but wonder how are creators making this work?
How do content creators make money?
Most content creators are doing what they love most: creating for a living. But while they are earning, it's not making them rich.
Monetization is a common obstacle creators face, and it's critical to address this pain point head-on to find success.
Creator culture is a relatively new industry, but the competition is already fierce. In fact, most young adults and teenagers aspire to be content creators over other, more traditional career paths. According to a survey, 29% of American children stated being a YouTuber is their dream job.
Standing out and earning some real cash calls for resourcefulness. Most creators monetize their following by implementing one or two (or perhaps, all) of these strategies:
- Using creator tools and platforms
- Productizing their expertise
- Selling branded products
- Partaking in affiliate marketing programs
Use creator tools and platforms
Content creators have a lot going on—from conceptualizing and producing content to establishing rapport with their following—so most of them can't be bothered by the technicalities of running a business.
Luckily, they have a plethora of tools and platforms that can help. Large firms and start-ups are finding ways to cater to these digital creators and reduce their biggest struggles: Increasing their revenue and growing their reach. As a matter of fact, 240 influencer marketing platforms and agencies popped up in 2019.
Leveraging these platforms allows influencers to land brand sponsorships and bigger campaigns. And if you don't know it already—brand sponsorship is the holy grail for creators. Think Kylie Jenner and her million dollar-Instagram posts. Kylie is more of the exception rather than the rule, thanks to her well-established huge fan base.
The good news is the influencer marketing landscape is slowly paving the way for micro-influencers (influencers with 1,000 to 100,000 followers) to secure successful brand sponsorships. These new-age celebrities offer higher rate engagements, and businesses are starting to take notice.
Platforms, like HashtagPaid, offer solutions to match brands with creators that best align with each other's values and objectives. This gives new creators plenty of opportunities to increase their exposure and bag sponsors targeting customers consistent with their audience.
Brand sponsorship and social media often go hand-in-hand
Social networking websites have opened doors for digital marketing to have immediate interaction and develop quality relationships with their prospective customers.
So, it's no wonder digital natives look to influencers when carving a space for their business online.
But it's DTC brands that are taking advantage of this opportunity the most. DTC brands can churn out content that resonates most with their target audience by partnering with influencers and creators that align with their brand values and objectives.
Just look at Thirdlove, a lingerie DTC brand pushing for body positivity by using female influencers of all shapes and sizes to promote their products. ThirdLove helps women build confidence by partnering with a variety of influencers.
ThirdLove helps women build confidence by partnering with a variety of influencers.
Despite the success of social media sponsorships, they can still be touch-and-go, especially at the beginning.
The truth is, social media is brimming with fake influencers that either use other people's posts or purchase followers to get a leg up on their influencer status. Relying on platforms that thoroughly vet creators can reduce the risk of partnering with a fraud.
Productize their expertise
Given that the creator economy is all about expertise and authority, it seems that channeling this level of mastery into services or products is a natural progression for influencers and thought leaders.
The idea is to tackle issues their fans experience provide far-reaching solutions to mitigate these problems.
Here are some of the most common ways influencers and creators are productizing their skills and knowledge.
1. Online courses that do double the work
You’ve likely seen this one before—ads for Anna Wintour’s Masterclass were everywhere.
Helen Mirren, Gordon Ramsay, and even the elusive Anna Wintour all have something in common: They've created a MasterClass program. These industry experts build courses with MasterClass, which include their tricks of the trade learned over years of doing what they do best and can be purchased by anyone.
Granted, most creators in the creator economy are not of the same stature as those on MasterClass, but developing a course is a great way to establish authority and foster deeper relationships with your audience.
2. Membership sites that serve as an extension of online courses
Supplementing an online course with an exclusive membership site bodes perfectly well for content creators. Memberships serve as a way to reach your most loyal fan base while also being the hub to future content and other digital products you create down the line.
Building a membership is no small feat, though. There are several moving parts when setting up a membership website, like choosing the best website builder and establishing membership prices.
However, it's worth diving into it. Creators have plenty to gain from membership sites, like consistent income and the opportunity to build another, tighter community. Online courses can generate a monthly revenue of up to $50,000, but the normal range is $1,000 to $5,000.
3. Highly sought-after digital products
What pops into your head when you hear "digital products"?
Low cost and scalable? Yes, please. Ebooks are flexible products most content creators won’t hesitate to come up with.
Ebooks are a popular type of digitized product since they're relatively easy to produce.
But an ebook might not be the best solution for your brand.
For example, suppose you're a fashion vlogger. In that case, you could create a set of exclusive videos available for purchase that share your unique approach to styling outfits, or a collection of photo presets your followers can buy.
Sell branded products
Aside from brand sponsorships, one efficient way for influencers to create additional income is to sell their own products.
When done right, these branded products and merchandise can either shift an influencer's creative direction to a more business-oriented path or build a stronger personal brand. Either way, it generates more income.
An excellent example of this is makeup brand Glossier's origin story. Emily Weiss started her beauty blog Into the Gloss in 2010, cementing her status as a true-blue beauty influencer. After four years, she ventured into eCommerce, selling only four products initially. Then in 2015, she founded Glossier.
Glossier, a minimalist make-up brand, attributes part of its success to influencer marketing.
But it wasn't Emily's celebrity that put her company on the map—it all has to do with the brand's messaging and clever strategy, which includes reaching out to micro-influencers to create a community and start conversations about their products.
Another popular avenue creators take is to create brand merch, like tote bags, shirts, caps, and even water bottles. If an influencer has a fleet of steadfast followers on social media, branded merch will go quickly.
However, this option presents a problem for creators who have no idea where to start. This is where some eCommerce companies that help creators launch products and sell merch, like Drop Party, can help. Aside from assisting creators in conceptualizing and producing merch, Drop Party also helps creators with the distribution. It's the ultimate platform for creators to maximize their reach.
"Creators launching consumer brands have the leverage to activate unconventional go-to-market strategies—livestream shopping, same-day delivery apps, limited time events, gamification and contests, NFT (sic. non-fungible tokens), and brand/media/retail partnerships. They'll play everywhere their competitors can't." - Chris Cantino , the Co-Owner of Color Capital
The creator landscape is still under construction, and these individuals can do with more tools and platforms, but they already have a powerful one in their arsenal—their faithful fanbase.
Of course, these two paths are more suited to top creators. What about those who are only starting?
You'll likely find them selling their art, or stock photos and videos to platforms such as iStock and ShutterStock. There may be no immediate rewards or huge returns, but it can open doors for potential collaborations and increase their exposure. They’re also more than welcome to give brand merch or product lines a try, but things might take longer to kick off.
Partake in an affiliate marketing program
Affiliate marketing has been around for some time, and for a good reason: The ability to generate income on one's own terms.
According to House of Wise founder Amanda Goetz, the affiliate model was able to impart a sense of belongingness to consumers and brand trust, and confidence to her cannabis-centered business, which was an uphill struggle due to the stigma her products tend to attract.
Amanda Goetz chose the affiliate model when building her community-based CBD company, House of Wise. She chose this model because not only could she foster a community for the House of Wise brand, but it was a way to establish trust, which can be an issue for CBD products.
Affiliate marketing, when done correctly, works well. That's why so many digital businesses have built their own affiliate programs.
Due to the nature of affiliate programs—encouraging others to sell your products for profit—it makes sense why brands would want to work with creators who have solid followings.
So how does it work? Influencers use a dedicated link unique to them that tracks how many people purchased products from that link. This makes it easier to see how impactful an influencer is for each product or affiliate program.
In the same vein, Instagram introduced Shop Looks From Creators in 2019, making it easier for followers to discover (and purchase) items promoted by creators.
Instagram has evolved into the ideal platform for creators and brands to partner together and sell products.
Savvy DTC marketers have long used Instagram to grow their brands, and the platform's updated shopping feature is bound to nurture more of these young brands.
What can we learn from the way creators are monetizing?
"Digital stars are coming up with new ways to make money. Yet fans still hold the power." said Taylor Lorenz, a technology writer based in Los Angeles.
eCommerce and DTC brands can learn a thing or two from content creators. And as Taylor said, at the end of the day, it's influencers' loyal followers who will dictate a new project or campaign's success.
But creators still have an ace up their sleeves; they know their audience better than anyone. After establishing their personal brands and building their following from the ground up, successful content creators know what will resonate with their fans the best.