The creator economy: 2022 predictions from industry experts
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2021 has been the year of unimaginable and rapid-fire innovation for the Creator Economy.
We’ve seen everything from individual creators experimenting with blockchain to traditional Venture Capital firms investing heavily into tools for creators.
Much of what has become the status quo in 2021 was unthinkable for both creators and brands only a few short years ago. And momentum is only growing as we move into 2022.
I spent the last month speaking with industry professionals to better understand 2021 Creator Economic trends and what they mean for creators and brands. I also asked about future Creator Economy predictions for 2022. Here’s what I learned.
Authenticity will remain the most valuable creator virtue
Nearly every expert I spoke with pointed out one thing:
Audiences value authenticity above all.
As such, more and more “regular” people will build large audiences and new brands out of their creative endeavors. Think of brands like LTK, Glossier, and Something Navy.
As I interviewed people, three main things stood out:
- Audiences want more authentic content from normal people
- People are calling for more diverse voices in social advertising
- Niche creators will continue to partner with brands
Let’s take a closer look.
Audiences want authentic content from normal people
When I talked to Chris Vaccarino, CEO & Founder of Fanjoy, he articulated how audiences, especially Gen Z, adore raw content. He said:
“2021 became the era of relatability. The perfect Instagram photos dissolved, and Gen Z came out swinging, pushing for real people to be stars. Overly edited photos, picture-perfect lifestyles, and celebrity status took a back seat to incoming TikTok stars who are your classmates, co-workers, and family members.
In 2022, this trend will continue. We'll see TikTok dominate with normal and regular people, finally breaking out of the mold and becoming people with real influence. Coworkers will quit jobs and pursue content creating full time and build real careers doing what they love.
Bigger brands will emerge from those Creators with specific niche categories, and those who have the business acumen will build actual companies from doing what they love.”
I like @/kallmechris. Her account is her iPhone, several hilarious characters, and 40M+ followers. Brands are catching on and hiring Kris to create original, completely raw ads for them. Here’s one from Kris HC + Vessi.
Ira Belsky, Co-Founder & CEO of Artlist, also explained how audiences flock to TikTok to check out content from homegrown creators. He said:
“2021 has been a watershed moment for the Creator Economy. The trendsetting power and influence of smaller creators have never been more pronounced, and major brands of all kinds are taking notice.
What started as the sponsored Instagram post has turned into extremely creative TikToks advertising products in subtle ways that don’t feel disingenuous to the creator’s brand.
Audiences are flocking to watch smaller, homegrown creators on YouTube and TikTok. These platforms are minting stars with huge audiences grown and maintained without the support of the legacy entertainment industries. 2021 demonstrated the firepower of the Creator Economy and homegrown creators, who are finding and maintaining devoted followings.”
People want to see more diverse voices in social advertising
Ben Abraham, Senior Brand Manager at Storyblocks, echoed Chris’s sentiment and added how critical diverse voices are to the future of the Creator Economy. He said:
"Certain communities have been historically excluded from media or inaccurately depicted in advertising through oversimplified tropes. In 2021, the demand for more video content that authentically represents the world that we live in skyrocketed.
Producing content that authentically represents the world we live in is no longer nice to have; it’s essential. If you're ignoring consumers’ calls for greater diversity, marketers, and content creators, you could ultimately damage your brand’s reputation.
Taking a homogenous approach to the content, you create limits your ability to connect with a larger range of people, win consumer trust, and ultimately impact how successful you can be as a business. Demand for diverse and equitable content in the media landscape and advertising campaigns is not a ‘moment.’
Going into 2022, calls for content that accurately depicts the rich, diverse cultures that make up the world we live in today will continue to grow louder and shift how content creators approach the video creation process."
TikTok, for one, is prioritizing diversity initiatives as it recently hired Shavone Charles as its first Head of Diversity and Inclusion Communications.
Niche creators will continue to partner with brands
Experts also predict we’ll see more brand partnerships with niche creators and that social platforms will evolve to more heavily support niche creators. As a result, we may see more creators cross-promote across platforms.
Ira Belsky said:
“What 2022 will bring is uncertain, but it will likely involve an acceleration of trends that are already happening. We’ll see even more small creators find niche audiences and land brand sponsorship deals. More TikTok copycat platforms like YouTube’s Shorts will inevitably crop up. TikTok is already becoming more professional and long-form as a content platform, which will likely continue.
TikTok and YouTube will likely meet somewhere in the middle in terms of professionalism and length. We’ll see more creators who made their names on TikTok successfully make the leap to YouTube and vice versa. We’ll also continue to see stars break out of these platforms and into the music and entertainment establishments.”
Storytelling (written & visual) is busting out of the traditional framework with more ways to create, promote, and repurpose content
If there is one thing I love as a writer and an avid consumer of creative content, it’s the innovation we saw in storytelling in 2021.
The sky truly is the limit today in terms of how and where creatives are adding their voices to global conversations, the entertainment industry, and online advertising.
Alice Lemée, a fellow Creator Economy writer, gave me a good example. She explained how there had been an explosion of new tools serving the online writing space, including startups Foster, Ship 30 for 30, Typeshare, Mirror.xyz. She said:
“The definition of ‘creator’ is expanding. It's not only for content creators on YouTube or Instagram—it's writers, too. Regular people are leaning back into their passion for writing, supported by a burgeoning remote ecosystem.”
It’s true. Writers no longer have to rely on huge publishing houses to tell stories. It’s possible to publish a Web3 blog, start a DAO, and monetize a newsletter.
When I talked to Tera Cuskaden Norris, Managing Editor at Chapters App, she provided several other examples of how storytelling evolves. She said:
“In 2021, we saw a complete re-imagining of storytelling within the creator community. This includes an increased appreciation for mobile-first storytelling. Regardless of experience level, storytellers can now maximize their IP like never before. Rethinking IP with digital storytelling and repurposing stories in a variety of formats has never had so much potential and has been so accessible to so many around the globe.
More people are entering the space than ever before and are expanding their voices into new formats such as serial fiction and comics. Accessible mobile-first platforms can be the breakthrough emerging creators need to hone their voice, cultivate audiences, and launch full-time careers. Another trend: savvy storytellers pair community and fandom with data to create narratives fans love and appreciate. Data like retention figures also empower content creators to expand narratives into transmedia opportunities.
Modern storytellers are no longer tied to living in traditional media centers. For instance, mobile-first storytelling apps allow authors to create a consistent income on their work. It used to be storytellers needed to know someone in publishing to get deals done and see income. Still, in 2022 we will continue to see the creator community turning to mobile storytelling platforms to monetize their brand of storytelling, regardless of socio-economic factors.”
While Alice and Tera mostly talk about writers, the same sentiment applies to all types of creators regardless of their chosen media (e.g., video, graphics, audio, etc.).
Additionally, creators and brands have more opportunities now than ever to repurpose content in various formats and for different audiences across platforms.
For example, I spoke to Jessie Jacobson, TikTok strategist for RunGum, earlier this year. Jessie created many high-performing TikTok videos by slicing and dicing old YouTube videos.
With a bit of creativity, strategy, and the right tools, Jessie created 20+ TikToks out of one old YouTube video.
The bottom line: Today and tomorrow’s creators and brands will see new tools and platforms that make it possible to tell stories in unique ways, add their creative voice to the conversation, and repurpose content for various platforms.
Entertainment will move further into the virtual realm
We have the pandemic to blame/thank (?) for the growth of virtual connection and online entertainment.
- Zoom grew by over 326% in a manner of months
- TikTok saw 457% YOY revenue growth
- Film festivals like Sundance and the Austin Film Festival went 100% virtual for the first time
- Musicians started selling virtual tickets to live-streamed concerts.
As more people isolated inside, life moved online. One couple even got married in the metaverse.
Josh “Caru” Glodoveza, VP of Talent for Fanjoy, explained how this widespread loneliness sparked the rise in more online creators. He said:
“This year has been the toughest and loneliest time we've faced in decades. With that, the younger generation grew to look for entertainment in all types, especially gaming, while stuck at home. 2021 brought the rise of Vtubers (virtual creators with their own identity, story, and lore) to virtual giant stages like the DreamSMP (a live Roleplaying server that is streamed on Twitch and YouTube with complicated storylines and lore). It pushed its creators' imagination to the limits with unexpected events and a spotlight to their improv skills.
I think in the next year, and beyond we're going to see a rise of offline-based content companies and talent agencies trying to replicate the same magic and complicated worlds they've built. With that, we will also see a spike in new virtual stars with hidden identities and their personals and talents to show off the world. We are already getting a taste of it from gamers/musicians, Corpse Husband.”
Social media platforms and innovative startups will invest more heavily in new and small creators
There’s an interesting shift in marketing and advertising, and it’s all related to the rise of the Creator Economic.
Traditionally, advertising channels ran the world from big search engines and social platforms, recognizable brands, and celebrities.
Brands used cookies to track audiences. Creators sought out brands to make money. And social platforms changed their algorithms to favor advertisers.
In the past few months, we’ve seen a complete 180.
Brands are now begging individual creators with niche followings to partner up. Cookies are disappearing in 2023. And in preparation, brands are focusing on building communities and zero party data. To top it off, VCs are funding more projects that monetize the individual.
Here’s how Andy Tian, CEO of Asia Innovations Group (AIG), explained this phenomenon:
“In 2021, U.S. creators remained overwhelmingly dependent on advertising revenue: a recent survey of 2,000 creators found that 77% of creators list brand deals as their highest-earning revenue source. As the Creator Economy continues to grow, it’s time to take a hard look at the consequences of an ad-driven model and consider the viable alternatives already implemented elsewhere, particularly in emerging markets.
Big social media companies should shift their focus from milking ad revenue from the biggest brands to truly serving and encouraging the new and small creators. Whether social media giants in the U.S. will be able to pivot to this more diverse income strategy remains to be seen. As we've seen in emerging markets, new social platforms can increase competition and force big social platforms to diversify their revenue models.
Startups in the field should try to offer more fun and innovative features for audiences to interact with creators. The ingenuity of newer social media companies like AIG will enable a more egalitarian Creator Economy, thus advancing the truly small and independent market participants.”
Tobias Heaslip, CEO & Founder of Trading.TV also talked about how the Creator Economy will see a rise in start-ups that serve creators. He said:
“The Creator Economy is still in the first inning. The financial Creator Economy is still in warm-ups. The emergence of Crypto, Blockchain and NFTs has begun a pendulum shift away from the behemoth platforms like Facebook and YouTube towards startups building verticalized communities that serve Creators and users.
Given the growth across a variety of financial asset classes and the participation rate of retail investors, I think tradeable live streaming could be the top trend in the Creator Economy in 2022. Shoppable live streams and other forms of infotainment will also continue to see explosive growth.”
More creators will focus on owning their content and communities
Not only are start-ups and VCs investing in the Creator Economy, but creators are also taking the reins.
Many creators are fed up with being at the constant mercy of social algorithms and are finding unique ways to own their content, build their space, earn on Web3, and even monetize on the blockchain.
Mihai Crasneanu, Founder & CEO of Beem, explained this idea well. He said:
“A new wave of creators is emerging, with a clear roadmap towards independence, creating the premises of the ownership economy. Creators are looking to attract fans from existing social media platforms and bring them into their own space where the relationship is un-intermediated.
Creators are seeking tools that allow fans to become genuine stakeholders of their work by collaborating in the creative process and contributing time and money, but also access exclusive perks, unlock premium content and private gatherings with the creator, and get voting rights on the project’s direction (VeeFriends is an example)".
With these technologies, creators can also access features to automatically split ownership or revenues and royalties between different participants of the community, which opens the door to media Distributed Autonomous Organizations (DAOs).
Creators are also experimenting with blockchain technologies and NFTs, which will allow them to create micro-communities through token-gating and easily reward their most engaged fans. Token-gating as defined by Beem: only people with a specific asset in their wallet can access an event or a video, fan subscriptions, and digital collectibles.
Roxine Kee, Creator Economy & Web3 writer, added to this idea of how creators can own their content. She said:
“NFTs are the perfect example of creators being able to truly own their content and directly earn from them. Creators can create ‘secondary’ markets for their work or even crowdfund and kickstart their creative careers and let their earliest fans invest in their careers.”
For Erin Staples, creators forging their path is a matter of survival. She said:
“Creators need to rely on new business models to keep themselves sustainable. This can look like new partnerships allowing the creator to retain their independence in ways that they previously did not before.”
The Creator Economy will become even more rooted in engaging fandoms and building communities
2021 has seen a rise in creators prioritizing engaging fandoms and building unique communities.
Erin Staples, who writes about the Community Creator Economy, elaborates. She says:
“We're starting to see that being a sustainable creator these days no longer means only creating great content but is dependent on facilitating relationships (or the perception of a relationship —the para-social relationship) with your audience. I believe this wave caused us to see an explosion of different ways to connect with people online.
As the vaccine rolled out, we wanted to do anything to connect with our fellow humans in new ways. From tools that facilitate connection (e.g., Artery/Bramble, Dots, Gatheround, Butter) to tools that offer new ways to create (e.g., Racket, Maven) and tools that help you manage how you're connecting and thinking through the operations side of it (e.g., Orbit, Luma, Beacons).
I predict we'll see fan engagement and initiatives like never before in the coming year. We got a glimpse of what this looked like when Taylor Swift dominated the internet via Taylor's Version. But as a whole, creators empowering and activating their fan bases will drive how this industry moves.
Creators have made themselves accessible, at least in a para-social manner and through small interactions. They’re able to tap into their audiences in ways that we never thought of before.
I'm looking forward to seeing more fan mobilization campaigns à la Squid Games, a collective frustration at Jake Gyllenhaal, ‘Bones Days,’ and even events that happen outside of the sort of larger household names.”
Bremner Morris, CEO of Rally.io, expanded on this idea and explained how communities play a role in monetizing projects. He said:
“2021 has been an incredibly empowering year not just for creators, but for their fans too. The Creator Economy model has historically been rather transactional and one-sided, but this year we saw a paradigm shift. By introducing social tokens to the Creator Economy, the economic model for community monetization has become a two-way street where fans and creators have experimented with building economies together".
Fans can use social tokens to unlock exclusive content and experiences from their favorite creators. In contrast, creators can reward their most loyal fans and interact with them in new, interesting ways.
Along with social tokens, collectible NFTs have skyrocketed with creators and their fans in 2021. We believe this trend will continue to evolve in 2022, focusing on utility beyond collectibility.
We’re excited to work with creators to build NFTs that can unlock unique experiences, act as a reward to fans to drive deeper connections, and represent purchasable digital goods in creators’ larger digital economies.
The Bored Ape Yacht Club is the perfect example of an NFT community crushing it. While the digital art apes are cool, purchasing one means more than acquiring a piece of art. It means social elitism, access to cool tools, parties, merch, and additional benefits.
Brands will continue to piggyback on creator audiences and adopt creator spokespeople
I recently wrote an article called “Who Runs the World? (Creators).” The idea is that creators are influencing the masses in ways we’ve never seen before. People turn to creators for advice on what to buy, what to wear, how to invest, and even who to vote for.
Brands have already caught on to the fact that niche creators have loyal audiences, and one of the best ways to boost sales is to leverage an existing creator audience.
Raquel Pinto from Limelight Digital explained this idea in detail. She said:
“Niching down has been highly successful for a portion of creators, and in 2021 this meant brands could create highly personalized advertisements thanks to the creator's built-in audience. Because brands no longer need to establish a platform from scratch to look for the ideal consumer and can just piggyback on creators' existing ones. Creators who niched down saw a boom in revenue.”
Since creators have built-in and highly responsive audiences, it makes sense that brands would form long-term partnerships with creators.
Raquel predicts that more brands will adopt creators as spokespeople in 2022. She says:
“Another trend we have seen, particularly on the TikTok app, is a subversion of the roles of brand and creator. Most brands can't just repurpose the audience's videos.
Personality and uniqueness are kings. Therefore, most brands are adopting a brand spokesperson on social media that is highly relatable, and that can form an instant stronger bond with the audience.
We've seen this time and time again. The GAP has barely amassed 5K+ followers on TikTok due to the fact that it only repurposes other creators’ content and runs internal ad campaigns. At the same time, Duolingo and Ryanair have adopted hilarious mascots that have taken social media by storm.
Brands are becoming creators who need to fight for their place, and creators are forming personal brands that are well-established and instantly recognizable amongst the public.
It's already happening with the subversion of the roles of brand and creator. Still, there will be an even bigger boom of brands that syndicate all content creation to one individual or individual for a coherent persona.
In 2022, creators who engage with an audience and go boldly into new content won’t only amass the followers, views, and likes but will also benefit from content monetization.
The monetization of content creators in 2022 will go beyond 'selling' content creation services. Creators have their bubble of micro-stardom which will make creator-generated digital assets even more prolific.”
A final note—the barriers to entering the Creator Economy are low!
The Creator Economy is still in its infancy and continues to evolve.
This means there’s still room for new creators and brands to start cool projects and enter into mutually beneficial collaborations.
When I talked to Jeremey Ross Miller, he summed it up perfectly. He said:
“The Creator Economy continues to emerge. We now have more tools to support creators, more platforms for creators to build on, and more people becoming accustomed to supporting their creators than ever before. The barriers to entering the Creator Economy are so low. The lowering of these barriers is helping more people overcome their fears and try to become a creator.
Fears of not creating good content, not creating enough money, or failing to create. But with lower barriers to entry, people are more open to taking a stab at it. Being early is scary. The good news is that we’re still early.
Perfectionism impedes progress. You won’t be perfect. But that’s part of your story. In the Creator Economy, you create relationships with your audience. Your audience doesn’t want to follow someone who started out being perfect. They want to see the progression over time and feel like they’re watching you unfold.”