The creator middle class: A new wave of creators is here (plus, how brands can work with them)Laura Leiva
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The days of celebrity and creator being one and the same are over. It’s time to embrace a new class of creators – something called the ‘creator middle class’.
Ask anyone to list off a roster of top creators and you’ll get a mix of names depending on which platform they frequent.
From Mr. Beast and Ryan’s World on YouTube (with a combined 100 million subscribers) to Charlie D’Amelio and Addison Rae on TikTok, these creators have hit celebrity status in terms of popularity and earnings.
But what about the two million-plus creators who run professional-level productions? And there’s more: Influencer Marketing Hub states there are an estimated 50 million individuals out there who consider themselves to be part of the creator economy.
From Twitch to Instagram, YouTube to TikTok, platforms are evolving. Along with the rapid growth of platforms like TikTok, for example, comes a wave of new tools and resources to help creators get their start.
Of 50 million creators out there, 46.7 million identify as ‘amateurs’ – those who are making money as creators but not gaining enough income to step away from regular paychecks.
That’s where a ‘creator middle class’ comes into play.
As more creators step onto respective platforms and carve out a niche of the market, there’s going to be a need for more attention to be placed on this sector of the creator economy.
In 2020, Li Jin wrote an article for Harvard Business Review titled, ‘The Creator Economy Needs a Middle Class.’
In the piece, Jin highlights much of the changing behaviors as popularity for social media platforms – and the desire to create content – has grown. Here are just some of the impressive statistics highlighted:
- 30% of kids (between the ages of eight and 12) want to be YouTubers/Creators when they grow up.
- Monthly AdSense checks for David Dobrik, a popular YouTube creator, hit approximately $275,000 for every 60 million views.
- TikTok creator, Charli D’Amelio, was worth a whopping $4 million dollars at age 16.
And it’s not just video creators making this kind of splash in the creator economy, either. Top writers and creators on Substack pull in at least $7 million dollars annually, according to the Harvard Business Review.
But is having a creator middle class really that important? Actually, yes, and here’s why:
Aside from spreading the wealth and avoiding a few big names from monopolizing space across various platforms, there are other benefits to paying attention to this emerging segment.
- There’s increased trust when promoting products or services
- A healthy sense of competition exists, driving improvement and innovation across the board
- Demand for products is stabilized over time rather than gaining fleeting attention
- Social platforms actually grow and become stronger when there’s an equal opportunity
One example of this is Vine (RIP).
Despite its massive growth and short-form video content format (not to mention the 200+ million users), the platform ultimately lost creators as they moved to platforms like Snap, Instagram, and YouTube. Why? These platforms started to create tools and monetization opportunities for creators.
Where Vine failed, TikTok succeeded.
But that’s not to say that any of the current platforms are a utopia for creators, either. Creators on TikTok are noticing the discrepancy between payments and as the platform continues to grow it will be even harder for creators to stand out.
Here’s a takeaway: There will always be popular figures in the creator economy. Whether on TikTok, YouTube, or Instagram, high-level creators will continue to emerge. But in order to move forward and create innovation, a middle-class creator economy needs to exist.
The Creator Economy is Changing
With over 50 million content creators coming up with new ways to engage audiences every day, the face of the creator economy is has been changing for a while. While most of us are tired of hearing about the pandemic, it has played a major role in accelerating the growth of the middle-class community on social media.
While only the top 2% of creators retain a vast majority of revenue, the creator middle class is finding its place and learning how to succeed. As the social media landscape changes, the rise of small business-like content entrepreneurs is starting to take a bigger, more important role.
And unlike influencers with an overly large fan base, the creator middle class is taking an approach that is resonating with the industry.
What does this look like?
It’s all about being more approachable and offering a different type of content that might not currently be as profitable as the revenue generated by more famous creators. This can be seen in the growing demand for micro and nano influencers.
As more creators tap into the market and use the available tools or platforms, the middle-class segment of the creator economy will continue to grow.
Who is considered the creator ‘middle class?’
While most social media platforms offer the ability to become a content creator, the creator middle class is looking at things a little differently.
Rather than relying on existing entities to release their content, they are taking ownership of their content. Although they still must rely on participating with and paying third-party software, unlike regular creators, the middle class is opting to retain ownership of the things they publish.
In other words, middle-class creators are taking their already existing entrepreneurial skills and turning them into personalized content. We see this with creators connecting with users through paid-for newsletters and exclusive communities.
As the creator economy has grown, creators have started to realize that what they develop is more than just content they upload to a platform. This shift in going from influencer to creator has also helped creators understand that what they have to offer is not much different from any other service provider.
Operating more like a small business than an influencer offers the ability to turn interests and personal pursuits into fully branded content.
Growth and the creator middle class
From music teachers to eBook writers and software engineers, the creator middle class has a much broader appeal than more narrowed advertorial content.
While some middle-class creators are looking for a part-time income, others are quite successfully utilizing their everyday skills to make a living. And the industry is adjusting.
Sites that allow direct payment like WordPress and Twitch are changing the way that creators make money. Rather than relying on an algorithm that pushes views toward the top tier of creators, monetization is becoming more accessible.
From sites like Patreon that offer subscriptions to TikTok tip jars, monetization is moving away from algorithm-based hits to digital gifts or payments that go directly to the creator.
The future of creators: how brands should work with this segment of the creator ecosystem
Brands looking to take advantage of the transition from mega influencers to a creator middle class are destined to reap some of the same benefits.
Influencers might thrive on popularity rather than trust, but the shoe is on the other foot with middle class creators. Creators in this tier offer a lot of educational expertise and brands can rely on trustworthy material that speaks in their brand’s voice.
Because those on the top-earning tiers suffer from a flash-in-the-pan style of earning, brands can also benefit from longer-term relationships with the creator middle class.
When brands invest in this level of creator, the obligation doesn’t end with popular content. By hiring skilled creators who are not necessarily looking to rake in six figures, there’s a greater opportunity for long-term work and tailored continuing education.
Expectations for the Creator Middle Class
Although the creator middle class is still gaining notoriety, more and more corporations and tech giants are noticing.
As the industry moves away from content that’s owned by a platform to content that’s privately produced and published, it creates independence that allows for a lot of future flexibility.
With growth expected to continue to foster niche creators, it’s expected that there will be another shift in the future.
Trends are showing that media companies will begin to seek and employ content talent on a more specialized and granular level. Deeper than that, it’s expected to morph into more specialized outlets for specific industries.
Rather than the freelance free-for-all creators are experiencing now, content houses and influencer agencies are expected to tailor the current state of affairs to become even more profitable.
At present, the top 90th percentile of creators makes over $70,000 a year, but it’s forecasted to become a much more evened out number. The rise of the middle class is all but certain to level the playing field. Rather than rely on a near-celebrity status to monetize, the creator middle class relies on their skills and the future of content that they’ll be able to bring to the table.
The creator middle class might just be starting to see exponential growth, but it’s projected to become another cornerstone of digital marketing.
As more and more brands invest in the specialized content expertise of these creators, the middle-class tier will continue to expand…creating even more of a demand.