The new Creator manifesto
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When I was questioned as a kid what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d give off the usual answers: actress, Egyptologist, detective…an orthodontist (this was during a braces phase, of course).
Ask a kid in today’s world what they want to be when they grow up, and there’s a good chance they’ll say something like this: “Be famous on TikTok or YouTube.” There’s a 75% chance someone between the ages of six and 17 has an answer like this.
First, there was the influencer. Then a creator.
What happens as the Creator Economy grows and more content creators branch out and take things into their own hands beyond traditional platforms or parameters?
Enter: the independent creator.
This move from dependent creator to independent creator has long been in the making, and detailed studies—from Mighty Networks, Nonfiction Research, and Bodacious Strategy Studio referred to as The New Creator Manifesto—has put the spotlight on this new fraction within the creator economy.
The New Creator Manifesto peeks at some of the current challenges and issues currently facing creators, as well as what the future might hold.
Ready to take a crash course in all things creator? Let’s go.
Creators aren’t going anywhere (duh)
For anyone who didn’t want to take creators seriously in recent years, it’s time to get on board with the notion that the creator economy is here and it’s going to grow exponentially in the foreseeable future. Is this surprising? At this point, it shouldn’t be.
Because the threshold to becoming a creator is pretty low—in essence, all you need is a laptop or a phone, something to share or create, and a way to spread the message. Of course, there’s more to it than that, as we all know—becoming an experienced or in-demand creator takes work, dedication, and perseverance.
For some of the first creators, it was all about getting on social media and doing something—anything—that seemed to go viral, bringing along the attention and audience that grew rapidly and seemingly overnight.
Creators used this traffic and attention to generate small (or growing) incomes and revenue share from platforms like YouTube and Instagram. As the creator economy grew, so did tools that put more power in the creator’s hands: think OnlyFans or Patreon.
While things were already going in the direction of creators gaining more independence, nothing propelled it faster than perhaps COVID-19. Practically overnight, millions of creators were now looking for new ways to keep income rolling in and stay in front of audiences with limitations and lockdowns.
TikTok is one platform that saw an explosion of growth during the early days of the pandemic. Despite being around since 2016, it really wasn’t until early 2020 that mainstream usage took off.
TikTok hit 2 billion downloads by October 2020 and was named the third fastest-growing brand in 2020 by Morning Consult.
Other social platforms have tried to offer monetization tools to appease creators.
Instagram developed new features like tipping, affiliate links, and a shopping marketplace. Facebook and Snapchat also jumped on board, adding in new features like paid events, account spotlights, and the option for creators to accept payment in the form of digital tokens.
What creators are saying NOW
To really get an inside look at what creators are experiencing, the brains behind the New Creator Manifesto surveyed 1,624 creators to get their take on the state of things.
To be considered for the survey, creators were pre-qualified (to make sure self-proclaimed creators were earning an income for their work and saw themselves as building viable businesses).
So, where do creators make the most money?
From more than one income stream. From revenue share of advertising to community events, creators have the opportunity to earn as much as they can. An appealing thought when you consider the various options, like:
- Paid subscriptions
- Brand sponsorships
- Community memberships
- Creator funds
Creators, even those choosing to go the independent route, find there’s plenty of possibility with earning income, but there’s also a fair share of obstacles to overcome.
Here are just some of the responses from the New Creators Manifesto that creators mentioned as being some of the current blocks they’re facing:
Glass ceilings still exist for creators.
When there’s a dangling carrot of unlimited possibilities and revenue, there’s the drive to do more and spread oneself thin. For creators who don’t have the luxury of massive followings or lucrative brand sponsorships, the amount of work that goes into creating content versus the income is causing many to burn out.
65% of creators said they felt overworked and/or not getting paid enough for their work.
Creators, like everyone else, are feeling exhausted.
Maybe it’s the pandemic, and maybe it’s the need to always be one step ahead of the curve. Ask anyone how they’re feeling right now and the exhaustion is real.
For creators, the amount of energy and time needed to develop high-quality content is something many don’t seem to realize or take seriously. From brainstorming to developing, editing, and promoting, a lot goes into a single post or video
Nearly a quarter of creators interviewed in the survey are not sure they’ll reach the financial goals they have with the amount of energy they have left.
Morgan Harper Nichols, (@morganhnichols) writer and artist, highlights a very real issue creators are facing:
Creators say hitting financial goals is getting tough(er).
Even for those who connect with fulfilling projects, it might not be enough to reach the financial goals they have in mind (or adequately compensate for the amount of time, energy, and resources that go into creating content).
Add in the frequent changes to algorithms and getting too dependent on certain platforms (or needing to pivot quickly to new platforms or formats) and it creates even more uncertainty for creators.
For most creators—nearly 77% interviewed in the New Creator Manifesto—there’s a real worry about getting too dependent on outside resources and platforms for making a living.
One question on the minds of creators: How do they stay true to themselves (and avoid burnout) while meeting the demands of algorithms and the need to constantly create to stay front and center?
What might have worked for the early generation of creators isn’t really working for them anymore.
With millions on social media and the landscape becoming more saturated with creators, those who want to create a viable business out of being a creator are looking to forge a new path forward.
But what does that look like? It looks like this:
The future of independent creators
There’s a shift going on in the creator economy. While there are still plenty of creators (and new creators finding their footing) going the traditional route, a new segment of creators is blazing a new way of doing things.
What do these new changes mean for the future of creators and their relationship with brands? Here’s what it looks like:
Change #1 Creators build a relationship directly with their audience and outside of social media platforms.
Creator, entrepreneur, business owner—the advice is the same. Build a connection directly with the audience and don’t build so much of the relationship on rented land (social media). Creators are taking this to heart, now more than ever. Instead of relying so much on platforms and the say those formats have in building a business, creators are now moving toward creating their own relationship with their audience in the form of direct revenue sources or websites.
Another example of creators venturing out and finding new ways to directly connect and market to an audience? Text messaging.
TikTok creator Charli D’Amelio uses text messaging as a way to connect with her audience, offering something called VIP access to share news, updates, and contests.
Change #2 Creators will hit more revenue goals through building and curating communities.
This is one area creators will see a lot of growth in reaching financial goals and creating a loyal audience. Through creating niche-specific communities and memberships, target audiences will be willing to pay a little extra to connect directly with creators and other followers with similar interests. Love cooking? Some creators that focus 100% of their content on that. Into beauty tutorials or appreciate a certain fashion aesthetic? There’s plenty out there for that audience, too.
Molly Baz, recipe developer and cookbook author, started out with a recipe club of sorts on Patreon. Offering exclusive access to fresh new recipes and other cooking resources, Baz soon moved her audience to a new platform—her own website.
Now her audience can be a part of THE CLUB for a nominal monthly fee and Baz has control over all aspects of her creative work.
By creating these types of communities on personal websites, creators will feel less strain having to constantly create work dictated through frequently changing algorithms (one of the main sources of burnout).
Creators surveyed for the New Creator Manifesto say moving to this type of format has increased their revenue and they’ve shared their ability to grow followers has also improved.
With hashtag saturation and social media’s demand to pay for exposure, creators are finding it harder to get noticed organically—leading them to increase content just to get seen for a fleeting moment.
Creators are looking to integrate independent websites with other tools like direct payment applications and community-building platforms.
Now that creators are looking to go more independent, what does that mean for the future of the creator economy? It looks like this:
The desire to go independent doesn’t mean creators won’t be using the existing tools any longer—it means that they’re going to look for ways to integrate them into their creator toolbox.
Whether that looks like using Facebook Groups to stay connected with a community and direct them over to independent websites, or using Patreon to offer levels of content that creators feel comfortable sharing, there’s going to be more curation and customization over what a creator uses that helps them best push content forward.
Want the TL;DR (but please read!):
Creators are moving in the direction of:
- Owning where they post content
- Niching down and curating content for specific audiences
- Building communities, not just follower counts