Who runs the world? (Creators)Ashley R. Cummings
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I recently read a quote from Jack Conte in The Influencer Marketing Factory’s Creator Economy Report 2021.
The quote from Patreon’s co-founder?
“Creators are about to have leverage, control, and political and cultural influence to the degree that is unprecedented. The affordability, accessibility, and ubiquity of creation tools, coupled with the level of global connectivity of individuals,s is creating an irreversible movement in favor of explosive creativity. It's never been a better time, in the history of humans, to be a creator. If you like to make things and you want to have a voice—NOW is the time to be alive.”
My only argument is this:
We’re already here—creators have arrived.
Today’s creators now have more power to influence what we read, drink, eat, watch, wear, buy, etc., than ever before.
But the reach of creators’ influence doesn’t start and stop with trivial matters like what challenges we participate in on TikTok, what mascara we buy, and how we part our hair.
We also turn to creators for advice on more meaningful matters like:
- Who to vote for
- What social causes to support
- How to invest our money
- What personal affirmations to believe
- And more!
Simply put: Creators are already running the world. Let’s take a closer look at some surprising examples of how creators influenced the masses, how industry bigwigs are changing to support creatives, and why now is the best time for brands to partner with and support creators.
Creators Run The World: The Evidence
1. The rise of the finfluencer - #FinTok (*None of what I’m about to say is investing advice - MmmKay?)
When I was a kid, a teen, and a 20-year-old, and in my early 30s, the world of finance was mainly a mystery to me.
All I knew was you were supposed to look for a job with a matching 401K, and it was probably a good idea to start a Roth IRA (or something?!?!).
Investing was for Wall Street. Day trading was for rich people. Saving for retirement was for my parents. Crypto wasn’t even a thing.
My role in finance extended as far as chatting for an hour with a financial planner from (insert Big Investing Firm of choice) and trusting them to help me adequately save for a rainy day.
It’s safe to say this was the experience for most Millennials & Gen Zers that didn’t major in finance. #amirite?
But, then the pandemic hit, and the world changed:
- More and more people started to rely on their smartphones for social interaction, advice, information, and entertainment
- TikTok became wildly popular and saw 180% growth
- Online communities garnered massive public attention (e.g., Reddit, Twitter Spaces, NFT communities, etc.)
- r/wallstreet bets broke Wall Street with #ToTheMoon community investment initiatives on joke memes and ridiculous stonks
- Apps like Robinhood & Coinbase grew in popularity, making it possible for individuals to more easily participate in traditional finance and crypto (whether it’s wise or not to do so)
- And it became significantly less expensive for the layman to invest.
These events combined and shifted how the public—especially Millennials and Gen Z—thinks about finance.
Now younger and more diverse audiences are investing and taking a hands-on approach to their finances.
What’s more, this perfect storm opened the door for a breed of new influencers.
Finfluencers are exactly what they sound like. They teach audiences about Wall Street and crypto and sometimes shell out advice about handling finances.
Kayla Kilbride (@kaykilbride) is one popular fin-fluencer. Kayla’s approach as a finfluencer resonates with TikTok audiences because she offers accessible bits of content that are both entertaining and educational.
In an interview with Bloomberg, Kayla explains that making videos about finance is a creative way to describe what she is learning about the stock market—she calls it “publicly learning.” She also says her goal isn’t to lead people to make specific financial decisions. But, sharing creative content about finances is a way to get a generation of people that have never even had a conversation about finances involved in the conversation.
And people are getting involved in the conversation. According to Bloomberg, public interest in investing and finance has grown significantly.
Finance app downloads are up 20% within the last year, the hours spent on finance apps are up 90%, and the hours people spend on trading and investing apps are up 135%.
What’s particularly interesting is that many of these participants are Millennials and Gen Zers.
But, finance apps aren’t the only places seeing engagement rates skyrocket. The masses are also flocking to #FinTok to learn more, comment, and gather insight and advice from these finfluencers.
The idea that a group of young social media influencers could spark meaningful conversation about Wall Street and encourage participation was unthinkable only a few short years ago.
However, as of today's publishing date, there are over 623M #FinTok views. The way we approach investing is changing, and creators are leading the conversation.
What’s more (and something to keep in mind when investing), these finfluencers are making bank on promoting investing platforms and affiliate sales—often more than traditional investment bankers make.
For example, the 25-year-old finfluencer Austin Hankwitz makes over $500K a year on social media from his relationships with clients. Again, this would have been unheard of a few short years ago.
2. Hypebeasts & streetwear culture
And then there are hypebeasts.
You’ve heard of them. They’re the hip crowd of people in line at Supreme’s New York City stores waiting for the newest streetwear to drop.
Hypebeasts are the epitome of streetwear culture—people obsessed with the latest hyped-up fashion brands, emphasizing HYPE.
But let’s back up for a minute and take a look at the evolution of streetwear hype.
Namely, how do hypebeasts know what hip is? What drives these hypebeasts to upset their daily schedule, travel to a set location, wait in line, and then pay thousands of dollars for the latest outfit?
You guessed it.
Cultural icons and popular creators generate hype by showing off their best creations and most recent brand collabs. Think the Yeezy + Gap hoodie.
As these gorgeous fabric creations (like the Yeezy + Gap hoodie) circle around social media’s fashion communities, especially with posts from credible fashion influencers (like @baderalsafar), the result is unfettered hype.
Add the element of “this is so cool, but you can’t have it until we drop it,” and you have a fandom dying to get their hands on the latest and greatest trends—no matter the cost.
Ultimately, creators/icons tell people what is fashionable. And then those creators’ followers re-post those fashions, bringing genuine interest and excitement to the equation. This authenticity spreads like wildfire, and those “in the know” latch on.
Without Kanye West, other creators, and a loyal following, the Yeezy + Gap hoodie would still be cool, but maybe only $25 cool.
Now, let’s take a look at Hypebeast Ltd. This media group that has well over 11M collective followers started as Kevin Ma’s passion project.
It has since grown into a creative, informative, and highly influential movement. Its mission as self-proclaimed “CEO of culture” is to uncover trends, connect a global audience of fashionistas, and, ultimately, drive culture forward. See.
But, here’s where it gets interesting. If you take a look at Hypebeast’s content, you’ll—once again—see those creators are the ones generating widespread hype.
The Hypebeast home page features recent drops from Roger Dubuis and Dr. Woo, Christopher Shannon, Steve Sanderson, Ishod Wair, and more.
The takeaway? Without creators, hypebeasts aren’t a thing. Creators are at the head of both fashion and this viral and wildly expensive fashion culture.
3. Even Amazon wants a slice of the Creator Economy pie
You know creators are running the world when Amazon is introducing initiatives to grow the Creator Economy.
Amazon holds the title as the largest retailer globally, which makes sense considering its brand is valued at $684 billion.
Reports show that 80% of customers trust Amazon and that they are more likely to buy from Amazon than other e-commerce sites. Stats show consumers are buying ~4,000 products per minute on Amazon.
Amazon is the e-commerce leader and a cultural powerhouse.
But, this is what’s most interesting. While you might think that Amazon can do whatever it wants, Amazon isn’t doing whatever it wants.
Amazon is also evolving to participate in the Creator Economy—like the rest of the world.
You’ve probably already seen The Drop on Amazon.
If not, it’s a section of the website where users can sign up for notifications on drops of influencer curations and influencer-designed collections.
The Drop already features works by popular creators like @fashion_jackson, @imma.gram, @sivanayla, and many more.
The reason? Amazon recognizes the opportunity to turn international trendsetters and popular curators into creators and profit off their work.
Not to mention, Amazon leaves spots for new creators to join The Drop wide open. When you navigate to The Drop’s homepage, you’ll see Amazon introduce new designers and leave obvious space open for new partnerships.
The Drop isn’t the only Amazon initiative focused on infusing more creators into its overall strategy.
Reports show Amazon:
- Posted the highest number of jobs related to creators than any other platform (e.g., Facebook/Meta, Google, ByteDance, etc.)
- Includes live stream shopping experiences as part of its influencer program
- Is looking to hire more influencer marketing managers and analysts to lead and contribute insight to Amazon Prime
- Wants to hire a VP of Creators for Twitch
Like the rest of the world, Amazon recognizes the value of partnering with creators to move its business forward.
4. Venture Capitalists (VCs) know it’s all about the Creator Economy
If you want to know what business and cultural trends are exploding, look no further than where VCs invest their money.
Last year alone, VCs took a turn from traditional investing initiatives and did something surprising—they poured a collective $1.3 billion into the Creator Economy.
Some VC firms are investing directly into creators in exchange for a slice of their future earnings.
For example, Slow Ventures invested $1.7 million in YouTube star Marina Mogilko in exchange for 5% of her revenues. Creative Juice has also partnered with Mr. Beast and reserved $2 million to invest in creators.
The idea behind this shift is that giving creators money will allow them to focus on what they do best—generate content.
While some firms are investing directly in the creators themselves, most VCs are interested in investing in developing tools to help other creators monetize and grow the Creator Economy as a whole.
The New York Times reports that Founders Fund invested $15 million in Pietra, a firm that helps influencers launch products. And Seven Seven Six invested $16 million in PearPop, a platform that allows creators to monetize.
As VCs dive first into growing the Creator Economy, it frees them from the constraints of social platforms and media companies alike.
But media companies aren’t the only ones advised to start building initiatives around creators. There’s plenty of chatter circling the crypto world about investing in creators as well.
As Balaji Srinivasan puts it on Twitter, crypto also needs to focus on working with influencers and makes the comparison that influencers distrust tech platforms as much as crypto enthusiasts distrust the government.
Srinivasan agrees that more influential content creators will grow into individual media founders (like Mr. Beast & Joe Rogan). He asserts that crypto gives these creators what they need to reach audiences without interference from tech platforms.
I take this to mostly mean crypto offers a decentralized platform where creators aren’t at the mercy of ever-changing algorithms.
Either way, the buzz from media experts to popular crypto enthusiasts on investing in individual creators is yet another example of where the world is headed—and that’s a Creator-centered world.
5. Social platforms are re-structuring around creators and creating funds to support them
Leading social platforms have already caught on and realize creators will continue to have increased opportunities to build followings elsewhere. As a result, these platforms have created new initiatives to support creators to keep them active on their respective platforms. Here are some examples.
Meta (The Artist Formerly Known as Facebook) & Instagram
If you navigate over to the new “Meta for Creators” page, you’ll notice the tagline says it all:
Where creators build the future.
Meta urges people to make creative video content and grow a community on Facebook and has introduced new ways for creators to monetize in-app, including:
- In-stream ads
- In-stream ads for Live
- Facebook Stars (connecting with fans during live videos)
- Paid online events
- Online courses
Instagram has also provided more monetization tools for creators, including IG Shopping, branded content opportunities, and badges in Live.
Early in 2021, TikTok announced it would be investing $200 million over the next three years into its creators with the TikTok Creator Fund.
The TikTok Creator Fund is still in its early stages but now lives in the UK, Germany, Italy, France, and Spain. TikTokers over 18 with over 10K followers and 100K unique views within a month can apply.
The idea is to reward active creators that make creative and engaging videos. It’s not completely clear how much creators get paid, and it can fluctuate, but it shows TikTok values creators and wants to keep them on the platform.
Pinterest is also making its platform more attractive to creators. Earlier this year, it introduced Idea Pins where creators can publish saveable and shoppable content right within Pinterest.
Pinterest also introduced Creator Code and Creator Fund. The first is a policy and commitment to keep Pinterest a positive and safe space for creators and users. The latter supports creators from underrepresented communities with financial and educational aid.
Snapchat also rewards creators through its Creator Marketplace with Snap Stars, Spotlight Challenges, and more. And, if you’ve been on Twitter lately, you may have seen tip jars and Super Follows.
Social media platforms are going above and beyond to make it possible for creators to showcase content, partner with brands, and make money where they’ve built their following.
6. Creators are the new CEOs
So far, we’ve talked about how creators are changing widespread financial trends and influencing fashion and culture as a whole.
We’ve also talked about how these incredible shifts have caused the biggest ecomm retailers and social media platforms to make huge pivots, build new initiatives around creators, and incentivize them to stay on their respective platforms.
We haven’t addressed yet how the future of the Creator Economic isn’t only about influencing the masses on social networks and entering into strategic partnerships with brands.
It’s also about building something new. It’s about owning your own space.
Several creators have already moved past influencing to build their empires and create their own companies. Think Addison Rae and ITEM beauty.
Not only does Rae have 85 million TikTok followers, but she’s moved past talking about other brands on Sephora, built her own clean beauty company, and entered the retail world. Now, her company is part of the Sephora retail world.
Here’s what Rae had to say about her retail partnership with Sephora in an interview with Elle.
Addison Rae isn’t the only Creator turned CEO.
Emma Chamberlain has also leveraged her fame and used her endearing humor to create a popular merch brand and acquire a book deal. And, anyone who follows Chamberlain knows about her deep affection for coffee—a passion she’s used to building her own DTC coffee brand.
What’s cool about Chamberlain’s influencer to CEO approach is that branding is already taken care of. The brand is automatically rooted in her personality that fans quickly recognize and adore. In other words, her whole site is “Chamberlain-Esque,” making all her products super loveable and buyable.
Moving along—there is the beloved digital Creator, fashion icon, and make-up artist Patrick Starr. Patrick has carved out a unique space in the social media world that fans love. He represents the voices of the unheard, focuses on kindness and inclusivity, and promotes individuality as—not only okay—but cool.
Starr’s positive content resonates with followers and has opened the door for this new movement in make-up—the one-size-fits-all make-up that everyone can participate in and enjoy.
Rae, Chamberlain, and Starr are probably the most widely recognized creators turned brand owners. Still, many more content creators are following suit (e.g., Babba Rivera, Freddie Harrel, Jamie Genevieve, to name a few).
Creators like these and many more have already moved past the role of social influencers and are now the new founders—a new class of CEOs with an engaged audience.
This phenomenon is one more piece of evidence that creators can now move from Creator to influencer to founder—and monetize any part of the process.
Partner with those running the world!
If you look closely, there’s evidence all over that “Creators [already have] leverage, control, and political and cultural influence to the degree that is unprecedented,” as Jack Content (with a tiny edit from Ashley) puts it.
Creators are telling us how to invest, and we are listening.
They’re telling us what to wear—and we’re waiting in line in the cold and dropping thousands of dollars to be part of the in-crowd.
Powerhouse companies and social platforms are molding new policies and initiatives around incentivizing creators to stay and participate on platforms. And VC firms are investing in tools that make it possible for creators to grow.
Finally, the most widely recognized creators are leveraging their social followings to make dreams come true—to build a company of their own making.
It truly is a unique time to be alive. There is no better time than now for creators to start building and for brands to partner with creators leading the way.