The pandemic took large swaths of the population out of their traditional 9-to-5 jobs. Before long, the most enterprising of the bunch turned to social and subscription-based platforms to potentially generate a little extra income, with more people joining in on the content creation trend shortly after.

Some people saw it as a distraction, others as a place to relieve boredom. But one thing is for sure; many creators found their niche on platforms such as TikTok and Instagram.

The Growth of the Creator Economy

Since 2020, the creator economy has only grown, erupting into a monetary phenomenon that isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. In fact, the creator economy brought in an estimated $1.3 billion in investments in 2021 alone. With the number of creators in the U.S. earning a living wage increasing by 41% year over year, it’s no wonder upward of 50 million people count themselves as content creators. People can become their own businesses, if not brands.

More than a few companies have been quick to respond to this trend—product and media-centric businesses alike.

Take, for example, the $50 million multi-year deal between Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, a professional gamer and social media star, and Microsoft Mixer. Social platforms understand how integral talent can be to their businesses. In many instances, creators are now the primary draw. Of course, that’s just one cog of the larger creator economy machine.

There’s also an entire influencer marketing component, where creators secure sponsorship deals with brands looking to leverage influencers’ clout to promote various products and services.

The Influence of Content Creators

Needless to say, the creator economy is influencing how consumers view and interact with products and brands. The more followers a creator has, the higher the sales a sponsoring brand can expect to see. As a result, ad spend has been moving away from traditional, broad-sweeping marketing campaigns toward targeting niche communities through this new version of influencer marketing.

The reason is simple: Not only are these niche consumers more engaged, but the content produced by creators and influencers—much of which is conceived under their own creative reins—often feels more authentic and personal. In turn, consumers begin equating the creators’ relatability to the promoted brands. A brand can find itself in a unique position to establish stronger connections with a customer base, all from its relationship with content creators.

If not promoting brands, many in the creator economy have begun promoting themselves and creating products or entire businesses based on their social media fame. Big Ed from 90 Day Fiancé is now selling his own merch through his Instagram account. Logan Paul and KSI, both social media personalities, have used their combined fame to launch a drink company, Prime Hydration, which can now be found on store shelves. Jimmy “MrBeast” Donaldson, a YouTube personality, has done something similar with MrBeast Burger, a delivery-only fast-food chain that’s said to have more than a thousand kitchens across North America.

Those who want to capitalize on their own personality have a much easier time doing that with the creator economy. This is exciting news not only for the average person but also for celebrities who are joining the bandwagon. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is a terrific example with his six million YouTube subscribers. Most celebrities live pretty mysterious existences, but social media allows them to give fans glimpses into their day-to-day lives. Similarly, when creators provide peeks into their lives and showcase their favorite products, fans become interested—and brands benefit.

A Drastic Change in Marketing Strategy

Companies looking to leverage the creator economy’s popularity need to rethink how they reach their target audiences. It’s not that traditional marketing verticals are dead. Instead, you want to begin positioning creators at the center of your marketing initiatives. Real people relate to real people, and that relationship can help drive more sales.

Here’s what to consider as you begin to leverage the creator economy:

1. Link up with the most logical influencers.

Although marketers can more directly reach target audiences by leveraging the content creation industry, not all creators will align with their brands. Even if specific content creators make sense for your niche, the match made in social media heaven could quickly go south if you’re only familiar with their most popular posts.

So, review all potential partners’ content across their social media platforms. Make sure they’re not irresponsible, disrespectful in what they share, or have said or done something in the past that does not align with your brand’s values and core messaging. A misstep in any way could tarnish your brand’s reputation.

2. Explore content creation as a brand.

If companies become creators themselves, they can leverage a platform’s power to generate new revenue streams—not only through promoting their goods but also through ad share and sponsored content.

Take, for example, Vat19, an e-commerce website specializing in unique and unusual gifts. The company has built a strong YouTube presence, going so far as to share products it refuses to sell. Beyond the benefit of marketing its products directly to consumers, Vat19 is also generating revenue from ads and the commercials it posts online.

3. Never underestimate the power of content creation platforms.

Platforms, be it Vine, Periscope, Myspace, or Friendster (among many others), come and go. It’s important that you don’t wait until it’s too late to leverage the next big platform used in the creator economy.

It took too long for large corporations to jump on the TikTok bandwagon, and the same can be said for past platforms. Your relationships with content creators could be a good source of information on what’s to come. Still, monitoring the social media stratosphere and keeping a pulse on current trends is also critical. That way, you don’t let the next big thing become a game of playing catch up. It’s better to experiment on a new platform rather than jumping into something too big to ignore.

The creator economy isn’t going anywhere—at least not anytime soon. Today’s consumers have a hunger for the kind of easily shareable and consumable content it breeds. As with anything in the marketing realm, taking advantage of this new trend starts with testing the waters before diving too deep. Get to know the space, the creators, and their content. Only then should you strike up a relationship with a potential partner that could deliver the influence you’ve been looking for.

Paco Suro

Paco Suro is the General Manager of Global Partner Payments at Tipalti, a payment automation software provider. Tipalti transforms the entire partner payments operation for today’s fastest-growing, global, digital-first companies.

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