The Creator Economy: Facts, Figures and Future Growth
We’re used to seeing household names in the Super Bowl’s commercial break. Car manufacturers, mobile phone companies, and household-name food brands — we’ve seen them all.
But this year was a first for the creator economy. After generating almost $250 million in sales during 2022, YouTube creator Logan Paul and KSI made history with their energy drink brand, Prime. It became the first creator-led brand to land a spot in the Super Bowl ad break.
This shows the growth of the creator economy and its impact on the commercial sector.
What is the creator economy?
The creator economy refers to an ecosystem of businesses started by content creators. This includes social media stars, influencers, community builders, bloggers, and videographers, but it has also expanded to include the tools and software, such as influencer marketing platforms and creator monetization software, that fuel the economy.
The history of the creator economy
The creator economy dates back to the early 2000s when the birth of social media sites gave regular people a platform to promote their work, ideas, and creations. YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, Pinterest, Snapchat, Medium, Twitch, and even Spotify have all been monumental in providing a place for creative users to showcase their talent and skills, from sports stars, artists, and travelers to home cooks and fitness fanatics.
Suddenly, a landscape that was once dictated by large production companies and media outlets was becoming an open ticket to stardom for the average Joe.
Brands quickly realized the potential of the pre-built audiences creators had lovingly nurtured. The ROI of tapping into a community that already existed far outweighed the time and effort involved in creating one from scratch — especially as a corporate entity. And so brands began to partner with influencers to create influencer-generated content that promoted their products while providing creators with a lucrative side income.
Today, well-seasoned creators have managed to build loyal fandoms that follow them from platform to platform and hang on to every word they say. These creators are essentially businesses with multiple revenue streams, whether it’s courses, books, or their own self-developed product lines. To match the growing popularity of the creator economy, innovative companies are swooping in to help creators earn more with platforms for selling premium content, merchandise, newsletters, and coaching packages.
What started as a creative outlet has become a way for independent founders to diversify their income and earn money directly through their fans.
How big is the creator economy?
The creator economy is estimated to be a $100 billion industry and set to reach half a trillion by 2027 — but it’s tricky to glean actual creator numbers. Some estimates say there are upward of 50 million creators, but a study by Adobe in 2022 suggests that number could be much higher at around 303 million. It’s thought that half of these creators joined the economy post-2020.
The best 2023 creator economy statistics
While there may well be 303 million creators as per the Adobe study, the number of full-time creators is likely much lower. There are estimated to be around 450,000 full-time creators, of which only 12% make more than $50,000 per year.
So what kind of content are these creators making? Patreon provides an example of the types of content creators are generating, with 47.4% of users working in video, podcasts, music, and gaming.
According to Linktree, 58% of creators create 2-4 types of content, with full-time creators focusing mostly on social media content, emails or newsletters, and articles or blogs.
With the added trust that comes with a pre-built audience, it’s no wonder that brands are jumping on the chance to work with self-made creators. In fact, 52% of marketers choose to work with creators to strengthen their social communities, while 41% want to work with creators to promote their brand values.
This year’s top creator economy trends
Creators are starting to reap the rewards of their efforts. 76.5% have experienced significant income increases over the past year, citing YouTube and TikTok as their preferred channels for earning money. And, for the most part, creators are generating the majority of their revenue through brand sponsorships, closely followed by product sales, and affiliate links.
So what kind of trends can we expect to see?
1. Creators owning their audiences
The volatility of social media channels has encouraged creators to take their audiences off third-party platforms to create owned communities. Take Twitter, for example, which suffered a huge hit when Elon Musk took the helm. The uncertainty of the future of these platforms means we’re likely to see creators either building their own platforms or moving to private communities.
2. Income diversification
While many creators may have started out doing one thing, many are flexing their creative muscles and generating multiple revenue streams. This is in part to protect themselves against the looming recession, but also to minimize the potential risk of relying on a singular source of income.
Creators that solely relied on brand sponsorships are venturing into product creation and vice versa, which will eventually lead to a very rich and interesting ecosystem.
3. Fast growth with generative AI
Creators often don’t have huge budgets or corporations backing them. So, up until now, they’ve been limited in their creative output and what they can do — even if they have lofty visions. However, the emergence of generative AI, whether it’s text, audio, video, or image-based, will help creators scale their efforts and compete with larger corporations in their industries.
4. Niche communities and subcultures
It’s tempting to think that the influx of new creators is saturating the industry. But something interesting is happening. In a landscape that has suddenly become very competitive, creators are honing in on highly niche audiences to stand out. It’s no longer enough for creators to push out generic content to a mass audience. Instead, they’ll target specific audiences in order to make an impact. This is evident in the rise of platforms like Mastodon and Discord, which are renowned for facilitating group chats around niche topics.
5. The rise of content curators
The sheer wealth of content out there can be overwhelming if you don’t know where to start. Instead of creators consistently pumping out fresh content, we’re starting to see a rise in the number of creators who are curating existing content. Moving forward, they’ll provide food, beauty, travel, and media recommendations to an audience that really resonates with their likes and interests.
How brands can tap into the booming creator economy
The creator economy is full of potential for brands in every industry. We’ve seen Taco Bell partner up with Abigail Barlow and Emily Bell to create a TikTok musical, Windows partner with humorous logo designer Emily Zugay, and VW partner with video maker Kurt Schneider.
But what about you? How can you find and partner with top creators in relevant sectors to grow your reach and take advantage of the booming creator economy?
1. Find content creators
The first step is finding the right creators. Note that VW made an active decision to partner with a non-automotive creator to increase its reach, but there are different levels of creators you can seek out:
- Mega-influencer: Celebrity-level influencers with follower counts in the multi-millions — great for boosting brand awareness, but can be very costly to work with.
- Macro-influencer: Creators with between 200,000 and one million followers on social media, who are usually full-time at what they do.
- Mid-tier influencer: Creators with between 60,000 to 200,000 followers, who typically have worked on a number of campaigns with brands.
- Micro influencer: Creators who have between 10,000 and 60,000 followers on social media.
- Nano influencer: Creators who have 1,000 to 20,000 followers on social media.
The type of creator you choose to partner with will depend on the goals of your campaign, the size of your budget, and your industry.
For example, if you’re trying to reach a very niche audience of people who crochet animals, chances are you won’t get the results you want if you partner with a big-name celebrity. It’d be better to hone in on a creator that specializes in that content and has already built an audience full of animal-loving crocheters.
2. Connect and contract creators
When you’ve found the right creators, reach out to establish the parameters of your campaign and how you see them slotting in. This stage involves solidifying payments, scope, and writing up contracts. Most creators that have some skin in the game will have done this multiple times before, so they’ll know what to expect.
You can make it easier for both sides by creating a slick workflow that automates proposals, contract signing, and briefing.
How much should you pay content creators?
The price will depend on the size of a creator’s audience, your content deliverable requirements, and their specific skill set. For example, you’ll pay more to work with a talented videographer who has millions of followers than an amateur photographer or someone with a few thousand social media followers. You’ll also pay more if you’re asking the creator to produce a bigger content package, such as a dedicated YouTube video, an Instagram Reel, and 10 Stories.
3. The different types of creator campaigns
Campaigns will lie at the heart of your creator partnership, whether it’s a one-off recipe video or a series of posts on a travel blogger’s site. Your campaigns should ultimately tie into your own business goals, but they should also complement the type of content and topics your chosen creators specialize in.
We’ve touched on a few different campaigns already, including an entire Taco Bell musical, but what else can you do?
There are over 460 million podcast listeners worldwide, making audio platforms a great way to reach new audiences. You can team up with a creator to host a series of episodes, just like ZipRecruiter did with its Rise and Grind podcast. Or you can pay for the podcasters to include a quick ad break talking about your brand within their episodes.
As well as hiring content creators to write content for your blog, you can also host blog takeovers to ramp up interest in your brand and products.
When done well, memes can give your brand a competitive edge through personality and humor. Gucci partnered with a number of fashion industry creators to develop a series of fashion-related memes shared under the hashtag #TFWGucci (That Feeling When Gucci).
Newsletters are becoming an increasingly popular way for creators to nurture their own communities outside of third-party platforms. As a result, there’s a wealth of opportunity for newsletter cross-promotion, advertising, and takeovers.
Flipboard regularly partners with industry-specific creators to spotlight in newsletters for different segments. For example, it partnered with Maurizio Leo, Founder of the Perfect Loaf for a foodie special.
Social media product promotions
Channels like TikTok and Instagram have made it possible for creators to build huge followings they can then leverage to earn an income. You can partner with creators to promote your products via an ambassador program, affiliate marketing, or traditional product placements.
TikTok rollerskater Ana Coto has 2.1 million followers and has used her platform to partner with big-name brands like Lays and Candy Crush to post sponsored content.
You can even partner with YouTube creators to film a series of videos, sponsor a video, or advertise your products via strategic product placement.
Take Andrew Rea, for example. He shot to fame with his YouTube cooking videos that recreated food from famous movies. As well as featuring brand products in his videos, he’s also gone on to publish a cookbook and developed a line of cookware.
Many brands are turning to their favorite creators to help them develop new product lines. Take IKEA, for example, who partnered with architect influencer Virgil Abloh to bring a quirky new product line to the brand’s store. Items included a towel that replicated an IKEA receipt and a Mona Lisa print.
The type of content you include in your campaign will be driven by the skillset of the creators you partner with. But, if there’s a specific kind of content you’d like to invest in, it’s worth looking for creators who are well-known in that space.
When you’ve decided on your content formats and the cadence of posts, it’s important to successfully manage your campaigns. In the first instance, you should provide detailed briefs to all creators you work with that includes your expectations, the scope of the campaign, and what they’re getting out of it. Then, make sure you track and measure the results. This will help you decide which creators are the best investment and what type of creator-led content your audience prefers.
4. Repurpose content
The beauty of creator partnerships is that you suddenly have a high-quality supply of content at your fingertips. Instead of letting it fade away on Instagram Stories or in the depths of your blog archive, repurpose it into other formats. You can turn a podcast into a blog or a YouTube video, an Instagram post into a TikTok series, and a video into a newsletter. The possibilities are endless.
Make a splash in the creator economy
The creator economy is booming right now. It’s the perfect time to partner with relevant creators to share your products, develop fresh content, and even give your product catalog a new lick of paint.
The key to success is finding the right creators and forming unique partnerships with each one based on their talents and areas of interest. Do this, and you could find yourself a new and exciting way to promote your brand and products.
To find more insights into the creator economy, download our report: How Much to Pay Influencers.