IPG Media Lab
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IPG Media Lab

The State of the Creator Economy

What our proprietary Futurecaster survey tells us about the creator economy, and how brands can tap into it

Photo by Amanda Vick on Unsplash

As digital media companies present their latest and greatest brand solutions to advertisers during the NewFronts this week, the booming creator economy is a common theme that has popped up across many presentations headed by social media companies that rely on user-generated content.

On Wednesday, TikTok unveiled a new ad solution called Pulse, which will allow brands to place their ads adjacent to the top content in TikTok’s “For You” feed — among the top 4% of all videos on TikTok in terms of engagement — with tools and controls to manage their presence. This is notable for being the first ad product from TikTok that would share revenue with its creators. (Previously, top creators have been rewarded indirectly through the Creator Fund that TikTok set up last summer.) At launch, only creators and publishers with at least 100K followers will be eligible for the revenue-share program.

Similarly, during its own NewFronts event, Snapchat announced a Snap x Cameo Advertiser Program, which will allow advertisers on Snapchat to discover and partner with Cameo’s top creators, typically made up of actors, athletes, reality stars, and influencers, to create custom short-form video ads. Beyond that, Snapchat has also launched a Creator Marketplace that aims to help creators make money by connecting them with brand partnerships.

In other related Newfronts announcements, Meta announced it will now dole out additional bonuses to Reels creators who are publishing original content on Facebook. Meanwhile, Twitter announced plans to launch a pilot program that will bring real-time highlights about global events to the platform. During Amazon’s NewFronts presentation, Twitch representative Sarah Iooss spent most of her allotted time reaffirming her company’s commitment to creators.

As the creator economy continues to boom, the Lab team combed through our latest Futurecaster survey results for clues and insights into this growing sector in digital media and advertising. Here is what we found out about the current state of the creator economy, along with clues as to where it is heading.

Creator vs. Influencers

Before we dive into the data, it is important to set the parameters around the term “creators.” The term “creator economy” has been thrown around in the tech and media circles in recent years, typically as a rebranding of influencer marketing that elevates it from the shallow connotations associated with influencer culture today. Creators, as a label that was largely pushed by YouTube into our cultural vocabulary, are supposedly about creative self-expression above all. Yet, they are often faced with similar paths towards monetization today when their content attracts a big enough audience over whom they can wield influence. While they may reject the label, the top creators today are often de-facto influencers in their own right, and the line between influencers and content creators is getting blurrier day by day.

That being said, there are some subtle distinctions between them. While the modus operandi for influencers has largely been based on amassing followers and attention by showcasing their beauty, personality, or aspirational lifestyle, creators tend to focus primarily on creating digital content that resonates with their audiences. In other words, key influencers tactics are often focused on growth, whereas for content creators, the content often speaks for itself without the need to put the creator front and center. Resultingly, the rules of brand engagement have shifted accordingly: for content creators, a more co-creative approach is often called upon to ensure the sponsored content carries the same tone and level of authenticity as the creator’s other outputs.

Creative Platform of Choice

Here at the Lab, we run a proprietary survey of five thousand U.S. adults aged 18 to 74 annually to track how they engage with 25 key innovation territories over time, and leverage that data to help brands identify which of those innovation territories resonate the most with their target audiences. In the two latest editions of the survey, one in the spring of 2021 and another in spring 2022, we designed a set of questions to better understand these creators and their key behaviors.

Our data show that around 30% of U.S. adults self-identify as content creators, and that number has stayed more or less consistent across the major platforms year over year.

Source: Futurecaster Survey (W2 & W3) by IPG Media Lab, 2021 & 2022

Not all creator platforms are created equal. While Instagram and YouTube have held onto their position as the leading creator platforms, thanks to their robust creator tools and support, TikTok and Twitter are also not too far behind. It is especially interesting to see fewer survey respondents say they are creators on some of the top platforms, such as Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok, in 2022 compared to 2021, reflecting perhaps the maturity and saturation of these competitive platforms. In contrast, smaller platforms are growing as more people are becoming creators on Twitter (thanks to the recent launch of Twitter Blue and other monetization features) as well as through newsletters and blogs.

Meanwhile, audio-oriented creators continue to thrive. Boosted by the growing audience reach and the expanding suite of ad products on podcast platforms, the size of podcast creators grew by 40% year over year. Similarly, the explosion of social audio in 2021, led by platforms such as Clubhouse and Twitter (with Twitter Spaces), is reflected in the 300% increase in people who report being a creator on social audio platforms.

The emergence of Web3 buzz is also giving an early boost to new creator platforms. For instance, after a breakthrough year, NFT-trading marketplaces have given rise to a new class of digital creators, who are leveraging the digital scarcity and traceable provenance provided by NFTs to sell digital content as collectibles. Looking ahead, we could expect to see more blockchain-backed creator tools and platforms emerge over time.

Taken together, the increasing diversity of creator platforms should offer brands more opportunities to contextually target their audiences. Figuring out which platforms your audience is spending time on, and tapping into the creator community on that platform to collaborate on branded content, is a crucial first step for advertisers looking to tap into the creator economy.

Developing a Creator-Friendly Strategy

While it may seem easy compared to a traditional 9-to-5 job, being an content creator can be a 24/7 hustle that never stops. As with any freelance gig, different types of creators put varying levels of time and effort into it. According to our latest Futurecaster survey, 34% of self-identified content creators are posting or sharing content at least once a day, while another 30% do so at least once a week.

Source: Futurecaster Survey (W3) by IPG Media Lab, 2022

The remaining 34% of content creators say they post about once a month or even less, which is corroborated by the survey results on the question of creator income, as 37% percent of content creators surveyed say they don’t generate much income from being a creator at all. In contrast, 37% of the creators say that being a content creator is their primary source of income, while another 26% of creators say they earn some income from their content, but it is not a primary income source for them.

When placed side by side, these two sets of data suggest that there is an opportunity for brands to engage with creators who could be interested in growing their supplemental income without necessarily having to ramp up their content output, especially for the type of content output that would require a longer production cycle, such as podcasts and long-form video.

As to how creators are monetizing their content, our survey revealed that brand partnerships are a key source of revenue. 26% of the self-identified creators say they have promoted a particular product in their content, and 24% say they have done promotional content for a brand. Some content creators also monetize their fanbase directly, as 17% say they have received donations or payments from their audience, but working with brands remains a comparatively more common revenue source.

Source: Futurecaster Survey (W3) by IPG Media Lab, 2022

Collaboration between creators, and between creators and brands are also quite common, as 20% of them say they have done so in the past year. Developing a collaborative, creator-friendly content strategy should be top of mind for every consumer brand that wishes to participate in today’s digital culture.

Another standout insight from this chart is that content creators are often cause-driven. 23% have leveraged their content to promote a cause, while 28% say they have used their content to educate their audience about a certain topic. Often, the topics are niche passion points that the content creators have cultivated a following with their expert knowledge, which unlocks a great audience overlap with brands that share those passion points. Given the aforementioned rise in the percentage of podcast creators and newsletter writers, it would seem that more creators are seeking to align with the social values of their audiences by leaning into these creator platforms and producing content with educational value.

For brands, this insight points to an opportunity to seek out content creators that align with your brand values, and collaborate with them to create educational content that will resonate with their audience. Advertisers can supercharge their purpose-driven campaigns by including content creators in the mix, and leverage the trust and affinity that creators have fostered with their core audience to drive better campaign results.

Learn More about the Futurecaster

Brands are increasingly shifting budgets to power creator-driven marketing campaigns, with 66% reporting they spent more in this area year over year, according to a recent CreatorIQ and Tribe Dynamics survey. If your brand is one of the 66% considering diving deeper into the creator economy, you should talk to us about the Futurecaster.

Created by the IPG Media Lab, the Futurecaster is a tool based on proprietary research that identifies how our clients’ audiences are currently using, or planning to use, emerging technologies and media channels, providing new ways to reach them on the platforms they’re most passionate about. If you’d like to know how Futurecaster may help you identify the key innovation territories for your audiences, please reach out to our Senior Manager of Strategy, Katy Geisreiter (Katy.Geisreiter@ipglab.com) to start a conversation.

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