The Conflicts Of Being An Online Creator
Making a living by monetizing content online isn’t easy. It might look easy on the Instagram and TikTok surface, but you need to look further than a few ring-lit moments in front of the camera to understand the entrepreneurial work that goes into building social media success.
Younger workers have been hit especially hard by rising unemployment during the COVID-19 pandemic — in the UK the under 35s accounted for 80 percent of job losses over the past year. According to Statista 18–34 year-olds also make up 85 percent of social media influencers on Instagram. It’s hardly surprising that in the face of narrowing career paths, younger generations are turning to the creator economy as an emerging and more accessible opportunity for generating income. Influencer marketing is indeed a rapidly scaling industry, worth $6 billion in 2020 and expected to rise to $24.1 billion by 2025.
Of course while a smartphone, fast internet connection and some creativity are the basic prerequisites to becoming a social media influencer, it takes more than luck and good WiFi to stand out and build a successful career.
In his recent article in Entrepreneur, Kalon Gutierrez, talks about how the very term “influencer” has become too vague and all-encompassing over the past few years and how this needs to be redefined to recognize the leadership and entrepreneurial qualities this career path requires. He also addresses the trust issues that have tarnished the term and driven those now building careers through content monetization to take actions to distance themselves from the perception of influencers as manipulative or inauthentic.
So how did influencers end up in such a trust crisis, and how are a new generation of entrepreneurial online creators distancing themselves from negative perceptions to build their personal businesses and brands?
The Crisis Of Influencer Trust
Influencers are generally known for making money through paid brand promotions and sponsored posts on social media, but methods such as these have created a conflict of interest between influencers and their communities. These kinds of brand deals usually happen off-platform via agencies. Such reliance on advertisers to monetize has tied influencers into contracts and campaigns that curtail their creativity. This has subsequently led to trust issues within the industry: just 10 percent of young consumers have a strong trust in such promotions, while 88 percent believe influencer authenticity should be the highest priority above anything else.
A crisis of trust in the media does, of course, run far deeper than influencers alone. Edelman’s 2021 Trust Barometer found that trust in all information sources, from search engines, to traditional media, to owned media and social media, is at a record low, no doubt exacerbated by the spread of misinformation through the pandemic.
Brands already knew that trust in traditional advertising was waning — numerous online studies and surveys, including one by Because last year indicate that some 91 percent of UK 16–34 year-olds have little or no trust in advertising. Ad blockers, banner blindness, and an innate sense of when to click the “skip ad” button have become commonplace ways for audiences to circumvent, ignore and spot obvious selling techniques.
Influencer marketing was meant to be the solution for brands to continue maximizing their reach and regaining more authenticity through third-party endorsement, although comments under sponsored posts, such as: “100k payday”, ”kinda sus” or “just promoting stuff now” show that consumers have become ever-more sceptical of this kind of marketing.
Of course, dialling down advertising is completely at odds with the monetization models of social networks, which naturally want to see more and not less ads on their platforms, even if this does little to improve their overall user experience. As a result frustrated social media users are bombarded with sponsored posts from influencers and on top of that, with invasive ads. It’s little wonder online creators now want to distance themselves from this perfect storm.
The Rise Of Entrepreneurial Online Creators
Many online creators are simply seeking an accessible way to nurture their entrepreneurial instincts and build respected careers, businesses and brands in a trusted environment. This is causing them to explore alternative technologies and content monetization methods and new platforms, such as WOM and our partner, YEAY, are leveraging blockchain technology to meet this demand with crypto-based content monetization models.
On YEAY, creators are not paid to promote brands per se, but rather they choose to recommend the brands and products they genuinely use and love to earn performance-based rewards for those recommendations. Before they can earn, the content passes through an authentication process over the WOM Authenticator app, where community members quality-check the content and must reach a positive consensus over the content’s rating before it can pass and start earning.
As YEAY fills with quality online creators and product recommendation content, this in turn fuels organic market demand from brands, who can purchase WOM Tokens to gain access to these authenticated recommendations for marketing and sales initiatives. Tools such as the WOM Campaign Manager enable brands to launch campaigns to promote and boost the visibility of authentic content with the consent, and fair remuneration, of the creator. Platforms also have the opportunity to monetize their interfaces by using this word-of-mouth content instead of sponsored posts and invasive ads.
Our goal at WOM is to continue building tools that empower online creators. Last month we launched the YAAAS NFT marketplace to give online creators even more opportunities to monetize their skills through content collaborations and custom experiences.
To echo Kalon Gutierrez, it’s time to recognize that online creators are often conflicted, misrepresented and misunderstood. They are also a growing and valuable portion of the economy that deserve more validation as entrepreneurs and business-builders in their own right.