The multibillion-dollar industry of game creators, beauty vloggers, podcast producers, fitness influencers, newsletter writers, and other social media stars that make up the “creator economy,” started well before 2021. However, 2021 saw more platforms spending more money and resources on independent content creators than ever before.
This year, companies that had previously shown little interest in courting “influencers” or building relationships with creatives began investing in building monetization tools for them. Even the most established companies that are friendly to innovators have significantly increased their investments through new funds and instruments.
Twitter, which previously only had one monetization feature — a video-centric tool used by publishers — has chosen to reorient its entire platform around creators. She built Super Follows, a Patreon-esque subscription service for influencers. Ticketed Spaces has launched, so people can make money off the booming live audio feature. She launched the in-app stumble program, and began building a platform for newsletters.
Snapchat, which at one point brushed off the idea of influencers, just announced that it has funneled over $250 million to creators via its Spotlight feature, which launched at the end of 2020. Even some of the app’s biggest stars are getting their own specials. On Snapchat Discover.
Facebook has also shown a renewed interest in influencers and content creators who have been asking for more opportunities from the platform. Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly named creators a top priority for the company and announced a plan to invest $1 billion in tools for them by the end of 2022. Since then, Facebook and Instagram have released an amazing number of updates focused on creators and monetization features.
Platforms not traditionally associated with influencers have also started throwing money at creators and monetization features. Pinterest launched a $500,000 Creators Fund and created its first monetization tools. LinkedIn – yes, that LinkedIn – announced a $25 million fund. Added club tipping. Meanwhile, Tumblr has launched a subscription service for bloggers.
Even YouTube, the most established platform for creators to make money, has identified “growing the creator economy” as a top priority for 2021. It launched an all-new $100 million fund for shorts, a TikTok-like feature. TikTok itself, which launched a $200 million fund in 2020, has also launched new monetization features.
With all that money pouring in, it’s no surprise that the number of individual creators is also booming. One report from payments company Stripe, which offers payments to dozens of influencer platforms, found that the number of creators rose 48% in 2021, compared to 2020. That’s just a “tiny portion” of the overall ecosystem, according to the company.
“If the recent exponential growth of the creator economy continues, these 50 platforms could support more than 15.5 million content creators within five years,” the company wrote.
The growth was not just limited to the major platforms. Startups that cater to the needs and wants of content creators are also on the rise, with more than $3.7 billion in funding going toward “creator-focused startups,” according to a report in the information.
The pandemic has been one of the main drivers of this surge in activity. While creators were making money long before the pandemic hit, the industry was almost completely primed to absorb the many changes it brought about.
“I think the pandemic has definitely driven the creative economy through necessity and choice,” Lee Jin, founder of Atelier Ventures, a venture capital firm that invests in the creative economy, said in an interview earlier this year.
“Necessity means that a lot of people have been left without alternatives for work and income and had to turn to online platforms to continue their creative careers. And choice in the sense that we obviously had a lot of free time during the pandemic as we were kind of stuck at home. People took that time and started creating the content.”
At the same time, the pandemic appears to have changed the way many people think about business itself. While this year has been full of angst about labor shortages and whether or not people want to go back to work, it’s not hard to understand why some, especially young people, might choose a different path. Zuckerberg described this transformation as “the ability for people to make a living by expressing their creativity and doing the things they want to do, rather than the things they have to do.” He said that creators deserve a “reward” for their work,
But as Jane and others have pointed out, major platforms are suddenly not embracing creators simply because they care about helping them create independent, sustainable businesses. The economy is ultimately weighted in their favour, too.
Content creators are responsible for a great deal of engagement on the platforms they choose. If enough of the app’s biggest stars leave, they can take large groups of users with them. Revenue from creators could also one day help Facebook generate income beyond ads. Zuckerberg has pledged not to deduct their earnings until 2023, but even a relatively small commission can eventually add up to a significant amount. Similarly, Twitter said it plans to cut 20 percent of Super Follow subscriptions from the highest-paid content creators, though it may be some time before the feature makes serious money for anyone.
Content creators are also critical to attracting new users and keeping the platforms in place entertained. For Facebook, they can help the company avoid, or at least mitigate, the “existential threat” of falling back on teen users. Snapchat Spotlight has been described as a major source of growth. Even LinkedIn said that content creators can help their users “improve what they do.”
In the end, though, it’s the platforms that will benefit the most from creators, according to Jane. “Nothing is done on a pure altruistic basis,” she said. “It is to strengthen the company and its profitability.”
All products recommended by Engadget are handpicked by our editorial team, independently of the parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.