Influencers – also known as content creators – have been anticipating what the public likes since the beginning. From blogging in the late ‘90s – showing a new appetite for sharing intimate thoughts in public arenas – to TikTok now – with our thirst for informal, snappy content – influencers started doing it before the rest of us could even notice. Now, their industry is going through change.
Fifty-four per cent of Gen Z – made up by those born between 1997 and 2012 – believe social media is a better place to look for new products than an online search, according to new research by Collectively. Brands’ ability to sell increasingly depends on the partnerships they forge with influencers.
Yet the influencers are growing tired of years of delays in payment and breaches of copyright. They’re moving away from the traditional partnership with brands, carving out pockets of the Internet where they can gain money directly through a platform, or from their fans’ pockets. In other words, they’re reclaiming their freedom to become rich.
This is not to say that these partnerships will disappear completely. Content creators are accepting less deals for a better price, however, and only with brands aligned with their “values”. A truism in the industry is that followers smell what’s fake: they want personalisation, that sense of authenticity that social media have learnt to sell us so well.
Content creators are sparing no effort to reverse the traditional balance of power, taking back additional control of their deals. If they manage to do so, next on their checklist will be the social media platforms. Those have been able to get a good deal out of influencers. Influencers got fame, social media platforms got revenue – the more people watched, the better for the platform. As a result, there are more famous people than rich people on the internet, according to Steven Galanis, Co-Founder and CEO of Cameo.
But this model isn’t sustainable. If the industry kept functioning solely on this business premise, content creators would all be famous but short of money, and ultimately have to swap their videos and Instagram posts for an office job. This hasn’t happened: on the contrary, the content creator industry is growing. Last year, its total size was estimated at around $100bn. What’s happened? Influencers have started launching their own brands, have jumped on tech trends like crypto and NFTs – in short, they’ve found other ways to monetise.
So the platforms have had to chase them with new offers like TikTok tips and LinkedIn’s Creator Accelerator program. The benefits of these schemes are mutual, according to Sedge Beswick, managing director of influencer marketing agency SEEN Connects. Creators are encouraged to build their audiences on one specific channel, and the platform gets access to valuable information, looking at which type of content is generating more revenue and which type of users is online. Creators, on the other hand, get money. Not that much money, though: as Galanis points out, “you can’t pay rent with the TikTok fund”. So that’s when the latest innovative offers come in.
On Cameo, you can ask Draco Malfoy from Harry Potter (aka Tom Felton) to make a personalised short video in which he wishes happy birthday to your grandma. He makes 75 per cent of what you pay, and the rest goes to the platform “hosting” him. Galanis says it’s a win-win-win: Cameo makes money, the creators make money, and you don’t make any but become an even more loyal fan – ultimately ready to spend more money.
XCAD Network is another great example: a global content creator platform allowing Youtubers to tokenise themselves, it is soon to go live. Through the platform creators get tokens, and fans get tokens too – a reward because they choose to watch from the XCAD plugin instead of Youtube. These tokens can be held in a digital wallet and converted back into pounds, or traded with other fans online. Content creators will also be able to turn “the most iconic moments into NFTs”. For CEO and Co-Founder Oliver Bell, this is a way to prioritise creators and fans instead of brands or platforms. On Youtube, the ad rates fluctuate and “really depends on what kind of content creator you are”, he says. This tokenisation process, he claims, is much more consistent.
Apps and platforms like this are mushrooming, spanning from fans forums to NewNew, an app reminiscent of Black Mirror where you pay to control aspects of content creators’ life – from what they eat to what they wear. This constantly evolving plethora of digital micro universes is the content creators’ new reality. And as their industry grows and grows, swallowing up a lot of different things online, we’ll be drawn closer to these worlds too – one more time, they have anticipated us.