Alternative revenue streams emerged as a response to uncertain times, from regular people turning their passions and interests in a career, to celebrities, designers and artists finding different channels to monetize their work. I’m talking about the creator economy.

It is defined as: the class of business built over 50 million independent content creators, curators and community builders, plus the software and finance tools designed to help them with growth and monetization. According to the venture capital firm Signalfire’s report: Creator Economy Market Map[1], it is the “fastest-growing type of small business”.

As other 2021 trends, the creator economy has grown from being an emerging one, then gained traction and now: creators are moving their top fans off social networks and into their own websites, apps, or monetization tools, and becoming founders or gaining power in the media ecosystem.

Today, 2 million people are able to make a full-time career out of their content, the evolution of this trend could be divided into three phases: 

First, the creators combined storytelling with leadership skills, transforming their fans into a community. The second phase was monetizing reach: Brands started to notice influencers and invested in advertising products, however, even though influencer marketing is expected to have a double digit growth this year, some creators realized that losing control over the narrative of paid posts hurt their engagement and considered owning the process by changing their business model.

That consideration led into the new phase we are entering today: creators are noticing their capabilities to generate action within their community and deciding to go beyond the algorithm restrictions of the mainstream platforms (Instagram, YouTube, Facebook), creating hyper-specific revenue streams that allows fans to be a little closer to their favorite opinion leader, and pay for perks that go from voting to have some incidence in a creator’s day-to-day decisions, to exclusive content or 1:1 zoom meetings. The possibility of transforming art, memes or design into Non Fungible Tokens (NFTs) could be the sign that this trend is here to stay, at least in the foreseeable future. 

Emerging platforms like Clubhouse identified the market and included a direct monetization stream for their top content creators. Twitter, Youtube, and Facebook could not be left behind and also announced that they will build new features to help content creators earn money and connect better with brands. 

The Next Step for Brands

Before considering opening the position of Clubhouse Strategist or Chief NFT Creator it is important to understand challenges and opportunities of the creator economy boom from the point of view of a brand.

Business as usual with influencers might not be the best approach, not every content creator will be developing the same revenue channels. Some might continue with traditional influencer marketing campaigns, while others take advantage of new tools to approach their communities. There will not be a “one-size-fits-all” solution, brand strategists should be thinking about reshaping alliances, considering hybrid models, but mostly about turning the brand into a community creator as well.

One of the biggest mistakes will be trying to push the same corporate narrative into the creator’s content channels. Since their community is becoming a key element to obtain revenue, creators will be more careful about the brands they choose to partner with, they have to help them reinforce their narrative and add something valuable to the fandom.

To build a community of their own, brands must rethink and reshape their actions as well as their communication strategy. Niche prevails over massification and connection is what enhances the sense of belonging. Communities require closeness, a human approach, and time.  One brand might build several communities, depending on purpose, product, values, and messages. Getting insights about  niches from a more human perspective, beyond traditional marketing targets, is a great way to start a roadmap.

A different path is to connect with existing communities, acknowledging that connecting is not the same thing as selling. Identifying the value that can be added into the community’s purpose or which conversations are the most suitable to jump in, might help a brand have a more organic attempt to be “one of the guys”.

Uncertainty is the mother of innovation, I believe that we are seeing the evolution of PR and Marketing beyond traditional media and the division between earned, paid and owned channels. There will be more to learn and discuss about this emerging business model as it evolves, for now it is a good time for brands to get insights, perform trials and start building connections.