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To be, or Not to be… a Creator.

This creator economy thing has to do with being famous without previous experience as a rock star, professional actor or athlete, royalty, otherwise super rich, or a politician. It’s about being famous for being yourself. Could you be a creator?

Creatordom is often described as ‘making a living at doing something you love’. Some people end up doing it by accident, because they have a passion, perserverance and post on social media. Posting to a public platform sets creators apart from people quietly pursuing their interests. But there’s more to it than that.

To begin, here’s what I’ve distilled1 about how creators came to be:

  • In the beginning, there were entrepreneurs who dreamt of developing social media platforms. For success, people had to use the platform, posting everyday whimsical stuff (what they had for lunch, thought about giraffes, or their next shoe purchase). Platforms needed these creators of content to succeed.
  • People flocked to the platforms in droves, competiting to post better and better content without any expectation of payment2. The platforms flourished, and made a business of selling ads related to the free content created by users3.
  • Time when on, some people who posted free content became very popular, even with people they didn’t know. Creating great content took time and resources but that worked out. 
  • Popular creators used the advertising functions on the platforms to support themselves financially, and do more creative work while using the platforms to increase their following.
  • Commercial entities watched and realized great marketing could be done by engaging an influential creator, with their vast audience, to speak positively about the products of their company. They paid the creators to promote their brand on social media platforms.
  • The creator economy expanded, as did the platforms for creators to connect with their followers, and the ways creators could support themselves financially to keep creating, such as embedded ads, sponsored posts, merchandise sales, subscription and donations. 
  • Now, the platforms compete to attract creators to their offerings.

Technically everyone who posts on social media is part of the creator economy, supporting the advertisement-based business model of established, mature enterprises such as Facebook and Google.

There are influencers and creators. Not every creator is an influencer, which is fine with many of them. Some influencers are creators, and some have followed a more traditional path to influencing such as being a celebrity, although using the information superhighway to get there. An influencer is someone who can shift people’s beliefs or thoughts. That sounds very powerful, and it is. Being an influencer is one path, but not the only one to monetizing ‘the work that you love’.4

Who is a creator? As a guardian of intellectual property, I include anyone who presents a new thing of their own crafting, which could be either a tangible object or artwork, a live performance or recording of such5, or a written work. I include:

  • Artists (visual, music or other formats), 
  • Designers (of clothes, objects, spaces or buildings), 
  • Providers of insight, instruction, opinion, or analysis (through blog, podcast, Tiktok, other video forms), 
  • Entertainers (again through blog, podcast, Tiktok, other video forms)
  • Gamers – either as providers of information, entertainment or virtual stuff that works in the game,
  • Curators (fashion, art, beauty/grooming supplies, music, food, travel experiences). 

There’s a lot of content out there, with about as many reasons it was created as there are creators. Some creators want to express themselves, some want to share. Others create online content to support physically-based businesses, like home building services. Some start sharing without a particular goal, then find a niche. Others are mission oriented, looking to build a following that will allow them to earn big bucks through lucrative influencer deals.

Could everyone be a creator? Absolutely. Whatever our imaginations, thought processes, or hands come up with, are our creations. 

Is there an audience for your creations if you post it on social media? Probably, but sizes may vary. The joy of the internet is finding people with similar interests, although this isn’t as trivial as it looks on the screen. If you are passionate about green automotive paint, walruses, or the history of screwheads, it may take a bit of work to find those with similar interests. 

Can anyone make money creating on the internet? See above regarding size of audience. A vague equation for this is: making money equals number of people interested divided by number of creators producing in the area. If you are the 6,321st person to post a brussel sprout recipe or how to mud drywall, you are less likely to garner what amounts to a paying audience than if you are the only person who can explain quantum computing or municipal bylaws. This said, it always amazes me that there is room for new perspectives on common things, like new restaurants, flavours of tea, sneakers, or understanding your child. 

A bit of reality about the numbers. There are a lot of creators. Only a few make serious money. Most make very little. This article6 has lots of data to support this statement: “Spotify … only about 0.2% of the 7m-plus musicians on the platform make more than $50,000 a year in royalties; just 3% make more than $1,000. … On Patreon, …the top earner makes around $2M, but about 98% make less than the federal minimum wage, ” & “Making real money requires a huge audience: even 1M views on YouTube might make the poster only about $2,000. “

There’s a lot of all traditional business to earning a living sharing your content. This means finding your audience, catering to your audience, and working hard, smart and long. Being in the right place at the right time is helpful but difficult to plan. 

The answer to the question, ‘can anyone be a creator’ is: Yes. Where that takes you is a different question. It’s all good, the point of the creator economy is to do what you love. The rest will follow, as long as your expectations are in the right place. 

1 The reading I’ve done has surprisingly consistent stories in the following sources: on the web , in the business media “Serfing the web; The creator economy.” The Economist, 8 May 2021, in an academic journal Journal of Brand Strategy VOL. 9, NO. 2, 152–162 AUTUMN/FALL 2020, and in a book by Stacey Landreth Grau ‘Celebrity 2.0 The Role of Social Media Influencer Marketing in Buiding Brands’ Business Expert Press, 2022

2 Various motivations are possible, some are the competitive nature of humans (I have the most interesting life) and the tendency to mimicry (he posted about his surgery so I should).

3 Not quite that simple or direct. As creators posted about whatever they were interested in, targeted marketing became a thing online. This is the essence of the platform business model: ads can be directed more specifically to those who are likely to be interested. If you are selling stuff, what’s not to love?

4 The role of motive in becoming an influencer is very important. Just as starting to play music with the goal of becoming a rock star or starting a company with the goal of getting to a billion dollar valuation, wanting to be an influencer will not work unless motives related to the target audience are fulfilled. This is another story.

5 By intellectual property law, a performance is any sort of play, talk, show, concert etc. Podcasts, vlogs, YouTube videos of how to repair asphalt or yoga routines all fall into the category.

6“Serfing the web; The creator economy.” The Economist, 8 May 2021, p. 26(US). Gale OneFile: CPI.Q, Accessed 29 July 2022. 

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