April 16, 2021
The largest threat to the creator economy is the growing issue of discoverability. If not acknowledged, the lack of discoverability for small-mid size creators means less distribution of revenue and less of a chance they will remain in the creator economy.
Every week there seems to be a new social media platform emerging. It started with TikTok, now it's Clubhouse, Bitclout, Racket etc. In a perfect world, the emergence of more social platforms means more growth of the creator economy. That growth means more money, more companies and more creators. Nothing is perfect and like Biggie says, "Mo money, Mo Problems". With the growth of the creator economy, we're also getting the full picture on the two main issues impacting creators:
1. Creators need more ways too monetize.
2. Creators need more ways to be discovered.
On the surface, it makes sense to prioritize creator monetization, aka helping creators and influencers make money. Most companies are prioritizing this in some form such as YouTube payouts, TikTok's creator funds, Patreon's rev share model, and Clubhouse tipping feature. The more creators that make money, the more creator economy grows. Right? Not exactly. Most revenue nowadays is held by the top 1% . Long-term growth of the creator lies with the ability to improve discoverability of creators not in the top 1%. The immediate solution to discoverability lies with a model that incentives and rewards creators for cosigning and highlighting small to midsize creators.
To most, discoverability doesn't seem like a problem. Create good content and you will be discovered. Yes and no. Platforms such as TikTok and YouTube which do an amazing job at highlighting new channels, content and ultimately creators, but it isn't perfect. In a creators economy, attention is the means by which creators can survive and thrive. Little attention means little thriving. You need eyeballs and you need attention if you're going to receive significant payouts from platforms. But even with that attention, you're not guaranteed to make a living.
In 2020 YouTube led the pack with $30billion in payouts to creators. Even with these payouts, most YouTubers are still living below the poverty line. YouTube isn't the only platform with this issue.
While the algorithm is impressive and platforms are upping their payouts, it's not solving the problem. The problem doesn't just lie with increasing payouts. Especially as the ones that receive those payouts are already in the upper echelon. The problem is ensuring that payouts are being dispersed to creators outside of the top 1%.
Platforms understand the importance of improving the distribution of revenue amongst creators, but their priorities tend to fall on the top percentile of creators. Instagram, TikTok, YouTube and Clubhouse regularly provide tips, advice, resources, and better advertising rates to their top creators. It makes sense right, focus on the 20% of creators generating 80% of revenue.
The problem here is that the 20% of creators are already receiving a majority of payouts. And due to the nature of algorithms, their videos will consistently go viral due to the sheer number of followers they have. The likelihood of this increases if they're an omni channel creator with followers across multiple platforms.
This is partly the reason we've seen the success and rise of new social platforms. The old guard ( Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn) got lazy. TikTok became a hit mostly because other platforms made it difficult to grow and be discovered. TikTok's claim to fame was their ability to help you become famous overnight. Essentially their ace was discoverability. It worked for a bit until it didn't. Especially creators from diverse backgrounds were sometimes muted, slapped with community guidelines, or not credited with the trends they started. To compete with discoverability of TikTok, platforms made adjustments in their algorithm, created lookalike products, and start schilling out money like Snapchat's $1M daily payout from it's Spotlight program.
The current state of the creator economy is similar to the money printing in the U.S.Throwing money at creators is a temporary fix but one that can have longterm consequences.
When looking to improve the discoverability for creators, we need to look at ways to align incentives between platforms, large creators and small to midsize creators. Incentivizing creators through a mixture of social proof and financial bonuses could be a way to help improve the discoverability of creators.
One way this can be achieved is through a system of cosigns or stamp approvals call the layered cosign. Depending on the size of the creator, they will earn reputation points or get paid for recommending small-midsize creators that others find interesting.
Small - midsize creators can pay to get in front of large creators in order to receive a cosign or get paid for recommending a specific number of small-midsize creators a month.
Creators that hover at the size of MrBeast, the incentive for them to recommend small and midsize to creators is financial with the bonus potnetial of getting more superfans. Essentially, platforms would provide large creators with badges or branded checkmarks (e.g. a stamp of approval). A larger creator provides their stamp of approval to a small or midsize creator video which then gets added to their profile. Larger creators will receive bonus payouts from platforms if other people begin to subscribe and follow the smaller creator they provided a cosign.
Small-midsize creators will be encouraged to use a similar feature but due to having a smaller number of subscribers, their cosigns will work as social proof. Remember Myspace Top Friends? Rather than cause online wars between creators, a reimagined version could be a system where creators list 5-10+ a creators on a bi-weekly basis as profiles to checkout. The creator that curates the list will have to state why he recommended those creators. Creators that are featured on multiple recommendation lists will accrue points or reputation which makes them more credible. Once creators reach a follower or point threshold (which ever comes first) they'll be able to receive a bonus payout similar to larger creators for recommending new channels.
Only creators that are actively sharing and recommending channels will benefit from this. Specifically, if one creator is signed up for the stamp of approval program and recommends someone else that isn't, the creator making the recommendation won't be able to recommend the creator not enrolled in the program. Additionally, creators that fail to recommend creators for a set amount of time won't be able to participate in the program until they make a recommendation.
For platforms it's a win across the board. A combination of human curation and AI means more creators will be incentivized to recommend other channels and create content which means more engagement, stronger retention, and more money for creators thus attracting other creators.
The system isn't perfect. There are still potential pitfalls to account for:
1. Ensuring large creators aren't paid off (aka bribed) to give their stamp of approval to small-midsize creators.
2. Making sure small-midsize creators don't form engagement pods.
3. Fine tuning the stamp approval/cosign algorithm for small-midsize creators
The "Layered Cosign" system isn't the only way to help increase discoverability for creators. Other approaches involve in-house accelerators and coaching cohorts. The challenge with the latter is they aren't scalable and they leave a large portion of creators to fend for themselves. Regardless of how well systems and recommendation engines perform, all creators won't be discovered in the same capacity. Still, the effort needs to be made because the more creators that are discovered the more creators are incentivized to stick to their craft and the more of a chance they'll remain in the creator economy.
When solving the long-term challenges of the creator economy, monetization is one part of the equation and discoverability is another, but there's also mental health challenges and resources for hiring but that's a conversation for another day.
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