Thanks to the rise of social media, we’ve witnessed the growth of the creator economy: digital creators making, distributing, and profiting off online content. Typically, these creators use their platforms to share a specific skill, perspective, or ability.
It’s not anything new; the creator economy has been around for a while. But thanks to COVID-19, the rise of the gig economy, and the expansion of platforms like TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, Substack, and podcasting apps, there’s a perfect storm for market saturation.
Market saturation isn’t a strong enough word. The creator economy is creating a false promise that monetizing and building a business online is simple.
I was one of these people who bought into this false promise. In 2015, I graduated from the University of Georgia, emptied my savings account, and chased my dreams. I built a publishing platform for 800+ creators and myself to monetize. I never had a full-time job and I didn’t have the proper network. Frankly, I lacked the skills, experience, and understanding of how to succeed in the content space.
A year and a half later, I was sharing a room in my friend Marshall Mosher’s apartment. While this is a “right of passage” for any entrepreneur, I could’ve saved myself a lot of pain along the way if I had a better toolkit.
The creator economy is giving false hope, but why?
A modern-day siren
In Greek mythology, sirens were dangerous creatures who used enchanting singing voices to lure in sailors––only to cause the sailors to shipwreck on the rocky coast.
The creator economy is a modern-day siren. The term is a popular buzzword that sounds sexy and enticing. People see the “easy” success of others, so they create a platform themselves. Only then do they realize they don’t have a plan or understanding of the long game.
It’s easy to get sucked in. All it takes is a few clicks of your mouse to launch a platform; if you have insight to share and an audience who’s interested, why wouldn’t you? When everyone follows this logic, the market becomes saturated.
Saturation in itself isn’t a bad thing. The world is full of unique people with specific interests. The more creators out there, the easier it is for all of us to find a community where we belong. That means more impact, more connectivity, and more learning. That’s beautiful.
The problem with the oversaturated creator economy is that creators have the wrong idea about what it takes to build a brand.
When it takes 5 minutes to set up a platform, there isn’t any barrier to entry. You don’t need a plan or knowledge on how to succeed. The creator economy isn’t just saturated, it’s saturated with people who don’t know how to thrive in the digital content space.
As my good friend Robbie Crabtree, Program Director at On Deck Performative Speaking says, “People in the creator economy need to understand that their success is like chess. The steps they plot today will impact their direction tomorrow. The first move is just as important as moves 10, 100, and 1,000. They all work together. But most people don’t understand what the chessboard looks like at move 1,000, so they aimlessly make their first 10 moves.”
Read what other entrepreneurs think about the creator economy here.
What’s a realistic example of success?
It seems like content creators’ success happens overnight. You click on an influencer’s profile, see they have 100,000+ followers, but you have no idea what it took for them to get there.
In the business community, people want to learn from experienced individuals with valuable insights. So you might take notice of what they do: curate newsletters, host a podcast, tweet, etc. You think, “that’s what I need to do to amass a following.”
There is so much more to it than that. Similar to how Instagram only shows a fraction of people’s lives, content creators only show a fraction of what it takes to build a successful brand.
Look at two examples of people who launched their brands with thoughtful, well-informed plans:
You might know Nir Eyal from his thought leadership brand or his books Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products and Indistractable. Before all this, he started multiple companies, received his MBA from Stanford, and studied how to best build habit-forming products. He used these research insights to finely-manicure each word of his book. Today, Nir shares hundreds of pieces of content across his channels every week in articles and newsletters.
Atomic Habits author James Clear spent almost a decade writing on his website. Only this past January did he hit 1 million subscribers, and that was after publishing a New York Times best-selling book in 2018. James is a perfect example of the time, patience, and diligence necessary to establishing a well-rooted network of people interested in your content.
Influencers love to share their success stories, but their wisdom might not be applicable to someone who’s starting and needs to put long, hard work into creating a brand. Taking brand advice from “overnight” successes is like asking a one-hit-wonder band how to stay relevant in the music industry.
So if a brand isn’t built by just routinely pushing out content, then what is a brand?
A brand is the harmonious combination of a message and a product. (To learn more about what a brand is and how to craft one that is an extension of you, read our Brand IP article.) Creating an impactful, long-lasting brand takes years of thoughtful strategizing and orchestration.
Avoiding the creator economy trap
When you’re inundated with information of easy success, how do you take concrete steps to develop a solid, successful brand?
Have the right expectations
Everyone wishes for overnight results, whether it be for fitness, mental health, home improvement, or starting a business. Like anything else, building your brand takes consistent dedication over many years. Recording one podcast or sending out your first newsletter won’t launch you to success––you need to put in the work and do it hundreds of times. This “work” might not be fun all the time. You’ll learn hard lessons on your journey to success, but along the way, you’ll discover more about yourself, your tribe, and your mission than you could ever imagine.
Think long-term, then make a plan
What do you want to be able to do 10 or 20 years from now? Which audiences do you want to impact and why? Think about how your brand will enable you to bring your vision to life.
Remember not to box yourself into a product. Too many entrepreneurs see their book/podcast/course/company as their brand. These are extensions of your brand. Your brand should stand alone regardless of what product you’re selling.
Get outside help
Building a brand is hard work, that’s why BW Missions exists. Our goal is to help you define your identity so you can create your brand, find where you belong, and discover your path as a digital citizen. We don’t believe in shortcuts or overnight success: understanding your brand’s foundation, value, and offering is truly hard work. But it’s what we love to do more than anything else.
Your brand is at the center of everything. Getting it right from day one is key. Don’t let seemingly overnight successes cloud your vision and judgment. The best way––the right way––to find your foothold in the creator economy is to develop a brand identity that’s a mirror of yourself. It’s a long process, but it’s worth it.
Just think, BW Missions is 3 years in and we’re still developing our brand identity. (And we don’t imagine stopping anytime soon.) We see the value in constantly evolving, consistently deploying content, creating value for our audience, and always staying ahead. By the fall, we may just be something entirely new.
To sum it all up: long-term thinkers with a history of hard work and diligence have a better chance at finding success in the creator economy.
Many thanks to my good friend Robbie Crabtree for his insights on this topic.