Amid our post-industrial era of the American economy, the rise of the digital realm proved to be the leading edge of our country’s technological primacy. The dawn of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, and other social networks usher in new communication platforms and, more importantly, new ways to earn a living.
Platform revenue sharing and third-party sponsorships made making a living from creating content online possible for the first time.
In the early years of these social platforms, it was easy to be discovered by potential fans and build a following. Yet paradoxically, as these platforms grew in daily and monthly active users, it became harder for new creators to build a following of their own. The content recommendation algorithms on these platforms 1) would change without notice, 2) favored creators with larger fan bases, and 3) had (and still have) inconsistent demonetization policies. Therefore, newer creators would struggle to establish a presence unless you were one of the first on the platform.
We’ve already seen evidence of individual creators building a massive audience, such as my article, “The Rehabilitation of Cameron Dallas,” featuring the man himself.
Enter TikTok. The short-form video social media app blew up shortly after Chinese company ByteDance acquired TikTok’s predecessor, musicall.ly, in a bid for the parent company’s goal of global expansion.
TikTok was a stunning success from the start. Immediately, one could see its similarities with the defunct platform Vine, with its initial limit of 15 seconds (compared to Vine’s of six initially). (TikTok now allows for videos up to ten minutes in length to be uploaded to its service.)
(In my mind, TikTok is what Vine could, and maybe should, have been. But that’s an argument for another time. Vine walked so TikTok could run!)
However, what made TikTok so disruptive was its content recommendation algorithm. There have been many an article examining how it works, but its results can’t be denied. TikTok’s stream of content is so well tailored to your tastes the app serves warnings to its users, suggesting they take a break.
TikTok’s most fascinating triumph is now its algorithms help fans find the content and, thus, the content creators they should follow. It’s incredible how the app allows creators to blow up rapidly, and yet at the same time, there isn’t one major trend of a genre of content dominating user feeds.
TikTok has the best of both worlds: efficient discovery for both its viewers and creators and an extremely diverse set of content to serve user feeds to rapidly experiment and see what viewers will latch onto to keep their eyeballs on the screen.
It’s TikTok’s incredible success in the face of behemoths such as Facebook, Snapchat, YouTube, and Instagram represents the promise of the Creator Economy.
The wide variety of diverse types of content that go viral on TikTok reflects the potential that anyone could potentially make a living online, assuming they are able to monetize their newfound audience successfully.
Unfortunately, the Chinese-owned app struggles like other platforms to help its creators monetize. It’s rolled out a few different monetization initiatives, but none have stuck yet. TikTok only generated $4B in advertising revenue last year.
Creators who do not want to rely on unstable income from these platforms turn to their fans for money through subscription platforms like Subify, Fanfix, and Patreon, not to mention Instagram and YouTube’s own subscription functionality, respectively. They also go on to use link-in-bio companies like Pillar, Linktree, Beacons.ai, and others as a way to centralize their social media handles and presence across various platforms.
It’s clear that the missing link between discovery and monetization is community. In this stage of social media, it is not about who has the biggest audience anymore, but who can cultivate the most relevant audience for their own content.
TikTok, as a tool, is an incredible discovery mechanism helping your content gets viewed by the viewers you want to attract as a creator.
Fanfix and similar subscription platforms work best after you have established a following.
But how do you take your following and turn it into a community?
That’s the billion-dollar question in the nascent Creator Economy. If it becomes effortless to convert followings into communities (which then can be monetized!), then more and more individuals have the potential to become creators themselves, which then makes the phrase “Creator Economy” a true, material reality. People like myself, who have worked regular jobs for the majority of their careers, can find opportunities to turn their creative passion into a full-time calling.
From my last piece of professional writing:
“Becoming a creator isn’t without risk; many burgeoning creatives face financial instability in the early stages of their career and a lack of benefits commonplace in traditional forms of employment. The material foundation for this future of creative self-employment does not exist. However, Dallas’s incarnation as a creator and resurrection as a founder is the Revelation of the Creator Economy’s immanent presence.”
In TikTok, I find the Creator Economy’s salvation. The question becomes: who will build the technologies to deliver this promising future?
If Cameron Dallas and other massive content creators’ success prove the possibility of the Creator Economy, then I want to realize its viability as a writer creating content.