Throwing money at the creator economy problem

Social platforms are racing to set up funds to encourage creators to stay engaged and continue producing content. Pinterest is enticing creators with a $500,000 fund; YouTube shells out $100 million for top “Shorts” producers; since last November Snapchat has paid $1 million every day to its top creators; Facebook spells incentive with a “B”—as in a Creator Fund totaling $1 billion.

Viewed in total, the funds appear enormous. Tik Tok established a $200 million fund in the US that will grow, it says, to $1 billion there. To cover the globe, they’ll invest another $2 billion over the next three years. The potential windfall was enough to make both creators and the media who observe these things downright giddy. But that giddiness among TikTokers quickly gave way to a sobering reality: actually partaking in the fund isn’t what it is cracked up to be. You could say in creator circles the growling went viral.

Frustration among the creator community

On October 9, 2020, TikTokers complained that although the sum total of the fund seemed colossal, actual individual payouts were meager—some $0.02-$0.04 per 1000 views, according to some TikTokers. Essentially, creators with small to middling-sized audiences don’t stand a chance to make a decent amount through the fund. On the other hand, the fund is yet another potential rich revenue stream for creators with a large number of followers.

But there were other complaints. Creators alleged a dramatic, inexplicable drop in views. TikTok denies that the algorithm deliberately distorts view count or limits the reach of particular pieces of content. Still, voices from the creator camp are getting louder and louder on Reddit and in other communities demanding an explanation of how exactly payments are being calculated (it should be noted that some creators allege that after they opted “out” of the fund, their views rose back to familiar numbers).

TikTok is very secretive about the monetisation program but has said this much: the algorithm that calculates content success within the Creator Fund is entirely different from the algorithm used to calculate the performance of other content. Different standards. But what that standard really is is also not clear.

According to TikTok influencer whisperer Robert Benjamin, the reason for the declining views are:

  • Low-quality content
  • Short term view counts
  • Non-optimised hashtags
  • A lack of consideration for watch time and video length
  • Ill-timed posts at the wrong time due to viewer changing behavior
  • Increased competition

All of this essentially means that creators have to specifically tailor the fund-related content they produce. It’s heavy lifting. Because that’s more work for what’s often already overburdened schedules. And this is only for TikTok. Since Youtube Shorts are funded, the idea of copying TikToks and pasting that content onto YT Shorts probably isn’t going to cut it for the minders at Youtube. Actually, the whole notion of Shorts on Youtube might backfire and only give TikTok free ad space.

Here are some posts from Reddit on the topic:

“Can confirm. I have a million followers, and since joining my views have tanked and I’m actually losing followers like crazy. I hope they fix it. I’d rather have the views than the money. But I raise awareness for a cause so it kills me. The $5 a day isn’t worth the lost exposure for the cause.”

“I also joined about five days ago, I normally average a minimum of 8000 but average about 13-20k a video. I can’t even get past 5000 views now and I’ve posted MULTIPLE videos. Everyone I know is experiencing the same thing, this better change soon. I didn’t make my TikTok for the money, I want to reach an audience.”

“Think about it, most of the YouTube shorts are TikTok reposts, if YouTube (Google) places their own ads on there they reap $$$ from all the people watching the shorts. Not only that, it encourages people to post on both platforms due to how much money you can make from it.”

After joining the Tiktok Fund, many creators grumbled that their videos were removed by the platform even though their content complied with TikTok’s community policy. TikTok has not offered any explanation about why the content was removed. As a result, many of the initial flock of creators left the fund and subsequently reported growth of followers and an increase in views.

As for Youtube, there’s chatter in the creator sphere that Youtube will eventually suppress reposted TikTok content. If that happens, creators will have to produce even more content for each specific channel and sub-channel on the platforms.

The importance of keeping creators happy

There’s no question that the emergence of social media provided creators with the opportunity to build businesses and develop careers geared towards attracting ever-growing audiences. But creators have also long argued, perhaps justifiably, that they were not getting their fair share of the profits. The unprecedented success of the big social media platforms is due mainly to creators setting trends—engaging and creating communities. According to an Oxford Economics report, the creative ecosystem of Youtube contributes billions of dollars to the GDP in countries like the US, Great Britain, and France, for example.

As this new media world evolves and paywall services and platforms proliferate, creators are no longer solely reliant on social media platforms for revenue. If they’re wise enough, creators have long realised that they’ve simply been leasing space on those social media platforms. Not owning it. And Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, and co. can decide to seize that space any moment. It’s why creators have been slowly building their own content—leveraging tools and opportunities that arise through the flux of companies popping up to serve the creator economy.

Social platform giants need to pay attention. When creators leave, they’ll take the majority of their audience with them.

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