The word “creator” has existed for centuries. It’s been applied to godly figures, amateur artists, and social media mavens alike. In the 2021 marketing landscape, “creator” is everywhere. At AMP, we’re seeing more and more influencers identifying as “creators” instead of “influencers.” Social media heavy hitters like TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube have recently developed services and tools dedicated to creators (e.g. TikTok Creator Portal, Instagram Creator Studio, Facebook Creator Studio, and the YouTube Creators Channel). The creator economy is said to be worth just over $100 billion dollars, according to a Forbes article published last month.
But what exactly is a “creator”? How did these individuals become such a core part of the contemporary marketing scene? And most importantly, how can your brand build partnerships with creators who your target audience connects with? In this blog post, we’ll explore the rise of the creator, as it pertains to our industry, and share insights to help you find the right partners.
What is a creator?
The term itself is a matter of much debate. Different social media platforms have their own definitions. A 2019 eMarketer article highlights a few:
YouTube has essentially used the same definition for years, but it segments creators into “established” and “aspiring” to account for varying follower counts. Facebook considers any entity that builds community by publishing content on Facebook to be a creator, whether an individual video creator, publisher or media company. Instagram considers influencers and creators to be one and the same. The company says it uses the term creator because that’s how many of its partners see themselves. Twitter defines a creator as any entity that produces content. It further divides the term into “artists” (known for their skill at creating a particular type of content) and “influencers” (known for their voice or their thought leadership in a particular community).
Some people seek to define creators by comparing them to influencers. One measure of comparison is looking at the different content they produce. In a 2021 blog post, the video creation and monetization platform Curastory states:
Working with a creator and working with an influencer will produce very different marketing results. Influencers will influence how their followers dress, what makeup they should wear, or what products to buy. Creators, on the other hand, create content that gets people engaged — how-to guides, a-day-in-the-life, tips, tutorials, etc.
At AMP, we also find it helpful to consider creators and influencers together. The terms have a number of similarities: They both produce content, partner with brands, and tend to have large followings – yet their function and the purpose that drives them is not quite the same. Anna Tremblay, AMP Senior Manager of PR & Influencer Relations, explains:
We interface with so many influencers, and very few of them refer to themselves as influencers. I almost think of it less as a title — like influencer or creator — and almost like a function. These are all people who create and post content, but they can do it for the purpose of creating or the purpose of influencing. And sometimes those needs collide, especially when working with a brand. I do think that TikTok, in particular, has ramped up the use of the word “creator” because that is how TikTok has branded their own influencers.”
How did creators become such a core part of the contemporary marketing scene?
A 2019 article from The Atlantic suggests that the term “creator” began to gain popularity in 2011. Around that time, Next New Networks — a multichannel network that was later bought by YouTube — developed a program for YouTube stars called New Next Creators. This language, as well as the concept of creators, became a major focus for YouTube. The Atlantic article says, “YouTube was so successful at pushing the term creator that other platforms soon co-opted it.”
However, other sources portray creators as a newer part of the social media landscape. A 2021 New Yorker article dubs creators the successors of influencers:
The influencer is a fading stock character of the Internet’s commedia dell’arte. The cliché of the influencer emerged, during the twenty-tens, from multimedia-rich platforms like Instagram and Snapchat, where the goal was to forge as curated and polished an image as possible. Influencers were social-media users as celebrities, with much of the vanity and purposelessness that the comparison implies. By now, the connotations of being an influencer are mostly negative—edited selfies, vapid captions, faux relatability, staged private-jet photos, and unmarked sponsorships. Accordingly, social-media platforms are embracing a new buzzword as a successor: “creator.”
“Creator” is a term with a more wholesome air, conjuring an Internet in which we are all artisanal blacksmiths plying our digital craft.
*Side Note: We disagree that influencers are fading characters on the scene, and believe that there’s a time and place for brands to successfully work with both influencers and creators.
While it is difficult to nail down the exact origins of “creator” in the marketing industry, we can speak to the key factors that have contributed to their current popularity in this landscape.
Factor 1: Creators speak to consumers’ desire for authenticity.
Today’s consumers crave authenticity. More brands are ditching the airbrush and speaking out on social causes. Fewer consumers are expecting perfection from ads. And this lust for realness applies to creators as well.
When done correctly, partnering with a creator can give your brand campaigns an air of authenticity. Creators can take your products and show their audience how they uniquely connect with them. It’s high-quality branded content with a personal flair.
At AMP, we love partnering with creators who are genuinely passionate about our clients’ products. For example, in 2020, we joined our client Maruchan to partner with influencer foodies like @foodieonfleek. These creative partnerships yielded elevated recipes with a Maruchan product base, and naturally resonated with both the creators’ followers and our client’s customers.
Factor 2: Content consumption is a significant part of 2021 life, and creators develop content.
As the pandemic continues, and the Delta variant raises COVID-19 precautions and fears, many people are still working from home and opting for at-home activities. Even if the world is more open than it was a year ago, many people still depend on virtual entertainment and social media to relax and engage with others. Creators provide an emotional escape or moment of connection for viewers, and brands can leverage these interactions to connect with consumers.
Factor 3: Short-form video content has gained huge popularity among creators and brands alike in recent years.
Short-form video content is video content with a brief duration, although how brief depends on the platform. A 2021 blog post by the software company HubSpot explains, “A video up to 2 minutes and 30 seconds in length is considered short-form. But there's no universal number that everyone has agreed on.” And it’s worth noting that these time limits shift based on trends. For example, TikTok recently increased its video time limit to three minutes (the previous limit was 60 seconds). Unsurprisingly, competitor Instagram Reels soon after increased its limit from 30 seconds to 60 seconds).
In recent years, we’ve seen a variety of social platforms pop up that are dedicated solely to short-form video content (e.g. TikTok, Musical.ly, Vine). Similarly, many of the other major social platforms have leaned more into short-form content (e.g. Facebook and Instagram rolled out their Story features). This is great news for creators, who are essential to the success and content creation of these apps.
It’s also great news for brands. AMP Senior Engagement Strategist Kaitlyn Feniello says:
Even before TikTok and Reels were a thing, advertisers have been talking for so long about how videos need to be short in order to get your attention. In the paid social space, you have .25 seconds to grab someone’s attention on an ad before they move on. People have always known that these videos need to be shorter. There’s also something to be said about YouTube videos and these longer form videos that people are watching like TV. But I think that’s the difference. If there’s a video that you’re willing to watch for 30 minutes, that’s more like the mindset of watching TV versus consuming content on TikTok.
If TikTok’s spot as the #1 globally downloaded app in 2020 is any indication, short-form video content is here to stay. And brands shouldn’t pass up on the opportunity to create their own short-form video content.
So, how can your brand find and hire a creator? And how do you make sure the partnership is a good fit?
The Internet has a variety of free and paid options for locating creators and influencers:
- Free options:
- TikTok Creator Marketplace
- Upfluence Chrome extension
- Check out the TikTok Discover page
- Peruse the Instagram Explore page
- Search the YouTube Trending page
- Explore hashtags on relevant social media platforms
- Do a Google search for top creators in your industry, then follow them on the social channels that your brand uses
- Paid search programs:
You could also partner with a marketing, social media, or influencer agency to help you build strong partnerships with creators. If you’re interested in going down this route, AMP offers influencer marketing services and we’d love to talk to you about working together. Feel free to contact us with any inquiries!
Finally, here’s a quick summary of list of DOs and DON’Ts to help you find a creator who resonates with your target audience and fits with your brand:
- Look for creators who have an authentic personal brand.
- Consider if the creator you want to partner with reflects your brand’s values.
- Seek partnerships with creators who have significant followings on the platforms your brand wants to leverage.
- When asked which types of creators and partnerships work best for different platforms, AMP Engagement Strategist Rashida Hull said:
It depends on the campaign you’re trying to do and where the campaign is going to live. Ideally, if you have an influencer that is on TikTok and Instagram, and has a huge following on both platforms, and you’re going to do a campaign on both platforms, it really works. But I’ve run into a situation where a client wanted to use an influencer for TikTok but they only had their content on Instagram… it doesn’t really work.
- Explore options for TikTok partnerships.
- Aside from it’s incredible popularity, TikTok also has made it far easier for creators to be discovered. Tremblay says:
TikTok is a huge game changer for influencers. Period. End of discussion. And it’s because discoverability on that platform is unmatched by any other platform. We have seen the growth of so many Instagram influencers due to their presence on TikTok.
- Consider both short-term and long-term partnerships.
- While a short-term partnership can drive excitement and buzz around a new campaign, a long-term partnership has the benefit of building a strong public association between the creator and your brand.
- Make short-form video content a part of your marketing strategy and consider which creators can make high-quality videos for your promotional efforts.
- Focus exclusively on follower size.
- Many brands are finding success working with micro and nano creators. Niche, loyal audiences can yield greater trust and affinity among potential customers.
- Partner with just any creator.
- A good brand partnership with a creator should make sense. If something seems odd or off about the pairing, your brand can come across as inauthentic or out of touch. Make sure to research your creators and consider doing a smaller test campaign before diving into long-term partnerships.
- View creator partnerships as a one and done deal.
The marketing landscape, and the role of creators in it, is ever-changing. Make sure to stay on top of trends in content and platforms, so that your brand feels relevant to today’s consumer.