Commentary: Not just glitz and glamour – it’s hard work being an influencer
Asia is ripe for the growth of the creator economy, but content creators find it difficult to turn their profession into a full-time one, says Rohith Murthy.
SINGAPORE: Whether you’re planning a holiday, a date or even your finances, chances are you would consult the Internet for advice. Indeed, content creators – bloggers, vloggers and influencers – help inform our everyday decisions.
The growth of the creator economy has been nothing short of spectacular. According to Denmark-based agency Influencer Marketing Hub, there are more than 50 million creators worldwide, with the market, comprising these creators’ earnings and profits made by the platforms they use, worth about US$104 billion ($S146 billion).
Despite its massive potential, carving a career with a viable source of income is not easy for creators. Top-earning influencers, with their lavish lifestyles and sponsored Instagram posts, have painted an unrealistic picture of the creator economy. They can be looked down on or enviously upon from the false notion that it’s a get-rich-quick industry.
Many creators across Asia also face some stigma with family and onlookers wondering when they’ll get a “real job”. Yet at the height of lockdowns, many of us relied on these creators to educate, entertain and uplift us with their content.
If creators aren’t seen to doing legitimate work, then they will not receive due recognition and compensation – which spells trouble for the flourishing of this lucrative and valuable industry.
CREATORS STRUGGLE WITH MONETISING THEIR WORK
Given the newness of the creator economy, there is a real lack of research about what makes it tick. To understand their aims and what can be done to support them, we spoke to creators from Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan.
First, creators’ main goal is to make more and better content. This requires time and creative energy in conducting research, writing or shooting content, and editing it.
Second, creators place a lot of importance on understanding, retaining and growing their audience base.
Third, they aspire to monetise their content. Herein lies the rub: Creators spend a disproportionate amount of effort on their content and audience goals at the expense of monetisation.
Most creators don’t start with the intention of monetising. They simply want to share their passion and connect with more people.
Georgia Caney saw an opportunity in making YouTube videos when she relocated to Singapore. She observed a real lack of information geared at expats about what life in Singapore is like.
So she started filming content such as "a day in my life” diaries, reviews on local food and culture, and travel vlogs around the region. Georgia has since garnered 30,000 followers on Instagram and 126,000 YouTube subscribers.
Similarly, when John Lim suffered from depression in his early 20s, he wanted to share his experiences to motivate and inspire people. He launched his website Live Young and Well and quickly built a following with people looking to find purpose in their careers.
TAKES MONEY TO MOVE INTO A FULL-TIME PROFESSION
For creators like Georgia and John, once they reach a following of a certain size and scale, the demands from their audience also increase: More regular content, greater quality of videos and editing, more giveaways and audience exclusives. In short, more money is needed to move into a full-time profession.
The traditional way for creators to earn money is through partnering with social media platforms like YouTube, Instagram and TikTok, and putting advertisements on their content. The platforms typically take a cut of 45 to 50 per cent of the ad revenue generated. This makes earning income through social media channels alone unsustainable for the average influencer.
Creators thus need brand partnerships to diversify their revenue streams: Teaming up with brands to review or promote their products, in exchange for money and free samples. These partnerships need to remain authentic to the creator’s own personal brand and style, lest they end up alienating followers.
However, monetisation with brands throws up its own set of challenges. Creators need to spend a lot of time liaising with brands without necessarily knowing how to price their services. Ultimately, they are missing a playbook for how to start, earn and grow as professionals.
When Georgia first started working with brands, she struggled to put a monetary value on her content creation service. “Honestly, I was just guessing at the numbers. I think negotiations are always a struggle for content creators. Brands and marketing budgets always vary,” she said.
The other issue is the irregularity of payments from brands. According to John, “The challenge is systemising the selling of the creative work so that you get a constant flow of revenue and greater income visibility. The hardest thing on some mornings is waking up and going, what do I do today? I don’t have any work lined up.”
When creators don’t know where their next pay cheque is coming from, they are often willing to do anything that’ll bring them money. This creates a destructive cycle where creators sell for less, companies pay less for skilled services, and creators have to work longer to make ends meet.
PUTTING POWER INTO THE HANDS OF CREATORS
But perhaps change, in terms of transparent pricing terms and monetisation models, is coming when brands are realising the power of creators in connecting with consumers. A study by Nielsen and Rakuten released in September found that 89 per cent of social media users across Asia follow influencers, with China, the Philippines and India seeing the highest percentages.
Of these followers, four in five say they are more likely to buy products that influencers recommend, with product reviews being the most appealing type of content except in China, where users favour product demos. Marketers need to take note that consumers will actively seek out creators’ voices when making purchasing decisions.
Even governments are jumping on the bandwagon in using influencers to promote programmes and policies. Indonesian government ministries, for instance, spent US$6.3 million (S$8.87 milllion) on influencer marketing from 2017 to 2020, with the Tourism and Creative Economy Ministry spending the most.
Singapore’s Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) has gone a step further and in November last year, announced a training scheme for local creators to learn skills in content marketing, audience engagement and data analytics for the purpose of monetisation and expanding overseas.
As the sector continues to develop, the regulatory landscape will also mature, demanding accountability from both brands and creators while offering more protection to the consumers. In time, creators will have a bigger toolkit for growth, and perhaps overdue acknowledgment that they do have a real job.
Rohith Murthy is Group General Manager of Creatory by Hyphen Group, a brand and platform for creators.