Understanding the Creator Economy

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Just how big is the world of social media and social commerce? Most likely, it’s bigger than you think. In less than a decade, Instagram (the leading social platform for content creators and influencer marketing) increased drastically to nearly 40 million users with 1,000 or more active followers.

The social media phenomenon now represents an entirely new and fast-growing economy, the creator economy. Content producers from all walks of life and varying skill levels are revolutionizing the world of marketing and advertising.

What is the creator economy?

The creator economy is the collection, creation, and distribution of all content in our current digital world. At the center of the creator economy are social media channels where like-minded users and content creators interact to form highly engaged online communities.

Platforms and Tools in the Creator Economy infographic

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Platforms and Tools in the Creator Economy












Creator Now


















































Display Social











Apple Podcast











Logic Pro




Subscription services


Buy Me A Coffee










Creator education


Disciple Media








These online communities create value around shared interests, information, and beauty.  The creator economy converts human connectivity into new forms of wealth.

What is a creator?

A content creator is any individual who curates content that resonates with a particular audience online. Thanks to new ways of monetizing creator content, many are able to earn a livelihood as part-time or full-time content creators.

Oftentimes, content creators have the ability to influence their community to try, buy, or learn more through original content.

A common criteria for content creators are follower counts (or number of subscribers) and engagements. Most active content creators have a minimum of 1,000 followers on their primary social media channel.

Prolific bloggers with thousands of monthly website visitors are also considered content creators. These bloggers leverage their favorite social channels to promote their blog and connect with their readers.

Content creators are highly innovative, leveraging their skills to build a personal brand that attracts certain groups of people. While some content creators are formally trained in writing, photography, and videography, most simply present a unique perspective or endearing voice that is unmistakably their own.

How the creator economy works

“The path to becoming a creator is much different than it was a few years ago. You can now be purposeful about your approach. People are monetizing their platforms a lot sooner these days.”

– Justin Moore, Founder of Creator Wizard

Monetizing one’s original content remains the greatest concern among content creators

For artists who wish to be free of consumerism and dedicate their time to originality and expression, there are emerging platforms like Patreon and Hy.Page that encourage fans to invest in memberships to support their favorite content creators. However, to supplement their income, some creators look to other avenues to generate revenue. For example, although hugely popular, follower donations are by no means an exclusive possibility for video creators to monetize their content.

Currently, brand endorsements are the chief way that content creators fund their career

Bar graph of creators depending on brand deals for revenue
Image via CB Insights

Creators still depend on brand deals for revenue

The highest revenue sources for surveyed creators (%)

Brand deals: 77%

Ad share revenue: 5%

No revenue yet: 5%

Started own brand: 5%

Affiliate links: 3%

Monetary tips: 3%

Courses: 2%

Subscriptions: 1%

Source: Influencer Marketing Hub, May 2021

N = 2,000

However, the creator economy is changing, and the enormous value of quality content is opening new doors for content creators to monetize their audience. Gary Vanerchuk, a popular thought leader on entrepreneurship and content marketing, made a notable prediction in a recent interview.

Interviewer: “What business idea has the greatest potential for growth in the next decade?”

Gary V: “Becoming someone who can create content – written, audio, or video – for the Internet contextually. Because there will not be a human nor a business on earth in a decade that isn’t in need of a substantial creative department of making – not thinking – making [great content].”

Leading social media platforms need content creators to grow their user base. That’s why Instagram announced new ways for creators to make money during this year’s first ever Creator Week.

As users explore social media “tipping” and investors experiment with content NFTs, experts envision a world where content creators can monetize their audience in a variety of ways.

Why authenticity matters in the creator economy

“The traditional markers of content quality, like big name directors, showrunners or producers; big name actors, writers and musicians; and the catch-all bucket of ‘high-production value’ — all of which have high barriers to entry — are now competing with attributes like authenticity, virality, relatability, accessibility, relevance to one’s community or niche interests and more –which have much lower barriers to entry.”

Doug Shapiro, former executive at Time Warner & Turner Broadcasting System

The creator economy has fueled an unprecedented demand for lifestyle content, or in real life (IRL) posts. A radical shift away from studio shots and toward IRL content is well underway across countless retail industries.

Despite a polished look and feel, production companies are learning that one cannot fake authenticity in a commercial or ad. In fact, authenticity can shine through any kind of content, including primitively home-made videos.

Audiences crave a different style of content, and content creators are supplying that content with a transparency and originality that is difficult to imitate. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the influencer marketing industry.

Influencer marketing works best when brand endorsements by content creators reflect genuine love for the products they promote. Authentic brand endorsements come from direct relationships between brands and content creators. This approach stands in direct contrast to the marketplace model where brands and creators are “matched” without either knowing very much about the other.

Working with content creators to produce authentic content that converts

“Authentic content is any media – web page, blog, email, text, social post, etc. – that is honest, compelling, and bigger than a mere product or service. An authentic piece of content often haunts its audience and draws like-minded people together around a particular cause, lifestyle, or set of values.”

– GRIN, How to Create Authentic Content

The buyer conversion power of influencer marketing is high for brands that understand creator relationships and authentic content. For many high-performing campaigns, all it takes is for an enthusiastic content creator to publish a lifestyle image featuring one of their favorite products. Because audiences trust that creator’s endorsement, they flock to the creator’s brand ambassador landing page and complete their purchase.

Image via eMarketer

US Instagram Social Commerce Buyers, 2019-2025 (millions, % change, and % of Instagram users)


21.5 million

% change: 22.80%

% of Instagram users: 21.00%


28.6 million

% change: 33.10%

% of Instagram users: 26.60%


32.4 million

% change: 13.30%

% of Instagram users: 28.90%


34.8 million

% change: 7.20%

% of Instagram users: 29.90%


36.3 million

% change: 4.30%

% of Instagram users: 30.10%


37.2 million

% change: 2.70%

% of Instagram users: 30.10%


37.9 million

% change: 1.80%

% of Instagram users: 30.20%

Note: ages 14+; social network users who have made at least one purchase via the Instagram platform, including links and transactions on the platform itself, during the calendar year; includes online, mobile, and tablet purchases

Source: eMarketer, May 2021

The Influencer Marketing Funnel part 1 The Influencer Marketing Funnel part 2 The Influencer Marketing Funnel part 3 The Influencer Marketing Funnel part 4

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Influencer Marketing Funnel

How to incorporate creators and their content in your marketing strategy.

Top of the funnel (TOFU)

TOFU Goal:  Introduce your brand and broaden your reach of your target audience.

Brand Awareness

Key Creator Metrics:

  • # of active creators
  • # of creator posts
  • Creator reach
  • Follower growth on brand pages
  • Ongoing user-generated content (UGC)

Creator Content Types:

  • Unboxing videos
  • Blogs
  • Branded hashtags
Middle of the funnel (MOFU)

MOFU Goal:  Stay “front-of-mind” with your audience and educate them on your product or service.

Audience Nurturing

Key Creator Metrics:

  • Engagement rate
  • Likes-to-comments ratio
  • Quality of engagements
  • Follower growth on brand pages

Creator Content Types:

  • Contests and giveaways
  • Informational videos and live streams
  • FAQs
  • How-tos
  • Behind-the-scenes content
Bottom of the funnel (BOFU)

BOFU goal:  Convert prospects into customers.


Key Creator Metrics:

  • Link clicks (CTR)
  • Subscriptions
  • Leads
  • Discount code redemptions
  • Sales
  • Return on ad spend for repurposed influencer-generated content

Creator Content Types:

  • Product reviews
  • Testimonials
  • Product offers and promotions

Social media channels like Instagram and TikTok are enhancing their social commerce features, such as in-app shopping and shoppable image ads. These tools increase the conversion power of influencers and ecommerce brands leveraging social media to attract new customers.

Working with content creators to guide customers through the entire marketing funnel

As more brands have learned how to onboard select content creators into full-fledged partnerships, the impact of influencer marketing on prospects across every stage of the marketing funnel are enormous.

In ecommerce, for example, the more impactful each customer touchpoint, the better the customer experience becomes. And the better the customer experience, the deeper that brand’s connection will be to its audience. Authentic content from content creators can resonate with consumers in a powerful way because it carries more social proof than a branded post or traditional ad

Influencer marketing does so much more than drive conversions – it elevates the brand-content creator relationship to include more meaningful connections with niche audiences. These benefits lower customer acquisition costs and increase a customer’s lifetime value.

Common roles within the creator economy

Not every content creator is an influencer, and not every influencer manages 100,000+ followers. The creator economy is broad and developing. But there are several common categories under which content creators fall.

Content creators as celebrities

Celebrity endorsement marketing existed long before the rise of influencer marketing. Content creators that acquire 1 million or more engaged followers achieve celebrity status, and as a result, endorsements from these celebrities (though expensive) create a big “splash” within a brand’s target audience.

Artists who achieve celebrity status outside of social media (professional athletes, movie stars, etc.) often choose to become active on social media to connect with their fans and create more IRL content. These celebrities may promote their favorite brands, accept endorsement deals, or leverage their social media to promote their own entrepreneurial endeavors.

Content creators as content producers

Many content creators simply love perfecting their craft, expressing themselves uniquely through specific styles of content. These content creators may partner with brands to compose versatile product images, videos, blogs, etc. that brands can repurpose in a variety of ways.

That’s why many direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands prefer to outsource their social media post content to these individuals. Content creators as content producers are more affordable and authentic than most media production agencies. This approach also lowers payroll costs for DTC marketing teams.

Content creators as influencers

When a content creator embraces their role as an influencer, audience members pay close attention to that influencer’s opinions and guidance when considering their own needs and aspirations.

Key opinion leaders (KOLs)

A KOL typically holds the necessary credentials to become an expert in their field. Examples of KOLs include professional artists, executives turned business coaches, licensed healthcare professionals, and more.

Brand partnerships with KOLs work best in B2B markets or complex industries (SaaS, nutrition, mental health, etc.).

Brand ambassadors

Some brand-influencer partnerships run so deep that the relationship becomes exclusive. This approach is most common among influencers who are official brand ambassadors.

As an ambassador, that influencer may receive cash payments but nearly always enjoys free products, commissions on sales, and exclusive brand perks.


Affiliate influencer relationships often work just like ambassadorships. Many brands use these terms interchangeably.

But these influencers work solely on commissions. That content creator’s online presence offers higher returns for brands because influencers have a stronger connection to their audience than do traditional affiliates.

Customer advocates

Another category of influencers are those influential customers that are avid brand fans. Many brands establish communities of customer advocates who connect with one another around shared interests and brand-sponsored activities.

Customer advocates often have smaller audiences, but those audiences tend to be highly engaged. These influencers can drive sales and intense brand loyalty among their fans and followers.

Brands already tapping into the creator economy

Between 2016 and 2020, the influencer marketing industry grew by more than 550%. Experts predict that it will be a $13.8 billion industry by the end of 2021.

Brand-content creator partnerships currently drive most content creator economy growth. Here are three brands that consistently demonstrate strong content creator relationships.

Warby Parker

Warby Parker is one of the first glasses companies to market directly to their consumer audience. Building relationships with content creators has been a key part of their marketing strategy since its startup days.

Today, Warby Parker manages thousands of content creator partnerships. Some of these content creators are brand ambassadors, while others produce IRL content for the marketing team to use in branded posts, ads, and more.

Dunkin Donuts


@dunkin PUMPKIN IS BACK!! Comment Dunkin or starbucks? #fyp #foryou #dunkindonuts #pumpkinspice #pumpkinseason #dunkin

♬ Halloweentown Theme – Retrospectre

Dunkin Donuts is one of the best examples of how brick-and-mortar brands can leverage content creator partnerships to promote new menu items and drive in-store sales.

Dunkin Donuts is also one of the first retailers to embrace influencer marketing on TikTok. They currently partner with some of the biggest TikTok content creators including the app’s top performer, Charli D’Amelio.


Oakley leans heavily on their content creator teams for branded social posts and ads. These IRL images on Instagram and Facebook allow Oakley’s social pages to leave the photo studio and offer a truly active vibe.

The challenge of managing a large number of content creators

For brands that have committed to a robust influencer marketing strategy can be a time-consuming task, which is why content creator management software can effectively meet partnership challenges head on.

Content creator discovery

Many of the leading social platforms are applying updates that make it easier to identify high-performing content creators within specific industries. That said, using a content creator-specific platform helps marketers narrow their influencer search based on audience demographics, bio keywords, engagement rate, and more.

Recruiting & onboarding

Negotiations and contracts ensure that brands and content creators are in complete agreement before formalizing new partnerships.

After agreeing to terms, these new content creator partnerships require an initial onboarding process, such as gathering shipping information, product preferences, and campaign guidelines. Many brands utilize various forms of media (intro videos, slide presentations, etc.) to expedite a creator’s familiarity with their new partnership.

Relationship management

Over time, most influencer marketers learn to leverage each content creator team member according to their strengths. Personalizing the brand-content creator relationship means paying close attention to details and maintaining impeccable communication with each content creator partner.

Campaign workflows

Depending on how many different types of partnerships and campaigns a brand chooses to run in a given time period, maintaining a sustainable process can be one of the most difficult parts of an influencer program.

That’s why influencer marketing automation is so important. Campaign workflow tasks are highly repetitive and are more efficient to manage within the right software solution.

Product fulfillment

Managing inventory while overseeing free gifts to content creators often places unique burdens on ecommerce brands that lack a strong product fulfillment process. Among the best solutions to this challenge is seamless ecommerce shop integration within an influencer marketing software platform.

Influencer payments

Whether product seeding, commissions on sales, flat fees, or a combination of all three, high-performing influencer programs must plan their content creator payments carefully. Brands need to disburse payments accurately and in a timely manner in order to maintain strong relationships with their creators.


The creator economy offers consumers and brands a unique opportunity to connect in ways never before possible in the history of retail. Brands that see beyond the initial conversion power of influencer campaigns can enhance their authenticity across their entire marketing funnel, thereby lowering their costs and increasing results.

Are you ready to stake your claim in the creator economy? Discover more helpful tips and resources from the experts at GRIN: Creator Management Learning Center

Updated: April 2024

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Written by GRIN Contributor

GRIN is the pioneer behind the world’s first Creator Management platform built to support every brand’s journey to connecting with consumers through authentic creator relationships. Thousands of the world’s fastest-growing brands—including SKIMS, Warby Parker, Allbirds, Mejuri, and MVMT—use GRIN to make creators feel like trusted, empowered partners and work with them to build their brands into household names.

© Grin Technologies Inc. 2024. All rights reserved.

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