By: Michael McQueen
Within an economy increasingly characterised by precarity and uncertainty, the growing class of creators represents an alternative approach to money-making to traditional employment.
Largely driven by Gen Zs, who are increasingly turning away from conventional career paths and towards options with greater independence and flexible, the creator economy continues to work its way into the mainstream.
A kind of gig economy for digital spaces, the creator economy involves those individuals who are using online platforms to publish and monetise content. Posted on platforms like Instragram, TikTok, YouTube, Patreon and Substack, the content of the creator economy is as diverse as the creators producing it. Whether through subscriptions, brand partnerships or advertising, creators are able to generate income through the appeal of their content.
While independence and flexibility, as well as the possible incentive of fame and fortune, make up a significant part of the value offered through the creator economy, much of the motivation that research has revealed within creators lies in the ability to pursue personal passions and engage in meaningful, challenging work. Nearly half of creators report that self-expression is a core motivation for their engagement in the creator economy, and 40% reported the pursuit of a passion as crucial.
These motivations fall clearly in line with the qualities that characterise one of the biggest groups driving the creator economy – Gen Z. Well over half of Gen Z creators stated that the opportunity to make a difference in the world, as well as the opportunity to engage in interesting work, have flexible hours and reach a large audience with their ideas and creations were crucial motivations.
A Strong Impulse for Independence
Gen Z’s affinity with the creator economy comes as no surprise, given their characteristics as a generation. With a strong impulse for independence, deep convictions for social causes and a high prioritisation for authenticity, Gen Zs are readily challenging the status quo as workers and consumers.
Gen Zs have been raised with a strong sense of self and imagine themselves as being people of influence when they get older. A 2021 study examining this dynamic found that 39.9% of Gen Z women and 45.54% of Gen Z men describe themselves as being a future leader. The aspirational nature of Gen Z has also shaped their sense of personal optimism. When asked how optimistic they are when it comes to their prospects for success in the next 5 years, the average rating out of 10 was 7 for males and 6.65 for females. This sense of influence and optimism lends itself to the pursuit of work within the creator economy which places the pressure on the individual to constantly create content, market it and monetise it.
Furthermore, Gen Zs have simply never known a world without the Internet. Not only are they working and socialising there, but they feel most at home there. In a 2021 by Coefficient Capital, 45% of Gen Zs say they feel most like their authentic selves online whereas 40% say that they are most authentic in the real world. Where older generations may fail to consider the internet as a potential source of genuine income, over 35% of Gen Z currently earn money through online channels. For 17% of Gen Z males and 11% of females, the Internet is where they derive all of their income. This number is rapidly growing.
Consumers Become Co-Creators
However, Gen Z’s engagement in the creator economy is not limited to their own work and creation, but rather extends to their approach to consuming. In a stark contrast to the traditional producer-consumer relationship that has historically characterised the market, the consumption empowered by the digital platforms where Gen Z do much of their purchasing means consumers also become co-creators.
This aspect of Gen Z’s typical engagement with content holds important lessons for businesses and brands. Rather than simply viewing, commenting on and sharing content the way Millennials do, Gen Z are passionate about curating and co-creating material. Head of Creator Product Marketing at Spotify Sam Duboff suggests “The openness of Gen Z to create, meme and remix content is driving enormous engagement and blurring the lines between creator and consumer.”
For real world brands looking to expand into the younger market, this has meant adjusting their typical marketing strategies. Consider the example of American apple juice maker Martinelli’s. This 153-year brand became a viral TikTok phenomenon in May 2020 amongst Gen Zs when users started posting videos of them biting into the plastic bottles to find out if doing so really did sound like biting into a real apple. Within a week, the #martinelli hashtag had attracted more than 28 million views on TikTok and sales immediately skyrocketed. The company addressed the fever-pitch fascination on Twitter saying “While we don’t condone biting into plastic, we are happy to see everyone enjoying our products. Have you tried the juice inside? It’s even better than the bottle.”
Gen Zs are unmistakably at home within the creator economy and are key drivers in its expansion. Resisting all conventions and traditions of employment, young and ambitious go-getters are taking their personal success and money-making into their own hands. Driven by the desire for flexibility and autonomy, the pursuit of their passions and a strong impulse for self-expression, today’s creators are redefining what it means to work in the digital age.
Within the creator economy, businesses and brands would do well to consider the blurred lines that now exist between consumers and creators. In order to best engage younger generations, capitalising on their tendency to act and see themselves as creators and curators will be essential.