Who was the first creator?
It’s popular opinion to say Justin Hall, an undergrad who created the first blog. He called it his personal homepage and used it to share HTML examples. Today, there are 2+ million professional creators. They're making content for niches spanning shark conservation to experiencing a $21,000 flight.
The creator economy has changed a lot over the past few decades. It’s only continuing to change as different social media platforms emerge and new content trends, like short-form video, seemingly take the world by storm (and screen time).
Where is the creator economy going?
The only way to accurately predict this is to look at how it began.
A brief history of creator platforms
Over the past three decades, there’s one thing creators haven’t experienced a lack of. Platforms.
Here’s a quick reminder of the most famous creator platforms:
📝 The first blog was created in 1994.
💼 LinkedIn was founded in 2002.
❤️ Facebook was founded in 2004.
🎥 YouTube was founded in February of 2005.
🐣 Twitter was founded in March 2006.
📸 Instagram launched in October 2010.
🎮 Twitch launched in June 2011.
👻 Snapchat was released in July 2011.
🍇 Vine was released in January 2013.
🤳 TikTok’s release date was September 2016.
🎙 Clubhouse was released in April of 2020.
When they launched, each of these platforms focused on the professional aspect of peoples’ lives. Remember how Facebook required a .edu email address to sign up?
And as more entrepreneurs built their own versions of social media, we saw a veer toward more personal platforms. One year after Facebook’s launch, YouTube founders posted the first video ever titled, Me at the zoo. Five years later, Instagram sparked creators to share their personal experiences with heavily filtered photos of latte art. Twitch streamers shared hours of their days while their fans watched. Vine inspired a new type of creativity with comedy skits.
The move from professional to creative content has grown the creator economy to staggering numbers. People can share anything from their experience as a parent to what it’s like to live in a certain city. This has created a massive expansion in who can become a creator.
But where do creators start today? It’s not as straightforward as it used to be with so many social media platforms to choose from and so many content types to produce (articles, Tweets, Reels, TikToks, YouTube videos, etc.).
The place creators start their journey is changing
Ten years ago, most creators built their audience through their blogs. They weren’t memorizing TikTok dances or practicing their lip-syncing to the latest popular Reels sound. They were writing long-form blog articles. This was the time for creators like Tim Urban—a writer who has driven millions of views to his articles each year since 2014.
Urban turned his audience into ambassadors of his work by writing articles on his website and promoting them on social channels like Facebook. While 45% of traffic to his blog came from Facebook, 31% came from people choosing to share his articles with friends, family, and followers.
How did Tim amass such a huge following? By creating great content during a time when sharing Facebook articles was extremely popular.
Elite Daily, a media company geared towards millennials, rode the same wave. They thanked Facebook traffic in 2014 for helping grow their audience to 40 million readers. The company became so popular that it sold for $40-$50 million a few years later.
This is the ideal creator setup—you create, you promote, and your fans keep the momentum going. The same formula applies today, but with different mediums. People post their favorite Instagram Reels to their Stories and send them to their friends through DMs. It’s like sharing a Facebook post linked to an article you loved—but for the video world.
Creators in 2022 have noted how content gets shared and garners views and have shifted their platform of choice. Some are following Tim’s lead and building out blogs (22%), but more creators choose another option—25% choose to build their audience on Instagram, and 20% focus on Facebook.
Two of those platforms are focused on short-form videos (41% of creators put out short videos last year!). In our State of the Creator Economy Report, we found that creators are using short-form videos on TikTok, Instagram Stories or Reels, and Facebook Stories more than long-form videos.
Yet one thing hasn’t changed.
Creators have always prioritized email
It’s without question that popular social media channels change. Creators quickly learn that if they’re not careful, they can end up in a situation where their audience is unreachable. Gabby Beckford, a travel blogger, explains her experience with trusting social media platforms to house her audience.
The Instagram algorithm will change daily. TikTok came out of the blue, and suddenly you’ve got to learn that. Social media is so variable. It's hard to rely on it as a source of income. Once I started doing my weekly newsletter, that's when I saw consistent traffic to my blog. That's when people began to respond to my emails, being like, ‘This is amazing.’
Creators in 2014 through 2022 have had the same problem. They need to own their audience and not rely on algorithms to help them keep in touch with their biggest fans. That’s why these creators have always turned to email lists. Regardless of what becomes the latest and greatest social platform or media type—creators like Gabby rely on their email list.
And they don’t need to build a massive audience to start their creator business:
- Corey Haines made $7,000 during a course launch to an email list with 300 subscribers
- Louis Nicholls made $20,200 during pre-launch
- Samar Owais earned $15,000 from a course with a few hundred subscribers
- Erin Flynn turned a waitlist of 40 people into $10,000 in revenue
The best part? Your email content can turn into your social media content. By promoting your email newsletter, you’re filling up your content calendar and promoting your newsletter.
We call this the Audience Building Flywheel:
For the past three decades, creators have relied on their email list to ensure their creator business can last through content changes and platform shifts. They know things are constantly changing. They also know it’s their job to make sure the business they’ve worked so hard to build can stick around for the long run.
That’s why they’re preparing for these upcoming shifts in the creator economy.
Predictions for the future of creation
By looking at the history of creators, we can see there’s been a massive expansion in platforms, content types, and creators. It’s created a special time in creator history.
Our 3 predictions for the future of creation solidify the importance of creators in tomorrow's economy.
#1: Brands will need creators more than ever before
We're starting with something that sounds obvious, but keep reading. The creator economy is growing, and brands will want to have creators promote their products. Duh, right? Well, that’s actually not the reason we’re bringing this up.
Without getting too into the weeds on the details, Apple’s iOS update that allows users to choose their privacy options means that brands don’t have the opportunities they used to when it comes to paid advertising. They used to target users based on interests across various apps. But, if users opt-out of tracking—the brands lose their ability to know a user’s interest.
Cue the creators. Creators have niche audiences that brands need to get more awareness and sales. If brands can’t access the audiences they used to, they’ll tap into creators’ audiences. This is where they'll get the awareness and sales they’re looking for. Don’t take our word for it. In our State of the Creator Economy Report, we covered that $800 million of venture capital has gone into the creator economy since October 2020. Investors are making big bets that prove creators are worthy investments.
#2: The creator riches will be in the niches
The creator economy directly results from more people spending their time on social media platforms. Some of these people choose to become creators and post content. Others are looking for communities and like-minded people to follow. With 4.72 million people on social media for an average of 2 hours and 27 minutes a day—there’s a new opportunity. One that hasn’t always been available for creators.
Today, we’re seeing niches breaking out in the creator space. Creators are no longer confined to what’s popular or trending. They can create content about anything and grab niche attention. From creators like Dad, How Do I…?, musicians like Tony Ann, and sailors like Sailing La Vagabonde, the world is a creator’s oyster.
Creators can feel confident knowing they can grow an audience of like-minded people and monetize it (ConvertKit creators made $66 million in 2021 earnings!). It’ll be their choice how they choose to sustain their business. Options include sponsorships, merchandise, paid communities, or (as you’ll see below) building networks, platforms, and factories.
#3: Creators will be more than just creators
We’ve seen creators branching out to make their own merch lines, build-out paid communities, and offer online courses. But, these income streams come from somebody else’s platform. Fanjoy supplies merch lines, Patreon hosts paid communities and Thinkific houses courses.
What if creators owned the factory, the platform, or the website?
Claudia Oshry, known as Girl With No Job online, built out a podcast network. Toast News Network hosts almost a dozen podcasts from various creators, including herself. Doctor and creator Ali Abdaal built a platform to help med students prepare for their big exams. YouTubers Yes Theory bought a warehouse in Los Angeles to make their merchandise and other creators.
Instead of just creating, creators are starting to figure out how to build behind the scenes. This creates more options for creators looking for a third party to help them out. It also opens the door for more creators to build out their networks, platforms, and warehouses.
It’s the right time to become a creator
88% of creators expect their income to grow in 2022. Based on the history of creators and our predictions, we're confident they can make it happen. With the scales tipped in the creators’ favor right now, building a creator business has never been easier.
We’ve gone from blogs to short-form videos, but there’s one constant that hasn’t changed for a reason. Regardless of which platform is the trendiest—creators will always need an email list. They’ll need a place to house their audience, so they’re not weathering algorithmic storms that make their business tumultuous.
With an email list, creators can have a predictable, sustainable business that grows with them over time. This is why creators turn to ConvertKit to help with our landing page template, easy to design emails and automations that do the tedious work for you.