The prospect of internet fame is no longer enough to bring in the best and brightest. Instead, paying for content has become table stakes for these platforms as they battle one another and compete in the broader attention economy.
Netflix chief executive Reed Hastings made that clear in a recent earnings call, when he called YouTube — rather than other streaming services or theater chains — his company's "second largest direct competitor."
Within the last two years, at least 10 platforms have announced they'll be paying creators for their work, but the size of the purse, what type of content they're funding and how differs by platform.
"These types of funds are what a lot of creators have been waiting forever for, and as soon as one platform starting doing it, the others had to follow suit," said David Rhodes, a multiplatform content creator with over 10 million followers across his 12 accounts, who has earned a few thousand dollars from Snapchat's creator fund.
Whether this new funding will be enough to lure talent and sustain quality content remains to be seen, but the financial arms race has been welcomed by many creators.
Here's a quick look at each:
TikTok has said that within three years, its creator fund will grow to over $1 billion in the U.S. and more than double that globally. Only residents of certain countries are currently eligible, and successful applicants must meet other criteria, including having at least 10,000 authentic followers and receiving 100,000 views in the last 30 days. To apply, users must have a creator account, which is free to make, and submit an application via the app. Payouts are based on video views and engagement, and no caps have been set for outlays per day or to a given user, the company says.
YouTube's "shorts fund" is a $100 million pool that will be distributed through 2022. Available to creators in India and the U.S., it is an effort to boost YouTube's presence in the short-form video market via its new "Shorts" product. Phil Ranta, a social media veteran and CEO of Wormhole Labs, said he has seen lots of creators with relatively modest followings earn "bonkers" views via Shorts. YouTube says it will reach out to creators whose Shorts earn the most views and engagement each month, and called the fund "the first step in our journey to build a monetization model for Shorts on YouTube."
Snapchat is offering $1 million per day to creators on "Spotlight," a TikTok-like video-broadcasting feature launched late last year that heralded Snap's departure from an exclusive focus on peer-to-peer messaging. Anyone can submit clips to Spotlight and be eligible for the funding. Payments are distributed based on an algorithm that checks whether a post passes a "value threshold" within seven days. Snap has said factors the algorithm looks for will vary but may include unique views and performance relative to other users' posts.
Facebook set aside $25 million for a Black creator fund in 2020, available to U.S. residents with at least 10,000 Facebook or Instagram followers. The program launched in August and applications are now closed. Instagram, owned by Facebook, does not have a general creator fund, though its head, Adam Mosseri, has suggested it might create one in the future. Reports have surfaced indicating that Instagram has sought to lure some creators to its platform with lavish payments.
Pinterest has a creator fund that reportedly measures $500,000 and is open for application; participants receive $25,000 in cash and ad credits and participate in a four-week workshop. Clubhouse has indicated it will offer application-based creator grants but has not publicized details, and ran an inaugural creator accelerator program that closed applications in March. Substack offered $25,000 each to four selected writers in 2020 while OnlyFans provided four £20,000 grants to UK-based musicians.
How Some Artists Are Gaming 'Creator Funds'
The largest funds are algorithmic and the factors that trigger payouts are a moving target, but that doesn't mean they can't be gamed.
"There's always an exploit," said Ranta, noting that conversations among creators and agents often include sharing tactics for what seems to be working.
One hack he cited pertains to Snap's Spotlight fund. Some creators with big followings have found they can post to Spotlight as frequently as every five minutes with simple videos such as blowing a kiss to the camera, and earn money for it, Ranta said.
Accessing the funds can also simply mean posting relentlessly.
"The more content you can push out the better," said Rhodes. "Although some videos may do well and some won't, you're still increasing your chances of videos taking off and earning money."
Rhodes said it's key to find "formula," and "ride it out until it stops working — or until the novelty wears off — and then switch it up and try different things until you find a new formula that works, and ride that one, too."
Ranta noted that a good way to know what a platform algorithmically prefers is to monitor the company's press releases and best practices guides.
"You put those two together and you kind of get it," he said.
Conversations about how to hit the moving target also take place on forums like TubeBuddy, in addition to Reddit and Discord. Proceed with caution, though.
"Those are really hit or miss," said Ranta, or downright "unfounded gossip."
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Column: How to Make Sure We Address Bias in the Workplace, Even as the Workplace Dramatically Shifts
We will soon be turning the page on the pandemic of 2020 that has dominated headlines and consumed the conversation in boardrooms across America. Along with the rapid adaptation of digital workforces, we have also seen another growing revolution that is gaining momentum in its quest for change. The year brought with it a duality that kept our attention on the pandemic while at the same time we watched in disbelief as so many occurrences of racial injustice dominated the headlines. COVID-19 may eventually fade from public view, but we cannot allow the issue of pervasive racism to slip below the surface, too. As we move into the next year it is important for us to continue building awareness on the fundamental conversations needed for the country to heal around racial boundaries. Corporate leaders have a vital role to play in that process as we adapt to the technology-driven distributed workforce of tomorrow.
Now is the time to elevate discussions about racism in the workplace. Public opinion is shifting rapidly on the topic, and there is an expectation for brands and leaders to make public statements on where they stand. Professional sports, the fashion industry, big tech and even food delivery apps have generated viral stories because of their action or hesitance to take a position on racism during the pandemic. C-suite professionals can no longer take a neutral approach on the topic of racism because the conversation is now growing louder within their own workplaces. The good news is that many leaders and brands are beginning to make commitments to better understand the complexity of the issues we face.
Creating the workforce of tomorrow also means building an equitable environment for all people. That dynamic is creating a growing consensus that the days of racism, sexism, ageism and all forms of discrimination must end. The new distributed structure of the digital work environment has created opportunities for change, but at the same time challenges to progress that must be addressed. This dynamic is especially relevant for tech firms like VMware, Facebook and Google. Companies have generally faced geographic staffing limitations that excluded potential new hires from diverse cultural backgrounds because of the relocation requirements. Tech firms must consider diversity in hiring more than ever as more barriers are removed by the evolving remote workforce opportunities.
Many companies hoped to implement diversity training and strategies to create more inclusive workplaces in the months ahead. When those plans were created, they assumed employees would be predominantly based in the same physical locations. Newly formed distributed employee environments have created barriers to communication and more subtle, but equally harmful, forms of racism and discrimination have increased.
Instances of racism on digital platforms are on the rise and are not always limited to social media. Even Airbnb and Uber have found it necessary to implement strict measures to weed out pervasive forms of racism on their platforms. A 2015 study by Harvard Professor Michael Luca and colleagues Benjamin Edelman and Dan Svirsky — now economists Microsoft and Uber, respectively — used booking requests by 20 mock Airbnb profiles without photos to gauge discrimination among 6,400 Airbnb hosts in five American cities. Requests made from profiles with African American-sounding names were about 16% less likely to be accepted. Members of the new application Clubhouse have even posted chats rooms where Black women have been criticized and harmed, just for being Black women. Additionally, messaging platforms like Telegram have been widely criticized as hundreds of white supremacist groups have sprung up on their apps. Most digital workforces are now communicating through a myriad of messaging, email and social applications where bias, microaggressions, and even overt racism take place, while the perpetrators launch culture-destroying ideology from behind a keyboard. Marginalized communities have previously found their "safe place" at home and in their digital lives. As the new digital work culture blurs those lines it is having a detrimental impact.
Corporate leaders must consider this challenge as an opportunity to create an all-encompassing approach to their diversity, equity and inclusion policies. Many forward-looking companies have been quick to act on pandemic-era adjustments, but as the remote workforce becomes permanent it is important to evaluate the new environment.
- Start by establishing an internal committee dedicated to your diversity, equity and inclusion efforts to understand the unique impact of your new distributed workforce. This group should be rewarded for their efforts and not seen as an additional task force.
- Consider all current communication platforms and evaluate necessary technology and policy changes. Create membership agreements that emphasize inclusive and non-discriminatory practices and fire people who violate those terms with consequence.
- Create safe spaces for open dialogue, where marginalized populations can feel safe to speak up about their experience without being tone policed. Real change will only happen when all people truly know that their voice is heard and used when decision making is happening within your company at the highest level.
- Recruit more BIPOC (Black and Indigenous People of Color) in executive and leadership positions. Develop competencies that respect their expertise and allow them to contribute.
- Stop expecting one practice to solve your problems. Companies like Netflix, Comcast, Parametrix and Zillow have long-term plans that dedicate resources to diversity, equity and inclusion for up to 5 years. They are realistic, diligent and patient when creating goals and metrics. You need a plan and well-intentioned and competent people to develop and execute it!
Finally, we need to recognize that progress is being made. America is on a journey to building more equitable workplaces. Catalyst events have occurred that created more urgency to make change. Some brands and leaders have been quick to implement new strategies while others are still considering their best path forward. We did not get here overnight, and we will not have instant transformation, but doing nothing is no longer an option. Considering the workforce of tomorrow as an ever-evolving environment with opportunities for consistent improvement is important. Yes, the road forward for many companies will be challenging as they implement changes. However, the road behind us is filled with bias, discrimination, and injustice for marginalized groups. Leaders that see this reality and understand that their workplace will only truly thrive when it is equitable will see results as the most successful workplaces of tomorrow.