Content creators: Who they are, what they do and how they partner with brands

26 Jul

Finding the right content creator for your brand is kind of like dating. You have to keep testing out partnerships until you find the ones that work.

Despite this, there’s still groundwork you can do to set yourself up for success. A little research can help you spot the difference between a match made in heaven and something that’s ultimately not going to work out. You just have to know what you’re looking for.

That’s where we come in. This guide answers all the burning questions on the biggest shift in social media since the algorithmic feed. Use this information to vet content creators and build lasting relationships with people that enhance and expand your brand.

Let’s get into it.

What is a content creator?

Content creators produce entertaining, educational or captivating content for digital distribution. These individuals typically offer a distinct perspective or voice. Fans latch on to their unique points of view, creating deep connections over time.

Creators develop content for various channels. Popular formats include:

  • Videos (like TikToks, YouTube videos or livestreams)
  • Images (like graphics, memes or photography)
  • Audio content (like podcasts)
  • Written works (like blogs and ad copy)

This list is long, but not exhaustive. Content is forever evolving alongside the landscape of the internet. When a new format rises to popularity, the list grows again—creating new opportunities for budding content creators.

It’s no wonder the creator economy is in a near-perpetual state of growth. In 2022, an estimated 50 million people across the world identify as content creators. We’ll keep seeing this number grow as the space matures.

What’s the difference between a content creator and an influencer?

I know what you’re thinking: “Isn’t content creator just a new term for influencers?”

Jayde Powell, an Atlanta-based social media manager turned content creator, runs into this misconception fairly often.

“A lot of people in marketing and advertising use ‘content creator’ and ‘influencer’ interchangeably,” says Powell “The two aren’t mutually exclusive but when it comes down to defining the difference, it’s a matter of intention and skillset.”

While many of the creators you know and love do have a degree of influence, they’re not always posting with the express intent of influencing a purchase decision.

For example, a creator with a focus on vegan living might only post original recipes and substitution ideas. An influencer who lives a vegan lifestyle, on the other hand, might be more inclined to share content sponsored by vegan brands.

More often than not, digital creators will partake in both types of content production, with a lean in one direction. However, while digital content creators and influencers share similarities, they aren’t one and the same.

What does a content creator do?

On the surface, a day in the life of a content creator can seem fun and relatively simple. However, making something look effortless usually takes quite a bit of work.

The truth is, content creators do a lot to maintain a consistent and engaging posting schedule. If you were to think of content as TV, then every content creator is operating as their own writer, actor, editor, producer, contract negotiator, programming manager—the list goes on.

To get a better understanding of the day in the life of a content creator, we asked Jayde Powell and Latinx content creator Violeta Venegas for a glimpse at their weekly schedules.

A day in the life of a full-time creator

“There are so many layers to social media management,” says Powell. “Aside from content creation, I was also handling community management, customer service and analytics. I decided to move to full time content creation because that’s where I had the most fun in my work.”

A screenshot of Jayde Powell's Instagram account.

Some businesses have started hiring in-house content creators for specific channels, but Powell prefers the flexibility of freelance work. She offers a variety of creative services, so flexibility is crucial to keeping an optimized schedule.

“I base my weekly schedule on the content projects I’m working on,” says Powell. “It all depends on the form. If I’m writing, I work in two- to three-hour flow states. If it’s a video project, I have to shoot during the day for optimal lighting. I can usually knock out filming in a few hours or so.”

Powell brings that flexibility to her administrative tasks as well. She’ll often adapt her work to suit a brand’s processes, including adopting their project management tools and check-in schedule for the duration of the project.

“My administrative work depends on the project,” explains Powell. “If it’s a one-off project, then most of the communication takes place as feedback. Long-term projects usually require check-ins through a weekly meeting or email.”

Life as a full-time content creator guarantees one thing: No day is ever the same.

A day in the life of a part-time content creator

Not all creators leave the working world behind once they hit it big on social.

Many are like Violeta Venegas who balances both a full-time job and an audience of over one million across TikTok and Instagram.

My priority is my full-time job,” says Venegas “A lot of creators quit their jobs to do it full time, but I worked hard to get into my industry so I don’t want to give that up just yet.”

Managing both takes some clever scheduling and diligent prioritization. “I work my full-time job Monday through Friday and I try to use the weekends to create content in batches,” says Venegas. “I do full days of filming and I also schedule livestreams to create a stronger connection with my audience.”

Those days consist of everything from creating sponsored TikToks to going on Instagram Live. Venegas is present on a few other platforms as well, so she tries to be as efficient as possible when it comes to production.

“I think about my content based on what I think will perform best on each social media network,” says Venegas. “Then I plan my weekend agenda around what can be created together. That way, I get the most out of my time.”

Content creator of the year winners to inspire your strategy

Now that you know who content creators are and what they do, let’s look at some real life examples.

While the majority of creators nurture small, highly engaged audiences, some have become superstars online and IRL. This is a new type of celebrity characterized by the always-on nature of social media.

Even if your company can’t partner with creators at this level, there are still plenty of takeaways from their rise to fame. Here’s what your brand can learn from three different Streamy Award winners.

1. Emma Chamberlain

Who is she? Emma Chamberlain is a Los Angeles-based content creator who began her Youtube channel in 2018. Her casual approach to content creation stood out in a sea of highly-produced vlog material, which was a standard for the platform at the time.

Chamberlain is credited with bringing more authenticity to the creator economy by sharing the more exciting parts of her life alongside everyday struggles like acne and anxiety.

Today, she maintains her YouTube presence but is most active on Instagram. She also hosts an award-winning podcast, Anything Goes.

What can brands learn from her content? It can be difficult to resist perfectionism as a social media manager.

Still, Chamberlain’s success on social shows that audiences are hungry for content that feels real and above all, human. Encouraging your team to bring their authentic selves can add a more personal touch to any content you create while fostering a healthier work environment.

2. Mark Rober

Who is he? Mark Rober is a Streamy Award-winning creator with a focus on science and engineering content.

Rober doesn’t share average science lessons. Instead, he creates videos that research wackier thoughts like “Can you swim in Jello?” or “Can sharks really smell a single drop of blood”.

By creating content around questions audiences didn’t even realize they had, he creates something that’s impossible to resist.

What can brands learn from his content? Answer frequently asked questions with your content. Addressing questions before they come up is even better.

Come up with fresh content ideas by thinking about what your audience might not know to ask. What wow-worthy information can you provide them? Whether it’s industry or product-related, it’s bound to get a reaction.

3. Tabitha Brown

Who is she? Tabitha Brown is a vegan content creator and actress. Her wholesome approach to cooking and nutrition has earned her more than eight million followers across Instagram and TikTok.

After winning her first Streamy in 2020, Brown’s career exploded with new opportunities both online and off. Recently, she even took a step away from her recipe book to create a limited edition clothing line in collaboration with Target.

What can brands learn from her content? We all know the internet isn’t always the most uplifting place to be. Brands can take a page from Brown’s book by creating wholesome, supportive spaces for their fans.

Whether it’s a Facebook Group dedicated to celebrating career wins or a Discord chat for product and lifestyle advice, creating connections through kindness can build strong brand affinity with fans of all ages.

Content creators making an impact across industries

If you’re not seeing any major content creators that align with your brand, don’t panic. Social media is home to an infinite number of communities. Content creators—of all sizes—sit at the heart of them.

Content creators give communities something to discuss. They drive conversation, encourage engagement and bring new ideas to the table. This behavior isn’t limited to any single industry or topic. It can be done with anything, from reading to fashion to higher education.

To see what that looks like in real life, let’s look at some rising content creators making waves across four different industries.

Sports: James “Jimmy” O’Brien (@JomBoyMedia)

Present on: YouTube, Twitter, Instagram

James O’Brien started JomBoy Media in 2017. He was working as a wedding videographer when he started sharing post-game recaps for the New York Yankees on Twitter. His unique perspective and team devotion quickly attracted an audience, motivating a friend to lend some start-up money so he could go full-time.

Today, JomBoy Media is the #1 independent baseball content creator on the internet.

O’Brien has set himself apart as a trusted name in the world of sports commentary, achieving a status once reserved for ESPN analysts and former pro athletes. When he’s talkin’ baseball (or any other sport now, for that matter), people listen.

Finance and Banking: Tori Dunlap (@HerFirst100K)

Present on: TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter

Tori Dunlap is helping women build wealth. Her content focuses on financial feminism, a movement dedicated to closing the financial literacy gap between men and women.

Since posting her first video back in 2020, Dunlap has expanded the HerFirst100K brand into a thriving community. She’s attracted over 2.8 million followers across TikTok and Instagram and the HerFirst100K Facebook Group has reached over 91,000 members.

Dunlap’s content works because it speaks to a clearly defined audience. Her advice is for women looking to fight the patriarchy by taking control of their finances. By embedding her teachings into a belief system, she makes a minute-long video feel like it could change your life. 

Food and Recipes: Nzinga Young (@veganzinga)

Present on: Instagram, Substack

Nzinga Young is a vegan content creator focused on teaching new and aspiring vegans how to eat well without breaking the bank. By combining day-in-the-life style content with more straightforward recipes, Young is able to incorporate more personality into food content creation.

A screenshot of Nzinga's Vegan Guide Substack page.

Young started creating content because she knew how hard it was to make the switch to veganism, even after years of living as a vegetarian. Her non-judgemental approach to living a plant-based lifestyle has fostered an active community on Instagram, where she has over 103,000 followers.

Gaming and Esport: Café Ela

Present on: Twitch, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram

Café Ela wants her audience to feel right at home.

A screenshot of CozyEla's Twitch profile.

As an active member of the growing “cozy game” community, Ela specializes in relaxing game play. These aren’t the competitive, action-oriented titles you may be familiar with. Instead, these games focus on completing simple tasks within meditative scenery. It’s less “Halo”, more “Animal Crossing”.

It’s not what you’d associate with standard Twitch content and that’s on purpose. Ela and other cozy gamers are changing how audiences perceive the gaming and esports industry.

How to become a content creator

Content creators and social media professionals have very similar skill sets. Both roles require strong writing skills, creative direction and a sharp editing eye.

Even so, creators and social media managers will likely experience different paths to success. What works in one lane isn’t guaranteed to work in the other. If you’re a budding creator or a marketer looking to bring the content creation process in-house, here’s what you need to know to get started.

1. Give yourself time

I mentioned this earlier but it’s worth repeating: making something effortless takes time.

A simple 60-second video can take hours to edit. A podcast episode might take a few days. It can take months to find the unique voice that will resonate with your target audience.

If you’re considering taking on content creation for your brand, understand the time commitment upfront to prevent burnout later on.

2. Tailor your approach

Certain subjects, formats and approaches are better suited for particular networks. You’ve probably noticed this in your brand’s social performance, but it’s a whole new ball game when it comes to content creation.

Content creators can infuse more personality in their posts. That means they can participate in a wider variety of social media trends than brands can. This is both an opportunity and challenge.

As you try your hand at content creation, pay attention to what’s performing best by channel. That will give you a better idea of what to keep doing and where to pivot.

3. Find your niche

Picture a venn diagram. On one side sits the content you want to create. On the other is what your audience wants to consume. As a content creator, your niche is right in the center.

Finding your niche takes time and experimentation. One way to do it is by approaching the same social trend in a few different ways. Take note of what your audience responds to.

In-house creators can also find their niche by using their brand mission and vision to develop a unique perspective on their industry.

Where to find content creators for your brand

In a thriving creator economy, finding creators isn’t an issue. It’s finding the right creator that can be tricky.

If you’re looking for content creators to supplement your social media marketing strategy, here’s where you can start your search.

Your followers lists

The ideal creator partnership might be closer than you think.

Scan your follower lists for established and growing creators. These are people you’ve already established credibility with, which can make the outreach process much easier.

If you spot any contenders, let them know you appreciate their follow and gauge their interest in potential partnership opportunities.

Industry-specific hashtags

Searching through top posts in industry-specific hashtags can help you spot creators making relevant, meaningful content.

Pro tip: If you’re working in an industry with a heavy creator presence, don’t limit your focus on the largest accounts in your niche. Smaller accounts with strong engagement can be just as impactful marketing opportunities.

Social listening data

Social listening is great for observing overarching conversation trends within a topic. You can also use it to find out who’s driving those conversations, too.

A screenshot of the Profile Overview report found in the Sprout Social listening tool.

The Profile Overview table available in Sprout’s listening tool pulls metrics for popular accounts within a topic. Sort this list by engagement or follower count and you’re well on your way to finding a match made in heaven.

What do content creators want from brand partnerships?

Time for the question that’s on everyone’s minds: What can brands do to build better creator partnerships?

To find out, we pulled data from our most recent report on the creator economy. We also asked Jayde Powell and Violeta Venegas for their takes on green and red flags that come up when working with brands. Here’s what they said.

Green flag: Knowing their content

Finding the right creators for your brand can take hours of independent research. Don’t waste the time you spent combing through your feed and follower lists by sending a generic outreach email.

When it comes to creator partnerships, brands who research who they’re reaching out to come out on top.

“I love working with brands that are seeking me out for a specific reason,” says Venegas. “Usually, it’s because they see something in my audience or in my content that aligns with their products. Also, brands that value creators aren’t sending out mass emails in hopes of making a connection. When outreach is personalized, it shows that they value my work.”

Red flag: Generic requests

Partnering with creators is different from partnering with influencers. You can’t just share the number of posts you need, your budget and be done. They need more context.

“I need to know the ‘why’ behind your request,” says Powell. “What purpose will it serve? Who is your target audience? Those are things I like to know because it helps me make an asset that makes sense for the brand.”

Green flag: Value-based partnerships

It’s one thing to be familiar with a creator’s content. It’s even better when your brand’s mission or values align with a potential partner.

For example, Venegas loves receiving partnership opportunities from brands that align with her content. “I love working with Latina-owned brands. I get a lot of joy out of promoting them and often reach back out to them. My very first brand partnership was with Vive Cosmetics and I still adore them to this day.”

Red flag: Unclear ownership rights

There’s a reason only 26% of partnership content is posted to brand accounts.

A chart breaking down where creators post brand partnership content. The most popular option is on the creator's account on behalf of a brand (45%).

“Oftentimes, when you make content for brands, they want to own the content,” explains Powell. “That makes sense but I like to see what that means spelled out clearly in a contract.”

“If not, they can request full ownership of the content and suddenly it’s on a billboard or in print advertising. Instead of getting paid for the full mileage of the content, you only get paid for the creation. If brands want full ownership, they need to pay a fair rate for it.”

Green flag: A detailed creative brief

Providing a full campaign brief with details on project scope, deliverables, timelines and payment terms is how brands put their best foot forward with content creators.

“A detailed creative brief tells me a brand has taken time to create a vision and that they’re partnering with me to bring that vision to life,” says Powell. “It tells me that the request is well thought out.”

Red flag: Lengthy payment terms

The most common challenge marketers face when working with creators is budget. Pushing out payment terms can be a tempting way to secure content while waiting for cash flow. However, it can cost you future partnerships in the long run.

A chart breaking down marketers' main challenges when working with creators. The most common challenge reported is budget limitations (45%).

“This is my biggest red flag,” says Powell. “I’ve seen agreements where the payment terms are 60 days out. That’s unfair to the person doing the work for you. Industry standard is net 30 days, but I always ask for net 15.”

Transparency platforms like Influent and Clara for Creators are giving creators space to share experiences with brands. To make sure your company is discussed in a positive light, be sure to pay creators on time.

Create value with content creators

Breathe new life into your social media management strategy with creator collaborations. Use this guide to build out a program that brings your brand to its newest group of fans.

For more information on the creator economy—including stats that can guide your partnership and compensation plans—check out our latest data report. We surveyed more than 500 US marketers to get you the details you need to know.

Check out the Report

The post Content creators: Who they are, what they do and how they partner with brands appeared first on Sprout Social.

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