From video game enthusiasts monetizing their passions as shout casters to fashion influencers supercharging their careers into livestreamers on e-commerce platforms, the creator economy flourished, evolved and matured in the past year. Largely catalyzed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, contemporary creators benefited from the gradual shift in consumer behaviors as more people came online across the globe. Now valued at over $100 billion, the creator economy is witnessing staggering growth as the worlds of e-commerce, social media and online communities converge.
With opportunities mounting in social tokens and corresponding virtual playgrounds such as the Metaverse, the year ahead seems to be filled with a great deal of promise. What lies ahead for creators in an increasingly digital and decentralized 2022?
A more equitable dynamic
From OnlyFans to TikTok, social networks may give creators access to communities but these creators are what drive traffic to these platforms due to the strength of their content. Whether they are an artist, musician, writer, photographer or all-around influencer, they are the true revenue drivers on these platforms. However, the relationship between a creator and their community is ultimately intermediated by a third party — the platform — which can impact the extent to which a creator is fully rewarded and compensated for their work. Sometimes this manifests itself as a cut in revenue and can even impact the type of content created and what it can include.
Imagine if you could create without limits. This is the benefit that social tokens stand to offer. Blockchain-powered fan tokens can fulfill several functions: For one, they can be used to reward fans for their engagement, further encouraging them to engage with a universe of content. Not only does this help in growing one’s community, but social tokens can also be used as a medium of exchange — fans can directly compensate creators for work that they like, powering a mini economy that effectively cuts out the middleman from the equation. By essentially tokenizing themselves, creators invite their fans to take a stake in all they do — consider the example of 23-year-old entrepreneur Alex Masmej who launched ALEX to raise enough funds for a flight to San Francisco to launch his startup.
Social tokens essentially represent the ethos of Web3, connecting creators and consumers of content directly and enabling them to benefit from a value exchange. However, there are philosophical questions that merit some thought. What does it mean to tokenize yourself? Do you risk raising the bar and the pressure to perform? After all, incidents of social media influencers struggling to meet the demands of their followers have been well-chronicled. But as the creator economy continues to evolve, social tokens are still a valuable step forward that looks to level the financial playing field for what’s fast becoming a legitimate career path.
Revitalizing the meaning of engagement
Much like social tokens, nonfungible tokens (NFTs) are another innovation shaping the creator economy. Consider that the NFT-based crypto art market is now worth over $2.3 billion (as of mid-February 2022), pointing to the lucrative opportunity that artists have in accessing new monetization streams for their work.
Meanwhile, NFTs can also be leveraged to engineer a new model of fan engagement as they reconcile virtual assets with real-world experiences. Enter the phygital experience — a mix of physical and digital. NFTs can be tied to real-world perks — if you’re a musician, that could mean a lifetime supply of concert tickets or VIP meet and greets and as an artist, a select number of prints in a collection — all while ensuring that these assets verifiably belong to a fan, attesting to their ownership and authenticity. As economies gradually reopen and we continue to see the eventual normalization of social activities, experiential NFTs as a tool for long-term fan engagement are likely to grow in popularity.
Let’s not stop there, though: Enter interactive NFTs. These assets can change over time based on a fan’s modification to the content. Consider a digital collectible like a player card issued by an athlete — a fan can request for a digital autograph to be emblazoned onto the item, effectively adding to and altering the NFT, adding to its scarcity. For artists, this could mean creating collaborating digital artworks that their fans can add to, allowing for a more active two-way fan-creator relationship.
Celebrating the rise of Asia
Much has been said about the age of Asia and that phenomenon certainly extends to the continent’s creator economy. In 2021, the number of influencers across the region grew by 66 percent, particularly in markets such as Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines, Taiwan and Thailand. While the influence of Western social networks is certainly widespread across the continent — with the likes of Indonesia’s growing population of digital natives ranking fourth in the world for Instagram usage — localized homegrown alternatives continue to proliferate. From China’s Sina Weibo to Japan’s LINE, creators need to master strategies to best navigate the cultural and communal nuances unique to each market.
Though the majority of Asian nations are still on the rise, China has arguably solidified its position as a leader in the creator economy, backed by a mature, professionalized network of e-commerce platforms that have helped to popularize live streaming as a career — a market that is estimated to rake in $60 billion each year. The model is fast replicating itself in other Asian markets, especially across Southeast Asia by e-commerce marketplaces such as Lazada and Shopee.
Meanwhile, a digital-savvy approach to tackling the physical restrictions posed by the coronavirus has been actively employed by Asian creators — to see this, one doesn’t need to look further than K-pop musicians who’ve seamlessly transitioned to offering virtual experiences to their fans and has entered the world of NFTs to mint audio-visual digital collectibles that their fans can buy, sell and trade.
Asia is primed to play host to this development given the legitimization and formalization of its continental creator economy. Whether it’s a traditional celebrity or an entrepreneur turned livestreamer, the opportunities for them to rally a community of loyal fans and shoppers rests firmly in their hands. But in light of the unique nuances to navigate across each culture, local firms should be taking a distinctly localized approach to celebrating the very differences that add to the challenge of mastering Asia’s creator landscape. A decentralized community strives to put the power back in the hands of creators with a model that’s uniquely made in Asia for Asia. As the continent’s creator economy continues to flourish, only time will tell how both fans and creators will adapt to the incoming wave of decentralization.
The value of alternatives
Contemporary creators are burdened by choice — forced to reckon with the growing number of platforms and access points to cultivate new and existing communities of fans. With the era of Web3 upon us, it’s truly an exciting time to be a creator. What we can hope to see is a creator economy that no longer rests on a disparate landscape of channels, but a distributed, interoperable network that maximizes all the touchpoints and opportunities to meaningfully engage. Meanwhile, the staggering rise of Asia and its influential position in generating cultural products and developing new platforms that have the potential to shape multiple industries is set to redefine the creator economy and its participants as we know it.
As we look to 2022, creators are now, more than ever, armed with innovations to set apart their offerings — from virtual worlds to collectibles growing in sophistication. Beyond that, they now have new pathways to explore, ones that can ultimately promise a more equitable, leveled playing field as they transform their passions into careers. The opportunities on the horizon are clear: The dawn of decentralization is the next step in bringing the creator economy to new heights.
This article does not contain investment advice or recommendations. Every investment and trading move involves risk, and readers should conduct their own research when making a decision.
Weiwei Geng is the CEO of Unite, a creator ecosystem built in Asia for Asia that looks to put power into the hands of the continent’s creative communities. In addition to his role at Unite, Weiwei is also the co-founder of Rally and serves as an executive board member of the RLY Network Association. Previously, Weiwei served as managing director of China at Gen.G, a leading esports organization with top teams in China, South Korea and the United States.