In India, the penetration of smartphones and internet services is happening at a rapid pace in small towns and villages thanks to affordable rates of devices and data. Thanks to this, millions of people are getting exposed to varied content through social media, and many content creators are becoming new-age influencers. Considering the creator economy as the next big thing, venture capital funding in this space is skyrocketing. And influencers are becoming mainstream. Looking at the earnings of the leading content creators, many youngsters are enthusiastic about becoming social media influencers instead of getting into traditional fields such as medicine and engineering. By now, you would think everything is excellent about the creator economy. But wait a minute.
It is important to note that not all that glitters is gold. Let’s have a look at a few downsides of the creator economy:
While free content from creators on various social media platforms can make life more enjoyable, it can also eat into viewers' time and short attention spans because they are addictive. It’s easy to get lost while scrolling on social media and spiral into what is now called doom-scrolling. I have met many youngsters who love watching vlogs, video game commentary, Instagram Reels, and YouTube Shorts, but have either lost track of their studies, sports, and career goals. Many people who go to platforms like YouTube to gain helpful information get distracted by different recommendations suggested by the algorithm and, unfortunately, lose precious time.
There are many subject matter experts worldwide, but there are imposters too. Social media is filled with self-proclaimed experts giving life and business advice, selling books and courses, promoting quick money-making schemes, and sharing information with dubious facts. They create trust by portraying themselves as a symbol of success and happiness. It is becoming hard to differentiate between fake and accurate information, authentic and paid recommendations, and genuine or made-up stories.
On the surface, creators are getting opportunities to monetise their passion, and brands are using influencer marketing to gain their target audience's attention. However, the reality is different. According to a report by Kaalari Capital, there are around eight crore creators in India, of which only about 1.5 lakh can monetise their services effectively—i.e. less than 0.2 percent. As per the report, creators with 10,000 to 10 lakh followers earn approximately between ₹15,000 to ₹2 lakh per month. A few with more than 10 lakh followers have the potential to earn approximately between ₹2 lakh to ₹52 lakh per month. So from the other side of the smartphone screen it may look like everyone can become an influencer and monetise their content, but it’s not easy for everyone to make a livable income off it. Even those who are successful in doing so, claim that constant and steady income is unlikely or rare.
Social media has evolved from being an entertainment medium to an essential part of daily life for many. People spend a lot of time on their smartphones, binge watching or consuming content. Sleep patterns get affected, eyes are strained, and sitting postures are getting worse. Many influencers post their glamorous lifestyle and edited pictures, to gain spotlight on social media platforms. This sets unrealistic expectations. Many youngsters either strive to live up to that lifestyle by spending beyond their means, or tend to compare their ‘imperfect’ life with the picture-perfect online world. I have met many parents who are concerned about their children’s mood swings, unrealistic expectations from life, and anxiety. Simultaneously, I have also met many influencers who are filled with stress and anxiety because of the rising expectations of their audience, comparison with their peers, and occasional criticism and trolling on their posts.
People tend to believe recommendations from friends or experts more than paid ads and advertising campaigns from brands. As content creators and influencers become the new brand endorsers, there is a belief that their recommendations are based on authentic experiences with various brands. However, skepticism has already crept in. With earnings of popular influencers becoming public, and influencers endorsing too many brands across areas, it’s getting easier for audiences to separate the true experts from marketing gimmicks. People have started taking TV and celebrity endorsements with a pinch of salt but the day isn’t far when influencer marketing goes the same way.
Today, every content creator is like a media company, broadcasting to a particular set of followers. As people tend to believe what they see and listen to, especially those they like, false information can spread like wildfire. For instance, due to social media hype around cryptocurrency as an asset class and influencers touting the new investment asset, many innocent people bought obscure coins that quickly crashed in value.
The social media platforms’ revenue relies heavily on delivering eyeballs to advertisers. To attract more advertisers, these platforms would like more users to create engaging content to attract more audiences. To keep the audience coming back, creators have to post content regularly. It is often tricky to continuously create content that the audience wants to watch. If content quality is poor, the audience will move on.
Approximately more than 500 hours of content is uploaded on YouTube every minute, and they are all competing for audience attention. And the race to do well across platforms can get unrealistic and time-consuming very quickly.
Many mid and small-sized brands that couldn't afford a film star for brand endorsement now have access to some star power through social media influencers. Brand and influencer collaborations may generate a lot of likes and engagement but lead to little or no sales. Like any marketing strategy, these collaborations have to be well thought through to work in a sea of competition. If not done well, brands can lose out on crucial marketing budgets with little or no return on investment.
The writer is an author of 'Booming Brands" and co-author of 'Booming Digital Stars'. Views expressed are personal and don't necessarily represent any company's opinions.
The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.
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