From YouTube videos to Instagram Reels, how the creator economy reshaped after the pandemic

Zorawar Ahluwalia wanted to shift gears from his decade-long journey in business to becoming a content creator in 2020. Prone to being a disc jockey (DJ) since his college days, Zorawar says the pandemic pushed him to finally take the plunge towards the end of 2020.

“I heard that quote somewhere…If not now, then when? And it really stuck with me,” says Zorawar Your story.

A former employee of alcoholic beverage giant Diageo, Zorawar dabbled in content creation for six months, then started doing it full-time in 2021. With more than 76,000 followers on Instagram, he says that he earns a lot more money as a creator than in his corporate work.

Likewise, former Bain and Co. analyst Shreyaa Kapoor decided to start creating Instagram reels about personal finance during the pandemic.

As the pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation of our society, consuming content through social media has become a favorite pastime for people. It also gave a boost to the creator economy.

According to a report by Forbes, global consumption of online content doubled in 2020 to almost 7 hours per day.

In the same year, ownership of Meta instagram changed its focus from being a photo-sharing app only to allow users to create new experiences with its short video feature, ‘Faucet’.

With TikTok and other Chinese apps banned in India a few weeks earlier, Reels quickly gained popularity, attracting viewers and creators alike. But ever-changing algorithms and the need to keep feeding posts to be at the top of search results are driving a new wave of creator burnout.

The Rise of Instagram Reels

Initially, TikTok, owned by Bytedance, went viral. But after the China-based app was banned in India, creators turned to Instagram Reels to reach their audience. Reels, like TikTok, allows users to create and share short video content.

“Make as many Reels as you can,” said vocalist Armaan Malik movie mate when asked to advise creators to increase their reach. “Reels is exploding and it will definitely bring a lot of people to your page,” said Armaan, who has made song requests on Reels and has more than 13 million followers on Instagram.

While a micro-creator, with more than 1,000 to 2,000 followers, earns more than Rs 2,000 per post; a mega creator, with over a million subscribers, could earn hundreds of thousands of dollars.

More than half a dozen YourStory creators said it was very difficult to understand Instagram’s algorithm. Credit: YourStory Design

As first-time creators started going viral with their reels, others who were already popular were hired by companies to reach new, wider audiences and sell their wares.

The 33-year-old Kusha Kapila’s humorous Punjabi content not only landed her multiple brand deals but also served as a judge for an online fashion show with designer Manish Malhotra among other shows.

Designers like Ashish Chanchalani, Tanmay Bhat, Nicole Concessao, and Sonal Devraj of Team Naach, and Dolly Singh have started earning big bucks from brand partnerships.

The economy of creators

Prior to March 2020, the creator ecosystem in India was small due to low internet penetration and lack of digital marketing by brands.

For example, Ashish, Kusha, and Tanmay started with YouTube because the Google-owned platform would share ad revenue with creators.

But YouTube is mostly used for long content, a 5-10 minute video. This means creators need to invest more time, come up with ideas suitable for the format, and need more budget to produce the video.

While the reels are between 15 and 30 seconds long, the production doesn’t have to be extravagant. All it needs is a clean background, good quality sound, a ring light, and a stable internet connection.

Currently, India has about 80 million creators, according to Kalaari Capital. These include influencers, bloggers, video streamers, creators on streaming platforms, and basically anyone building a community around their niche.

Declining audience

With short format videos gaining traction, Shreyaa would post static posts as well as Reels at least 4-5 times a week. Zorawar too.

“Goal toh yahi hota hai ki at least 5-6 times after kare” (the goal was to post at least 5-6 times a week) he adds.

Instagram creator Viraj Ghelani also posted funny videos about daily life, sometimes even 2-3 a day. “Jab bhi ideas aa jaate the toh video bana ke post kar deta tha” (whenever I had ideas I would record videos and post them), he says.

It was a time when any video had a chance of going viral, says Shreyaa. But as the lockdown was lifted across the country, viewers got busy.

“People spend a lot of time on social media because it’s very addictive. But strangely, their attention span has become really short,” says Ishita Mangal, a fashion content designer.

Pushppal Singh, who has been a creator since 2016 with his wife @that.couplewhat, says sometimes engagement on short videos is as low as five seconds, and even on YouTube it’s no more than a few minutes.

Yamini Rameshh, who has more than 14,000 followers on Instagram, also had a similar experience. “During the pandemic, I posted as much as I wanted and I still do now. But even with a similar number of posts, my followers are dropping almost quarterly,” she says.

She points out that she posts content at a leisurely pace, as content creation is more of a sideline. “If I were to rely on this (content creation) as my sole source of income, I can imagine being stressed out by moody algorithms, hoping my reels would get organic exposure,” adds Yamini.

Modification of algorithms

Creators also seem to be reaching a saturation point with Instagram constantly changing its algorithms.

As creators in the United States, India, and China, among other countries, began to rise, Instagram made it the focus of its growth and rolled out new features and made algorithm changes to take them on. in charge.

From the chronological order of viewing images, Instagram’s algorithm has now become much more sophisticated and personalized for each user. For example, if the algorithm thinks someone likes cats, k-pop, and travel content, the app will show you reels and posts related to those topics. Another algo, which was updated in April 2022, would rank original content higher than reshares from other platforms.

Credit: YourStory Design

The Meta-owned app also tinkers with TikTok-like features. One of them was rolled out in May 2022, where a Reel video would take up all the screen space similar to TikTok. Another would show content from creators that a user isn’t even following, which has created a huge backlash, with users pushing to revert to the old chronological order of viewing posts.

“The platform will always try to stay one step ahead of you (a creator). They don’t want you to find out about the platform because they want you to keep using it for as long as possible. The best way to stay ahead of Instagram is to use all of its features,” says Sonia Thomas, social media manager and consultant for over five years.

The need to continue to feed publications to be at the top of research leads to burnout among creators.

“Constantly posting on Instagram means a lot to me. Even if I’m tired and want to take about 2-3 days off from social media, my reach decreases,” says Vitasta Bhat, who creates lifestyle and fashion content.

Veena Jain, a counseling psychologist and relationship coach with Jagruth and Indian Airforce, has treated at least three people who identified themselves as creators. “In one of the cases, there was a huge loss of self-esteem. This person’s followers and likes skyrocketed during the pandemic. But when engagement and following slowed down, it was very difficult for them to stay motivated,” says Veena.

More than half a dozen creators Your story spoke to say that it is very difficult to understand Instagram’s algorithm. “If you keep thinking about algorithms, you’re going to lose your mind,” says Shreyaa, who takes a break every weekend. Even Zorawar takes breaks from time to time.

“I think creators have stopped worrying so much about how their engagement numbers are going,” says Sonia. But Veena says there should be more conversations and education about managing the instant success creators get if they want to survive in this space long-term.

Viraj and Shreyaa say they only post about 2-4 times a week now, while Kareema Barry, who went viral for wealthy aunt impressions, is also not very regular with posting original Reels. .

Find new leads

The reduction in engagement and saturation has led creators to find new ways to monetize.

While Viraj started selling his merchandise in 2019, he’s also in the process of hiring writers and editors, among others, to set up his own production house. The creator also finds acting gigs.

Kareema, a recent graduate from Hindu College, has already starred in the final season of Masaba Masaba.

Shreyaa is also focused on creating videos on YouTube and expanding his presence on LinkedIn, and macro creators including Team Naach, Ranveer Allahbadia, who goes by the name BeerBicep, and Tanmay Bhat have generally had a monetization channel. outside of content creation.

“That pinnacle of just being an Instagram creator is gone. Engagement was high for the past two years because people were killing time. Now we’re back to our normal lives. Nobody has that much time,” says Aashish Maini, founder of Silly Entertainment and Media Pvt. Ltd., a content production and creator management company.

“I know so many creators who either take breaks, seek therapy, or have given up completely due to the pressure of constant creation,” he adds.

According to Aashish, only those who have something unique to offer through their content will find an audience.

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