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Distribution platforms like YouTube and TikTok will always have an important role in the creator economy. But with the rise of Bring Your Own Audience (BYOA) platforms, there’s a new sheriff in town.🤠
In this post I will dive into:
Why it makes sense for creators to lean into BYOA
Creators don’t want to build a home in a war-zone.
Creators need a community platform beyond content.
Consumers want more ways to interact with and financially support creators.
What the rise of BYOA will mean for the creator economy
Symbiotic co-existence with distribution platforms
More & better creator-centric products
Exhibit A: New Platform Winners
Over the past couple of years, companies such as Patreon, Onlyfans, Shopify, and Gumroad are quietly (kind of) gaining momentum.
What do they have in common? They’re all BYOA platforms, meaning creators drive their fans to use these services.🤑
Let’s talk about the reason this makes sense for creators, and why BYOA will thrive alongside distribution platforms while ushering in more creator-centric products.
First, what are BYOA platforms?
Bring Your Own Audience (BYOA) platforms focus on enabling value generation for creators who lead an existing fan base there.
BYOA’s core value is not top of funnel discovery, there is no algorithm creators have to dance around to get eyeballs. With BYOA, the creator’s job is to drive traffic to the BYOA platform, and the platform’s job is to convert that traffic into creator value.
Contrast this with a traditional content distribution platform, where the winning formula is to ensure consumers see the content that results in more time on the platform, so that ads can be shown to generate ad revenue.
BYOA is creator centric. Distribution platforms are consumer / advertiser centric.
BYOA comes in two flavors: 1) let creators deepen the strength of their community, 2) help creators convert their social capital to financial capital. Creators think of these platforms differently than places where they distribute content.
Content distribution platform: (TikTok, Instagram, YouTube)
BYOA platforms for monetization or engagement: (Patreon, Gumroad, Discord)
Flywheels are all the rage these days, so “funnel” is probably cheugy here. If you’d prefer, think of discovery as the initial turn of the flywheel, and engagement as the accelerant that propels the flywheel to its next loop.
Note: The chart is not meant to be scientific. It is a snapshot of my perception of these platforms, and things do change quickly. Twitter has made 6 acquisitions in the past 6 months, condensing a multi-year creator ecosystem strategy into a year. It is probably much more focused on creator monetization than ever. Likewise, companies including Discord and Reddit are adjusting course to better serve creator needs.
Why BYOA makes sense for creators
1. Creators don’t want to build a home in a war-zone
Creators want to direct traffic to BYOA places because they see it as home base — a place of their own — rather than a competitive arena where they fight with others for attention, judged by an almighty, black-box algorithm.
Once creators have earned consumers’ attention in a crowded bar called Twitch or Facebook, BYOA is the creator version of: “let’s get out of here, I know a spot😉”.
OnlyFans has grown on the back of Reddit as a free marketing channel, where adult content creators market themselves through popular R-rated subreddits. Reddit itself is not conducive to building the creator’s home as it is the place people go for content fit for the forum context. Once consumers arrive on the OF page of a creator, they’re immersed in the world of the referring creator.
Shopify integrates into brand sites, enabling merchants to own the direct online storefront experience with their end customers…
…because your site in the open web is the only place you own. On any other services you pay for an impression or you’re renting it from someone.
- Tobi Lütke (Founder, CEO of Shopify)
On BYOA platforms such as Circle.so, creators can organize, showcase, initiate, promote, and sell in ways that give them much more control. This level of space customization is not afforded on distribution platforms where the concept of Profiles / Pages / Channels are intentionally generic to serve the lowest common denominator needs. This goes back to difference of BYOA platforms’ creator-centricity vs. Distribution platforms’ consumer-centricity.
2. Creators need a community platform beyond content
It takes time to create awesome content, so creators aren’t publishing new content constantly. Between the podcasts, live streams, and banger TikToks, creators need a community platform where they…
“…foster a community that loves them, get feedback on content and ideas, and lets super fans form strong connections” - Creator with 1M+ fans on social
When done well, community unlocks the power of the crowd. It removes the creator as the bottleneck for starting interesting conversations, new friendships, and iconic inside jokes. With the collective creativity and knowledge of everyone in the community, people help, educate, and entertain one another while being connected through a mutual fandom of the creator or topic.
A deeply engaged community is also what makes a creator valuable as a brand, beyond content. As creators become more successful, engagement is far more crucial than follower count. Depth of engagement is a key aspect that brand deals (largest income stream for top creators) are based upon when creators partner up with brands.
Content distribution platforms can also build community engagement features into their product, but they only work in the context of content (e.g. polls on live streams, comments on photos). The community features on distribution platforms that extend beyond content will be me-too features, and likely an afterthought unless they prove engagement-positive or revenue-positive. Easier said than done.😅
3. Consumers want to interact with and financially support creators
…in ways that content distribution platforms can’t or won’t support. Why?
Recall that content distribution platforms make >95% of their revenue from ad revenue. They’re not in the business of monetizing community experiences, they’re in the business of monetization attention.
So for platforms, the incentive to facilitate a non-monetizable conversation between fan and creator is much lower than the incentive to push users to consume more content that can be monetized.
Community builders would argue this is short-sighted and that healthy communities can take >1 year to develop before paying dividends in ways the company can really appreciate in metrics. I agree :) but the reasons platforms optimize for short-term outcomes are a multitude, and that’s a topic for another post.
Platforms get the best return by optimizing their advertising revenue engine, and that’s where they put forth their biggest effort. That makes sense. But for creators, ads revenue is usually not their biggest source of revenue (except at a particular stage of success just before brand deals).
Creators also monetize through other streams such as merch lines, pay gated content, and exclusive interaction experiences. None of these are natively supported with the flexibility that would satisfy the wide spectrum of creators we know and love today.
It’s worth noting that distribution platforms have invested quite in the opportunity of fan funded monetization over the past few years. The success is hard to ignore, some of these products have grown tremendously on big distribution platforms.
However, there is a perception from some creators and consumers that the platform cut is too high, and uneven (i.e. top creators negotiate more favorable terms). The prevailing standard is a 30% platform cut, which is accompanied by another 30% Apple Store / Google Play tax if purchases are made in app.
This has led to the new wave of standalone utilities such as Kofi, micro-tipping services offering more favorable revenue sharing terms for creators.
The most recent features from big platforms seem to catch onto the trend too, with Twitter and Clubhouse essentially turning digital goods product opportunities into money-transfer services where the platform takes a 0% cut of the “tip”.
Besides “tipping” features, BYOA platforms also offer more favorable revenue splits on subscriptions. For example, OnlyFans takes a 20% cut for subscriptions, compared to a 30% cut on YouTube memberships, 50% cut on Twitch subscriptions, or 80% cut on revenue from traditional adult content / cam sites.
It is valid to say that sites like OF can only take a lower cut because 1) they do not offer the myriad of utilities, conveniences, and value adds that YouTube does, and 2) they are a new player that needs to offer a more palatable deal to kickstart creator acquisition. But this does not change what creators see: “more for me”.
What does this mean for the creator economy?
Three takeaways. One emoji — 📈
1. Symbiotic co-existence with distribution platforms
BYOA brings focus and flexibility onto aspects of creator businesses that don’t fit within the confines of distribution platforms.
They will help creators win by elevating community building and community monetization to the next level. BYOA platforms will thrive in tandem with distribution platforms, which are necessary but insufficient on their own to unlock a healthy middle-class of creators.
2. More & better creator-centric products
I firmly believe that over the next 5 years, even more BYOA platforms will emerge to offer streamlined and tailored solutions to creator needs.
Meanwhile, existing community platforms such as Discord will tune their strategy to propel the ecosystem to new heights by unlocking more community and monetization potential for creators.
3. Accelerated innovation
As creator-centric startups continue to rise, it also brings competitive pressure for distribution platforms to improve their own offerings faster. It’s been happening already, and here are some developments from just the past year:
Acquisitions, Spaces, Tip Jar, Super Follow from Twitter
More fan funding and membership options on YouTube
Direct fan-to-artist payments on SoundCloud and Spotify
Regardless of the specific feature, incumbents are forced to respond to existential competitive moves that reveal latent demand in the marketplace.
For creators, this means more options in more places to make a living doing what they love. What a time to be alive as a creator.
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