Creator Hierarchy of Needs
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Creators have a hierarchy of needs as they grow. Understanding these needs helps you build products that creators love:
Publish: To get started, creators need to find a niche and publish frequently. Most creators give up before finding an audience, so staying motivated and avoiding burnout is key.
Grow: To grow an audience, creators need to understand what's working, interact with fans, and collaborate with other creators.
Monetize: To make money, creators need to add multiple revenue streams and learn how to run a business.
These needs form a hierarchy because creators typically need to tackle a lower-level need before moving to a higher level one.
Let's explore each need from the perspective of a creator who's starting from scratch.
1. Find a niche
When you're just getting started, find a niche at the intersection of:
What interests you
What you're good at
What people want
Start with what interests you because curiosity drives competence. Once you find a topic that you want to explore further, look for people who are passionate about it on social media and follow their conversations.
To really stand out, you need to find a niche within a niche. For example, instead of doing video reviews for new movies on YouTube, you might start by reviewing Korean movie thrillers with twist endings. I just made that up, but the point is - the more specific your niche is, the more unique your content will be, and the more you'll separate yourself from everyone else.
Here are a few creators who successfully found a niche:
Marques Brownlee (13M subscribers) reviews tech products on YouTube.
David Perell (141K followers) is known as "The Writing Guy" on Twitter.
Sheriff Eli (265K followers) uses his cop persona to stream GTA on Twitch.
2. Publish frequently
Once you find a niche, you need to publish frequently - anywhere from once a day to once a week. Here's an example of why publishing frequently matters:
Dunkey is a popular YouTuber who uploads gaming videos every week. He recently shared a video called "I'm Done Making Good Videos" with this chart:
Dunkey's weekly uploads couldn't compete with creators like Markliplier who upload daily. After Dunkey shifted to a daily schedule, his channel views have grown 344%.
The reality is: On ad-supported platforms, you can often grow faster by publishing good enough content frequently vs. great content sporadically.
3. Stay motivated
The constant pressure to publish content can put a drain on your mental health. Many creators struggle with anxiety or depression while trying to hide these feelings from their fans.
That's why it's important to take breaks, connect with people on a similar journey, and be open to professional help (e.g., from organizations like Rise Above the Disorder).
4. Learn what works
Publishing frequently helps you identify what content resonates the most with your fans. Look at your analytics at least once a month to find the content that received the most fan interactions (e.g., likes, comments). Be on the lookout to publish more of what's working and less of what's not.
5. Interact with fans
If you only focus on publishing content, your growth will quickly plateau. You also need to interact with fans to get them invested in your success. To interact with fans, you can:
Thank them for watching your content.
Reply to their comments and messages.
Ask them about what content you should create next.
By interacting with fans, you're showing them that you care about their support. Going the extra distance to make your fans feel special can make all the difference (as long as your fans don't make unreasonable requests).
6. Collaborate with creators
Collaborating with other creators is one of the best ways to grow because it introduces two fan bases to each other. To find another creator to collab with, you can:
Watch content from another creator.
Ask your fans what creators they like to watch.
Ask other creators who you should collab with.
Once you find a few creators you want to collab with, get to know them through Discord, Twitter DMs, and other channels. Start planning a collab, which can be simple or complex depending on the platform. On TikTok, for example, creators can collab with a few taps by doing a duet or stitch. On YouTube, however, collabs may require weeks of planning to create a video together.
7. Earn revenue
You've built a loyal fan base by publishing frequently, interacting with fans, and collaborating with other creators. Now it's time to focus on making money.
Chances are, you publish content on a large media platform like YouTube, Instagram, Twitch, or TikTok. These platforms offer many ways for you to make money (e.g., ads for YouTube and subscriptions for Twitch). It's fine to rely on a media platform for paychecks early on, but you should take two important steps to diversify your revenue as soon as possible.
First, you should look for brand sponsorships, a major revenue stream for many creators. Consider getting an agent who can help you find brand contracts in exchange for a percent of the deal. Agents might reach out to you or you can ask other creators for referrals.
Second, you should move your fans to an owned community. On media platforms, you're only "renting" your audience. At any moment, the platform can change its algorithms or policies in a way that hurts your earnings. That's why you should start seeing these platforms as top of the funnel channels to send fans to a community that you own.
An owned community has three attributes:
More ways to make money. For example, many creators send super fans from Reddit and Instagram to OnlyFans to make more money (e.g., via subscriptions, tips, and pay per view messages).
A direct channel to reach fans. For example, creators like writing on Substack because they have access to fan email addresses.
Your brand is center stage. For example, creators are trying out Circle, a community tool that lets creators add their own branding.
Many creators also use Discord to make it easy for fans to talk to each other. Surprisingly, I haven't found an owned community tool that meets all of the criteria above.
Creator monetization can be a separate post by itself, so I’ll close with a list of ways that creators can make money:
Physical goods (e.g., merch)
Digital goods (e.g., online courses, eBooks, pay to unlock content)
8. Manage your business
Once you have multiple revenue streams, you'll likely need help managing your business. Many creators hire a manager to help with their finances, scheduling, and career in exchange for a 10-20% share of their earnings. Startups such as Stir and Karat also help creators run their businesses so that they have more time to focus on creating content.
9. Build a personal monopoly
Creators at the top of the hierarchy have built a personal monopoly. They can use their massive fan base to enter the mainstream and jump start new ventures (e.g., TV shows, book deals, and even burger chains). Charlie D'Amelio (TikTok) and MrBeast (YouTube) are the obvious examples, but a top creator on a smaller platform can also find mainstream success.
As a creator, it's hard to build an audience without finding a good niche, and it's hard to make money if you haven't built an audience. Try to tackle each need in rough priority order to work your way up to a personal monopoly.
I wish you good luck on your journey!
Thanks to Victoria Sun for collaborating with me on this post.
If you enjoyed this post, let’s connect on Twitter.
On the monetization side, don't think only about $$$. You can also monetize your audience by asking them to "work" for you. Ex: like my last blog post, share my tweet, subscribe to my Youtube channel, vote 5-stars my podcast. moderate my live chat...
really great! shared this on #yenFM today. i wrote a step-by-step that might help your readers build a product / service / community or #commSaaS in 2021: http://commsaas.org