Platform payouts: Creators reveal how much social media behemoths are willing to shell out

This editorial series examines industry trends across the media, media buying and marketing sectors as 2023 closes and the new year begins. More from the series →

At this point, creators and influencers have gone from a nicety to a budget line item for marketers, booming the creator economy to become a multi-billion dollar industry. For the last few years, platforms like YouTube, TikTok, Instagram and even Snapchat have rolled out the red carpet to creators by way of creator programs, funds and other ad revenue sharing opportunities.

The recent reality has been more lackluster than originally thought, according to 12 creators Digiday spoke with for this article. Meager ad sharing payouts, arbitrary posting requirements and termination of multiple platform-led creator programs has left creators questioning their relationship with major social media platforms and looking to be less reliant on monetization via the platforms themselves. 

“I view it as gas money,” said Jack Appleby, part time content creator and creator consultant. “If you’re a creator and you hope the [social media] networks will pay you, it’s a fool’s errand. You need to go to the brand deals yourself.”

Still, gas money is money, and out of the 12 creators Digiday spoke with for this story, 10 of them have participated in a creator fund or ad revenue sharing program within the last year or two. Read on to get a sense of what each platform is offering and how creators are using them. (Find last year’s winners and losers of the creator economy here.)

TikTok: reigning champion 

Within the last few years, TikTok has become the primary platform of choice for brands working with influencers and influencers themselves. According to Morning Consult, TikTok went from obscurity in 2019 to the most popular influencer-following platform for more than a third of Gen Zers. 

The platform started helping creators cash in on their TikToks with its signature $1 billion Creator Fund in 2020. Reportedly, the Creator Fund ended on December 16, and the company shifted its focus to its newer Creativity Program Beta, which pushes for longer TikTok videos and promises creators the potential to earn 20 times the amount previously offered by the Creator Fund.

Jess Zafarris, content director and part-time content creator with nearly 90,000 followers on TikTok, started her TikTok account back in 2020, at the start of the creator fund. Early on, Zaffaris would post daily where videos could go for $2.50 in the Creator Fund if they got above 10,000 views. How much TikTok is willing to pay nowadays is much less, she said. To date, she’s made $319 from the Creator Fund, she said.

“Originally, I could make like $2.50 off of a single video,” she said. “Now, that same video, for the same amount of views and responses, likes and comments, if not more, would make three to five cents.”

Mollie Daniela, content creator with more than 98,000 followers across social media platforms TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest and Lemon8, and founder of Fluent in Pink online community, shared a similar experience, having participated in TikTok’s new Creativity Program Beta. Year-to-date, she’s made just $33 from that specific program, she said. In comparison, Daniela has monetized more than five figures in brand deals and affiliate links this year as an influencer. Daniela did not provide a specific dollar amount. 

One of TikTok’s long standing criticism from creators is its ambiguous payout process. Creators say they’re unsure what content meets payout requirements. Daniela said more than half of her videos submitted to Tiktok’s Creativity Program Beta were disqualified, which she suspects would have been the ones to make the most money, per TikTok’s guidelines, but she wasn’t told explicitly why they were thrown out, she said. For reference, TikTok says rewards are calculated based on qualified views and RPM [revenue per thousand impressions], or average gross revenue per 1,000 qualified views, which can fluctuate depending on things like authenticity, adherence to Community Guidelines and Terms of Service, according to TikTok’s creator info page.

“This has been very confusing to me and I am discouraged from creating videos longer than one minute now,” she said in an email to Digiday.

Beyond ad revenue sharing, TikTok offers gifting, where users can send monetized gifts to influencers and creators during live streams. Zac Clejan is a rapper, songwriter and classically trained violinist who goes by @thetrapviolinist on TikTok to more than 835,000 followers. As a creator, Clejan has managed to rake in anywhere from $2,000 to $3,000 a month just from live streamed gifts and the Creativity Program. 

A newer program is the TikTok Creative Challenge that allows creators to submit TikTok ads to brand challenges and be rewarded based on that video’s performance. Jacob Wallach, founder and CEO of Social4TheWin and part-time creator, said he’s part of said program, raking anywhere $800 for some videos, and $5 for others. 

If creators could ask for anything, perhaps they’d ask for more clarity around payout eligibility requirements and algorithms that favored their content. The murkiness around TikTok’s revenue sharing programs has turned some creators off from even attempting to monetize their presence on the platform. 

“I’ve heard rumors that joining the Creator Fund decreases your views,” said Annie Silkatis, a part-time creator with 37,000 TikTok followers who works in tech PR. “The lack of consistency with how videos perform from day-to-day, when it’s the same content, the same hashtags, the same sounds, it’s just shouting into the void.”

Most of Silkatis’ influencer income stems from brand deals via email. For her, joining the TikTok creator program isn’t worth it, she said.

Instagram: The originator 

Meta found itself at the center of creators’ ire when it ended the beloved Reels Bonus program for Instagram and Facebook in March after initially launching it in 2021. Seemingly, it was meant to encourage creators to post short-form content to the platform, fueling the short-form video arms race with TikTok. Creators say it was great while it lasted.

Kayla Bishop, a full-time lifestyle content creator with more than 32,000 TikTok followers, joined Bonuses for Reels when it launched, making a few hundred dollars from it, she said. But by mid-2022, she quit because she didn’t have the bandwidth to constantly post in hopes to get the bonus. And, like TikTok, what videos were worth the payout was unclear, she said.

“In the beginning it was great,” she said, “and then I felt like maybe they were spending too much money and they stopped showing videos for people who were using the bonuses.”

Per creators, Bonus Reels will be missed. Daniela said she was able to make a couple hundred dollars every few weeks on videos that wouldn’t typically be considered viral. But, like TikTok, Instagram’s requirements for a payable video felt ambiguous.

Full-time content creator Jontá Harris, who sees 95% of brand deals stem from Instagram, said he joined the Bonus Reels program and turned it off after two months because the payout wasn’t worth the work. On Instagram, Harris has more than 80,000 followers who subscribe to his lifestyle content. 

“For me, it just seemed like they were stifling that engagement so [they] wouldn’t have to pay the creator a lot of money,” Harris said. “That’s just my theory.” Meta did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.

As it stands, creators can earn money on Instagram via branded content, in-app shopping, subscriptions and live stream badges, where followers can monetize their support during a live video. 

X: The underdog

When it comes to traditional influencers and the creator economy, Elon Musk’s X may not come to mind. But the business mogul has been pushing to change that, rolling out a monetization program in February in which the platform shares ad revenue with creators who pay for Twitter Blue, its subscription program. 

To become eligible for the ad revenue sharing, users must be subscripted to X premium, have at least five million organic impressions on cumulative posts within the last three months and at least 500 followers, according to X’s help center

Beyond that, the platform has rolled out Super Follows, where power users can charge from $2.99 to $9.99 per month for content. There’s also X’s donation-based tipping feature. 

Appleby, the part-time content creator and creator consultant, has amassed more than 63,000 followers on X. He’s made a couple hundred bucks here and there from Twitter’s creator offerings, including the tip jar, he said. He did not disclose further details.

Meanwhile, Jessica Davis, a part-time content creator, who focuses on career content and works for an analytics consulting firm in customer success, pulls in an average of $250 per month from charging followers a $2.99 monthly subscription fee. 

While advertisers have fled the coop due to brand safety concerns, Davis says she’s not quite ready to part with her 40,000 followers. But it has put her in an uneasy position, she said, noting eventual plans to transition her presence and content on X to YouTube. 

“I no longer want to keep all my eggs in one basket, because I see what happens when you do that so I like to kind of spread my content across,” she said. 

Lemon8: The unexpected

TikTok’s sister app, Lemon8’s hype came as soon as it went. But it stayed around long enough for creators to make a few bucks off of the emerging social media platform that pays creators to post. The ByteDance-owned Lemon8 was supposed to be the Instagram alternative, launching in the U.S. in February. It was said to put creators first — maybe too much, marketers told Digiday in a story about Lemon8 that was published earlier this year

Earlier this year, Silkatis, a part-time creator who works in tech PR, enrolled as a paid creator from August through November, sometimes raking in more than her full-time paycheck, she said. She did not offer specific payout figures.

Ironically, the platform that prioritized creators wasn’t prioritized by them, creators say. Celebrity makeup artist and part-time content creator Kierra Lanice tried her hand at being a creator on Lemon8, but quickly abandoned it after feeling overwhelmed with trying to monetize yet another platform. 

“I’d rather go straight to the source, straight to the brand and not have to monetize because of the type of content that we create,” she said, referring to her work as a celebrity makeup artist with makeup content.

Sing, the full-time content creator, made a similar comment, pausing work on the platform after the first 10 posts, she said. 

Snapchat: The comeback kid

Snap has had a rocky year, only now rebounding its revenue after Q3 of this year. (How the company plans to maintain its momentum here.) Recently, it hasn’t been a priority for advertisers (hence the revenue struggles), nor has it been a priority for creators

Last year, Snapchat rolled out new revenue programs and other monetization opportunities aimed at creators. Creators can monetize their presence on Snap through gifting, much like Instagram Badges or X’s tip jar feature, monthly rewards via Spotlight or Spotlight Challenges, where creators can win prizes for submitting top-performing Spotlight posts. 

And much like its efforts to turn around its ad revenue, Snap may soon find itself in favor with creators with its latest monetization offerings. For example, Alyssa McKay, the Snapchat creator who posts 100 times per day, managed to make $1 million from mid-roll ads. (McKay tells how she did it on the Digiday Podcast. Tune in here.)

Singh said she only been Snapchat’s Spotlight program for the last few months with plans to prioritize the platform as a revenue channel next year.

“I make all of my living off of social media,” she said. “I’d say 80% of my income was from Snapchat this year because of how high the spotlight payouts were.” She did not disclose a specific dollar amount. 

YouTube: The creator’s aspiration

Earlier this year, YouTube made the decision to share ad revenue on Shorts, its answer to TikTok and Instagram Reels. It was intended as a way to help creators make more cash. But that hasn’t been the case so far. Impressions and views are up, but watch time and revenue have taken a hit, per Digiday reporting.

Even as creators are frustrated with all of the different platforms, there’s seemingly hope in YouTube, dubbed the the most reliable, creator-friendly platform, creators say. The payouts for short-form content is very low compared to long-form, said Sing, but it’s consistent nonetheless and worth the long-term investment for creators.

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