2020 has thus far been defined by COVID-19, but in the history books we may very well refer to this year as a pivotal moment in economic development with the birth of the passion economy.
If you haven’t given Adam Davidson’s book The Passion Economy: The New Rules for Thriving in the Twenty-First Century a read yet, it’s sort of required reading for anyone working in the sphere of influencer marketing. Davidson defines the passion economy as the ability of the average joe to leverage their unique skills and passions to create new kinds of business and find success as well as satisfaction in their unconventional careers. Sound familiar? In an interview with WBUR, Davidson explains that his novel describes a series of case studies in which people have turned their side hustle or hobby into a full-time job through engaging audiences and monetizing their content and creations. “This is not a book about geniuses who went to Harvard and used their dad's money to start a business,” he says. “These are regular folks — many of them grew up either poor or lower middle class or working class — who figured some things out.”
This is not a familiar narrative to many the marketer, but our industry has grown in an unprecedented way in the past 2 years that has only been exacerbated by coronavirus and the consequential lockdown. In his commentary on the passion economy, Daniel Harvey (Co-founder and CRO of Passion.io) cites automation as a main driver in making traditional forms of work obsolete.
“Automation, globalization, and the internet have fundamentally changed the way we view work. The concept of the ‘steady job’ is disappearing. Manual jobs and repetitive tasks are being phased out of existence: they’re being replaced with robots and algorithms,” Harvey explains on his company website, a service that helps individuals and SMBs build their own apps. “Self-driving cars aren’t a thing of the future anymore. They’re soon going to be on the roads and all around us. The advent of this technology highlights why we need to change our relationship with work. Technology is going to make the ‘professional driver’ obsolete. People need to find new ways to make money and find meaning in their lives.”
Perhaps Harvey is referring to the gig economy that preceded the nascent passion economy of today - platforms like Uber allowed individuals to monetize their time and labor on their terms. But as Jin Li comments in her breakdown Passion Economy & the Future of Work, those platforms severely limit the creative freedoms and range of skills workers can apply or develop in these ‘gigs’.
Li writes specifically that the largest online labor marketplaces (Wix, Canva, Shopify) didn’t offer the level of individuality that the modern creator is looking for, as they traditionally catered to SMBs.
“Users can now build audiences at scale and turn their passions into livelihoods, whether that’s playing video games or producing video content,” Li explains. These opportunities are being discovered on different platforms that all share a few characteristics in common:
These criteria hit on all the benefits that Harvey mentions come packaged with success in the passion economy: “as society moves into this new age we need to re-address how we make money. The 9-to-5 is history, people want flexibility, freedom, and purpose from their job. Most importantly, they want to do something they’re passionate about.”
Other commentaries on the topic of the passion economy actually cite a greater issue of supply and demand than just the individual’s discontentment with the 9-5 grind. Benjamin Vaughan writes in Forbes that the push towards the passion economy is actually in response to a dwindling attention economy.
This is yet another thing that industry experts in influencer marketing can confirm - we are constantly citing the disproportionate engagement rates of audiences and communities on specific platforms like YouTube and podcast in comparison to the more programmatic Facebook and Instagram channels.
Vaughan writes, “today’s consumers have few illusions about how social media giants are profiting from their attention, and the practices are beginning to tire them. The methods used have become obvious or well-known and they fail to stimulate consumers as an audience and according to our research, 52 percent of respondents are desperate to cut the cord and spend less time on their social accounts. Emerging out of this frustration, the passion economy has created space for interactions that are based on sincere, shared passions and interests.”
So is it a phenomenon strictly driven by automation and obsoletion of the workplace? Simply a result of markets searching for more effective ways to find an engaged audience? Or a symptom of the frustration and dissatisfaction with the traditional career track that workers across all industries report to be experiencing?
Signs point to a combination of all three, and don’t forget to include the distinct influence that COVID-19 has had on the ability of the traditional worker to find and be paid for work - with unemployment (and underemployment) being projected to hit 10% by the end of 2020 and remain at 9% at the end of 2021, people are being forced to monetize their passions in many cases. Plus, there’s the audience: Vaughan’s article in Forbes cites there has been a huge increase in engagement as community app audiences stay indoors during lockdown. “Their retention - defined as the percentage of users who still use an app 30 days after install - during lockdown currently stands at 33%. This is more than six times higher than the 4.35% 30-day retention benchmark set by AppsFlyer, who recently surveyed 15,000 mobile apps.”
At ThoughtLeaders, we’re more excited than ever to see our industry growing on all fronts: we have more content creators now than ever, instructing and advising audiences on more platforms than we had even 9 months ago; more brands now than ever are understanding the power of customized, tailored interactions between consumers and their products and services; and the type of content being created is leveraging, and ideally amplifying, the engagement and trust of the viewers. Unlike many other economic relationships where the employee, provider and consumer suffer various pain points, the passion economy allows all parties to exercise their freedoms (for an example of how brands are winning big with influencer partnerships, click here).
Just like Davidson reflects about the passion economy, at ThoughtLeaders we believe that the future of work will continue to involve more people monetizing their passions through the power of longform content. We support the idea that experts should be paid for being thought leaders in their industries, and we’ve worked with creators of all kinds to help them pursue their passions.
As Jin Li outlines in her article, there are tons of platforms that have provided the framework to this opportunity - but the type of platform and the amount of power and oversight given to the end user matters. She outlines several creator types and platform options available that empower creators by offering full creative freedom and monetizing the levels of engagement the person can generate (thereby indirectly measuring the quality of their content, rather than quantity, like a gig economy platform might).
A major reason why we might be seeing more and more people transforming a side hustle to their full-time work might have to do with the specific resources these platforms have enabled the creators with - iTunes and YouTube provide viewer metrics data to any channel users, whether business or not, which has made them way more accessible to single business owners and individual entrepreneurs.
At the same time, one major concern with subscription-service platforms is that they require payment to access content. Because not everyone can consume that content,a future concern for these platforms will be the issue of gatekeeping - it could eventually harm the performance of the influencer’s content, rather than help them monetize what they do. ThoughtLeaders CEO David Tintner spoke on this topic, saying “the subscription model doesn’t democratize information. We want that high quality content to be available for everyone to consume.”
Furthermore, brands are hesitant to jump into new platforms right away in terms of their marketing strategies: When he was working in content and still developing the ThoughtLeaders Sponsorship Intelligence analytics platform, Tintner reflected, "5 years ago, a lot fewer brands that were doing content on YouTube. A few brands that had pretty significant power and money to test the space kind of forced the trend, as you see more brands follow suit and start to get into it. But you also see more creators amplifying certain types of content that brands then begin to follow. So the power dynamic is always changing: different platforms, different content subjects, it's shifting all the time.”
To help creators and talent agencies that have formed in recent years to represent these creators and their content, ThoughtLeaders has built a platform that analyzes millions of pieces of longform content on digital, video, and audio formats. While creators already have a few tools at their hands to measure and improve engagement levels on the consumer side, there’s not a ton of clarity from a business perspective in how to systematically generate quality sponsorships for content. As we’ve stated, longform content is advantageous to the creator, consumer, and company behind it, but the relationship between these three parties hasn’t been tracked or measured previously to the level that we have come to expect with programmatic marketing data.
Whether you’re a creator, a talent rep, a media agency, or a direct brand looking to crack the nut on influencer marketing, we’ve got the data and the experience to drive success for your initiative. Check out how we can help you make your passion a paycheck and how we help talent agencies prospect, connect with, and form long-term partnerships with key brand partners in their industry - request a demo from us today.