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How to Run a Creator Business: Content Distribution Platforms

Woman creator making content for content distribution platforms

This is the second intro post in our series on How to Run a Creator Business. In our first intro, we defined who the creators are and explained some IP basics because all creators make IP. In this second intro, we’ll go into how creators can share their IP with the world. Specifically, we’ll go over some popular content distribution platforms that creators can use to showcase their creations.

It’s important to understand what we won’t cover. For most types of content, there’s an industry that existed before the internet came along. For example, writers had the publishing industry, musicians had the recording industry, and film makers had the movie industry. These industries, of course, still exist, and they each operate in unique ways. They also have their unique distribution channels. It can take years to understand how these industries work and how they distribute content.

We won’t be covering these industries and their unique distribution channels.

Instead, we will look into some alternative distribution channels. All these channels live on the internet. And all these channels distribute content from creators directly to consumers.

Creators Make Money in Different Ways, and Some of the Ways Depend on the Content Distribution Platform

Before we dive into the different content distribution platforms, let’s first take a look at the different ways creators can make money. Not every way to make money is available on every platform. So, you’ll want to keep the different ways in mind when you decide where to upload your content.

In general, creators make money through:

  • Endorsements. You’re paid by the brand to do general advertising for the brand.
  • Affiliate marketing. You earn a commission for each sale of a specific product or service.
  • Platform ad revenue/revenue share. You’re paid by showing ads alongside your content.
  • Direct payment from audience through platforms. The audience rewards you for great work on a case-by-case basis.
  • Subscriptions. Your audience pays per issue/episode much like buying a magazine, book, or newspaper. Some subscriptions include special content made only for subscribers.
  • Audience support. Your audience sends money to you to keep you going. Can be one time or recurring payments.
  • Merchandising. You sell items such as T-shirts, hats, etc. The merchandise usually shows your own artwork, photo print, and similar.

When we profile platforms, we’ll point out how you can generate income on each platform.

Still, competition among content distribution platforms is fierce. When one platform offers a way to pay creators, other platforms often race to offer the same. We will do our best to keep up with the changes. But, know that things change fast and we’ll miss a few from time to time.

Creators Have Lots of Content Distribution Platforms to Pick From

We’re all familiar with the big content/social media platforms: Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, just to name a few. But, at every moment, new platforms are opening up. Each is vying for their own star creator.

And creators are looking for some of the up and comers too. It’s often easier for a new creator to establish a following on a smaller social media platform than on a behemoth like Facebook.

Our articles will cover the established content distribution platforms. But we’ll look through less well-known ones too. Inevitably, though, we will miss a few despite our best efforts. So, don’t be afraid to explore and discover new platforms on your own.

Not Every Content Platform Fits Every Type of Creator

The big content distribution platforms all try to accommodate many types of creators. But not even they can accommodate all types of creators. For example, YouTube isn’t the best platform for writers. And, despite it trying, Twitter isn’t the most obvious place to show a how-to video.

Because of this, we’re dividing the content distribution platforms we profile into a handful of categories. Some categories can fit several types of creators—for example, Instagram is suited for videographers and photographers. We’ll do our best to fit the platform into its most obvious category, but we’ll also mention the other types of content the platform can handle.

Let’s first talk about the content platform every creator should seriously think about having: your own website.

Having Your Own Website Gives You the Most Stable Platform

The problem with content distribution platforms is that they’re owned by other people. If these other people want to change the rules on their platform, they can. If they run out of money and need to shut down, they can do that too. They don’t owe you anything.

The only way you can ensure you’ll always have an online home is to have your own website. As a bonus, your own website also gives you the most ways to generate income.

Of course, whether you need your own website as soon as possible or if you can wait a bit depends on the type of content you create and how successful you are. It’s probably less of an emergency for a Facebook influencer to quickly build a site. But if you’re a writer who blogs about fintechs, you’ll want to have your own website fairly early on. After all, the Facebook influencer makes his money on Facebook while bloggers tend to make money from ad revenue or affiliate links from their own websites.

Depending on your technical skills and willingness to do things yourself, a website can be easy or hard, cheap or expensive. There are entire websites with articles on how to build websites. Naturally, we won’t be able to cover that much info.

But we can give you an overview on how to build your own website and point you to other resources. Here’s the article:

How to Build Your Own Website, for Creators and Small Businesses

Other than your own website, there are all sorts of content distribution platforms you can use to share your content. We start with the big social media platforms everyone’s heard of.

The Big Content Distribution Platforms are Crowded with Creators but Usually Offer Many Ways to Earn Money

To gather our list of the biggest content distribution platforms for creators, we looked into a list of the biggest social media platforms for 2022. The list includes the traditional social media platforms like Facebook. But it also includes messaging apps like WhatsApp. It’s also a big, international list.

How We Decided Which Are the Top Content Distribution Platforms

While people do share content using messaging apps, it’s often just with a small group. This won’t work for creators. So, we’ll leave the messaging apps off our list, even though they are considered social media platforms.

This list also includes social media platforms from all over the world. A lot of the platforms are popular in China. But our readers are mostly in the US. So, we’ve left apps like WeChat, Douyin, and Sina Weibo off our list.

The top 5 platforms of what’s left are the following platforms. Their rank are in parenthesis.

  • Facebook (1)
  • YouTube (2)
  • Instagram (4)
  • TikTok (6)
  • Snapchat (12)

Others farther down the list include Pinterest (14), Twitter (15), Reddit (16), and Quora (17).

Twitch is also worth mentioning because it’s so popular with gamers, but it didn’t make the list at all. Neither did LinkedIn. We’ll cover Twitch when we cover gaming platforms. But we’ll leave LinkedIn off our list because the creative content we’ve seen there are mostly reposts or links from other platforms.

How Creators Can Get Paid on the Top Social Media Platforms

Each of these big social media platforms has many ways of paying creators or helping creators get paid. In fact, we originally planned one article covering all the top 5 content platforms. But there was so much information that we had to divide the article into 3 smaller ones. (We think creators are busy people and don’t have time to read overly long articles.)

We’ve grouped the articles into the platforms owned by Meta (Facebook, Instagram), the big video platform YouTube, and the platforms popular with younger users (TikTok, Snapchat).

Here are the articles on how creators can make money on the top 5 content platforms:

You don’t have to work only on these platforms, of course. In fact, it’s better business practice to spread your content over several social media platforms to capture more followers. Below are some other platforms to explore. We’ve organized them by types of content.

Content Distribution Platforms for Writers and Journalists

Writers, more than any other type of creators, should have their own website. A standalone website can generate every type of revenue listed earlier in this article.

Still, we know that not every writer wants to pay for a website. And many don’t have the technical knowledge to build and maintain a website (or have no time or no inclination to learn). So, there are various platforms where you can gather a following and write and publish your work.

Technically, most things on the internet can accommodate some sort of writing. You can write in very short form on Twitter (e.g. Chaucer Doth Tweet, Thoughts of Dog). Or you can write in long form on Medium or Quora. And there’s everything in between.

Where you write also depends on what you wish to say. On some platforms, non-fiction writers, journalists, and fiction writers can mix. But other platforms are more focused on just one or two types of writing. Our detailed article will touch on all these types of writing.

A lot of writers do freelance work. Others publish pieces through established magazines that also have an online presence. We’ll briefly mention some sources where you can look for opportunities to do this, but we won’t focus on them.

Here’s the article on online content distribution platforms that will pay writers to write on their platform:

Online Writing Platforms That Pay Creators

Content Platforms for Videographers and Film Makers

Next to the written word, videos are probably the second most popular way folks communicate online. In fact, the big social media platforms that didn’t start as video platforms like Facebook and Instagram now offer videos. Even the most traditionally writing-focused platform Reddit has videos.

Of course, YouTube is the original video distribution platform. We already covered YouTube in our article profiling the biggest content platforms. So, we’ll now look at YouTube’s competitors.

The video distribution platforms we profile here can host videos from cooking how-tos to short animated films to comedy skits. We were a little torn on whether we should put music videos in this group. After all, these days, music videos are the norm. And, in some ways, YouTube is as much a music platform as a video platform.

We finally decided that, for this section, we’ll include platforms that can play music videos too. Later in this post, in our music distribution platforms section, we’ll focus on just sound recordings. So, if you’re a musician looking to upload your own music videos, you’re in the correct section.

Here’s our more detailed article on content distribution platforms for videographers and film makers:

Video Platforms That Pay Creators

Content Distribution Platforms for Photographers

These days, most content platforms allow you to take a photo and post it. Things have come a long way since the days of Flikr and the old Instagram. So, if you’re a photographer working on still images, you might be able to show your work on pretty much any platform.

Where it comes to platforms specifically focused on photography, Instagram is, of course, the biggest. We already covered Instagram in our biggest social media platforms article. Here, in our more detailed article, we’ll cover some smaller platforms.

We’ll take a look at content platforms like 500px, Behance, and EyeEm. We’ll also look at stock photo websites where photographers can submit their photos. Some will pay their photographers, but others are free. (We use a free one for our website.) Some of the free ones allow users to donate money to the photographers. In other words, whether you’re a pro or an advanced hobbyist, there are photo distribution platforms online that will pay you.

Here’s the article with the details on photo-centric content distribution platforms:

Photo Sharing Sites That Pay Creators

Content Distribution Platforms for Musicians

For many years now, it’s been pretty easy for an aspiring musician to upload music onto a content platform for anyone to listen. And, for musicians, there seems to be less of a stigma self-publishing their works than for writers.

As we mentioned earlier, if you’re a musician looking to upload a music video, you should read our article on video distribution platforms. For this section, we’ll focus on just the music files. We’ll be profiling platforms like Bandcamp, Soundcloud, and Audiomack.

Of course, when you talk about music, you have to think about uploading to Apple Music, Spotify, and Amazon Music. But these larger platforms only want to work with music distributors. Luckily, there are quite a few music distributors that will work with independent musicians. We’ll survey them for you.

Here’s our detailed article on content distribution platforms for musicians:

Music Streaming Platforms That Pay Creators

Content Platform for Gamers

Gamers can fit into our videographer category, of course. But gamers often stream their gameplay live, and some of the games require a very high bandwidth because of the detailed graphics and fast game play.

That’s why we put gamers and streamers into a separate category. The platforms we explore tend to be designed especially for gaming.

Of course, where it comes to streaming games, most people know Twitch. We’ll cover that. We’ll also cover other platforms like Caffeine and Facebook Gaming.

For details on content distribution platforms for gamers as well as info on ways these platforms can help you generate revenue, see here:

Live Game Streaming Platforms That Pay Creators

Content Distribution Platforms for Podcasters

The last type of content platform we’ll cover is for podcasters.

Podcasting has been around for a long time. Like writing, it’s a highly flexible way to deliver content.

Making and publishing a podcast is somewhat different compared to making and publishing other types of content. For one, you need to pay for a hosting site to host your podcast files. When your listeners download your podcast from a store like Apple Podcasts, they’re actually linking to and then downloading from a hosting site. To appear in podcast stores or lists, you submit your podcast and an RSS feed to the store. The store is only to help listeners find you.

Here’s our more detailed article where we go over podcast hosting services:

Podcast Hosting Sites That Pay Creators

We Haven’t Forgotten Influencers

By now, you’ve probably noticed that we don’t have a category for influencers. We haven’t forgotten them.

Influencers don’t work in a vacuum. They’re creators who have amassed an audience doing what they do. And what they do can be videos, blogs, photos, music, podcasts, and so forth. You can be an influencer no matter what medium you work in, as long as you have followers.

And that’s why we don’t have a separate category for them.

At the End of the Day, These Categories are Arbitrary

There’s a reason creators are called creators. They’re creative people. And creative people want to do things in new ways.

So, just because we’ve put creators into different categories, you don’t have to pigeonhole yourself this way. And, just because a particular content distribution platform is optimized for video content, for example, doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t try to figure out a way to maybe use it for written content. In fact, if you can figure out a way to do this, it’ll probably attract followers just for the novelty of it. And followers are the key to generating revenue.

And, speaking of revenue generation, most content platforms help you generate revenue only in limited ways. Product endorsements and affiliate marketing, for example, really aren’t tied to content platforms at all. And that’s what we’ll look into next. Here’s the intro article:

How to Run a Creator Business: Monetizing Your Content

Interested in starting and running a small business? Here’s the beginning of our step-by-step guide: What to do right after getting that great business idea.

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