Very Fine Day #32: Kaya Yurieff
KAYA YURIEFF is on the newsletter this week, everyone. Kaya Yurieff on Very Fine Day. Did I mention we have a website now? I’ll link it again. Still a few tweaks, but we’re getting there. “Hello” to all the new subscribers and “welcome back” to everyone who has stuck around for the ride.
Things are looking really exciting in VFD headquarters. Wait, why did I just call it that? That’s awful. It’s just me at a desk in my bedroom. Anyway, it was great to talk to Kaya. I'll be honest – and I think this came across at the very start of the interview – I only keyed onto her maybe about a month ago when there was this super fascinating (and depressing!) graph she made, and newsletter she wrote, about the similarities that are continuing to erupt between all of these social media platforms.
I don't know how you guys feel, but I'm getting tired of this lack of innovation. I'm sure I'll get people emailing me and messaging me on Twitter, telling me that there is innovation, I’m just not looking for it, man.
But it's innovation that doesn't feel the same. It's innovation that feels like people innovating to sell something, not innovating to make something beautiful that exists to make people happy online.
But I get the need to create dollars. I know money is important. Hey, I lost my job once. I got made redundant. I’ve done that. Anyway, I’m rambling.
Kaya was super friendly and really open about how she got to where she is currently in her career. She also had a really interesting take on how the creator economy is probably just in its early stages and in need of some help in the form of infrastructure. I can’t imagine what it’s like to, overnight, become a viral sensation and have your inbox full of people asking to be your agent for the small, you-won’t-even-notice-it’s-gone fee of 10%. How do you pay your taxes? What about healthcare? What do you even write down as your occupation?
Things are going well in Sydney. I got my first vaccine on Saturday. I know a few American and European readers might be wondering how Australia is this late in the game and let me tell you, we’re all surprised, too. But you get what you’re given. You have to be grateful. I’m looking forward to leaving my fucking house.
Enjoy the conversation, it’s a good one. Also I feel like I come off as a real idiot talking about NFTs at the end. But, y’know, that’s what this is all about.
Thanks again for reading. If you enjoy it, think about subscribing, and if you already subscribe, think about sharing it, too. I’m not going to beg. Am I begging? God. Drop me an email, tweet me, whatever. Am I just getting really lonely and anxious in this house, surrounded by the same people every day? That’s probably too deep.
See you down the road.
VFD: Zoom does this thing now where it yells at you when the session is being recorded.
Kaya Yurieff: Yeah, alright.
VFD: I remember when they first broke that out a few months ago. They didn't really announce it. I was interviewing someone and I clicked recording and, God, it was so awkward. It was just the worst start to a conversation and made me look so sneaky.
Kaya Yurieff: It’s good that it does that though, right? I'm sure there were people who were low-key recording and people didn't know.
VFD: Yeah, back at the start of the pandemic Zoom had plenty of issues. It went from being used by 50 people and a couple schools to millions of people who for some reason didn’t use Google Hangouts or Skype.
Anyway. I was first clued onto you fairly recently, I’ll be honest. There was a story you did with an infographic about how all social media is exactly the same. Was that this month? No… we’re in September now. But it wasn’t that long ago. What was the thinking behind that, and the response to it as well, because I saw a lot of people obsessing over it.
Kaya Yurieff: So it's funny, I never really thought about charts as a journalist. I just tried to make that my thing a little bit with the newsletter. My struggle, sometimes with the newsletter, is it comes out later in the day. So it comes out around 7pm, Eastern. I’m always thinking: If there's a big headline of the day, how do I push that forward? For example: Facebook launched its creator fund for a billion dollars and all the headlines were out. So, that day, I made a chart and compared it to all the other creator funds. It just comes from thinking about how to show things visually. I think it’s helpful and resonates with people. Especially with the creator economy, there isn't necessarily a lot of data, so it was just something I was noticing.
All of these social media platforms are rolling out Stories as a feature and things like live audio. I almost did it for myself. Like: this will be helpful. And a lot of the charts seem to do really well on Twitter, which is nice. It brings people back to the newsletter.
Twitter is even doing this test where it’s showing photos much bigger. It just looks like Instagram. All of these platforms are morphing into each other.
VFD: Yeah, why do they all do that? Other than that it’s working for someone else. Is it that simple? It just seems like this lack of innovation. I was lamenting to a friend today about the lack of creativity in what seems like the next stage of the internet: Web 3.0.
Is it just going to be people chasing each other’s tails?
Kaya Yurieff: I think it's just this race to keep up and we see that it doesn't work for everyone. Like, that chart is already out of date, right? Because LinkedIn said yesterday it was getting rid of Stories, and Twitter also got rid of Fleets. So it obviously doesn't always work. I think social companies want to test it out a little bit. If you think about Stories, it's really a big success on Instagram. And that's it. You don't use stories on YouTube or other platforms.
VFD: Yeah, totally.
So you write a newsletter – not on Substack – which I commend you on. But it’s mostly about the creator economy, right?
Kaya Yurieff: Yep.
VFD: And that was something you started doing, I feel like, before the “creator economy” became this buzz word that doesn’t actually mean anything. People just use it to talk about anyone making money online.
Kaya Yurieff: So I started in April. Before that, I was at CNN for four years and I covered the creator economy a little bit, but my beat was big tech and social media. So there was an overlap there. I’ve always wanted to do more creator stories and have always been following it. Y’know, reading Taylor Lorenz’s work. I think she has done a really good job of legitimising this beat.
I think the pandemic was probably the big catalyst for this. Everyone was talking about OnlyFans and Patreon and they were raising all of this money and it seemed like the launch of this newsletter in April was at the perfect moment when it had a lot of steam. Now, I think that has just continued.
I do a lot of my research though PR Newswire – and I know a lot of journalists hate press releases – but it’s super helpful for the newsletter because I hear about companies that I’ve never heard of, or random announcements. So every morning I go into PR Newswire and I type in “creator economy” and it’s crazy how many companies are using that term now and putting it into press releases. They want it to be part of their SEO strategy.
VFD: Do you think they’re using it correctly?
Kaya Yurieff: I think in a lot of cases, yes. There wasn’t really a word, right? People would just say “the influencer industry”. And I don’t know if “influencer” is the right word, either. I don’t mind creator economy. It’s probably getting a little bit overused.
VFD: And you write one edition a day, is that right?
Kaya Yurieff: Monday through Thursday, yeah.
VFD: Is that tough?
Kaya Yurieff: There’s a lot going on. I think Fridays are really key for me to look back at the last week and go: was there an announcement that I wish I had more time to go deeper on? Or: Oh, wow, Clubhouse seems to be hiring a lot, let me try to write a story on what that could mean.
So yes. I mean, especially in these last weeks of August it has been really slow. The OnlyFans stuff has been just huge and took up a lot of real estate in the newsletter, but I haven’t found that it’s difficult. I always have a running doc of ideas for when there isn’t an obvious headline or bigger trends.
VFD: Like what? I don’t want you to burn all of your story ideas, but…
Kaya Yurieff: Well, social media platforms all looking the same was definitely one of them. Let me pull up the doc, I’ll give you one idea. No spoilers. I have general stuff like maybe creating a gaming-focused issue, because I haven’t done a terrible amount of coverage of gaming, although I did write about the Twitch boycott.
Someone wrote to me recently about this Facebook parent group that has recently been talking about how to help kids navigate TikTok fame, which is really interesting.
VFD: Jesus, how many kids have to navigate TikTok fame?
Kaya Yurieff: Quite a few! There’s this thread that I was looking at where these parents are trading tips, which I love. So that’s a fun one. And I want to do a chart of all the Link-in-bio startups because there are dozens of them.
VFD: Yeah, there’s a big Australian one called LinkTree.
Kaya Yurieff: That’s the biggest one. But I did not realise that there were dozens of them. I want to do a massive chart.
VFD: Yeah, if you could figure out why their business is that valuable and how they became the 100 million dollar business for link-in-bio.
Kaya Yurieff: I did a newsletter, a kind of primer, on why they existed. Obviously they’re born out of a constraint: you can’t put more than one link in your social media bio. And I was like: Why doesn’t Facebook or Instagram just add that functionality?
And I chatted with some experts about it who said the obvious answer is that they don’t want you going to outside links and leaving the website. So what they’re doing is building more stuff into the product. Instagram is doing that affiliate programme so that you can do that instead of linking out. It’s a really interesting, weird subset of the creator economy.
VFD: Yeah, for sure. So you're at The Information, right. When did you start?
Kaya Yurieff: April,
VFD: What's it like there at the moment? Is it still pandemic vibes? Are you still working from home?
Kaya Yurieff: Yeah, I’ve been in the office a little bit.
VFD: You’re in New York?
Kaya Yurieff: Yes. And I have an editor in San Francisco, so we kind of work remotely anyway. I feel like that’s not too different. But I was lucky, I think, to start at a time when things were getting a little bit better in New York. So we were able to do some meetups and they hired a bunch of new people. It was nice to be among a group of new people started remotely. I’ve been able to to go into the office a few times. But now with the Delta wave stuff I feel like it’s getting a little hairy again in New York. I haven’t been in the office too much.
VFD: Yeah, I mean, we’ve been locked down again for almost three months now. It’s really fun. Great to do it twice. Love my house, love looking at all the different corners of it.
Were you at CNN for the first part of the pandemic?
Kaya Yurieff: Yeah, I was there for four years. It’s kind of crazy when I think about it: one day I just left the office and never went back.
VFD: At my worked we changed where everyone sat and I got a new desk. It was this really nice spot by the window, looking out at the train station. I likened it to that “Lo Fi Hip Hop Beats To Relax To” screensaver thing. Just perfect. Anyway, I sat there for maybe three weeks and then never went back into the office. So that’s fun.
How did you find yourself at CNN?
Kaya Yurieff: My history with CNN goes back a little further. When I was in college in DC I interned there for a year in my senior year. So I worked on John King’s Inside Politics as an intern, and then Jake Tapper’s show The Lead. I always thought I wanted to get into TV, actually, as a journalist, and it was such a fun experience. I think there’s nothing like being in the control room of a live show just seeing how it all comes together. But I realised that the producing side was just not what I wanted to do. I really wanted to do reporting and interviews, but didn’t really want to be a producer. And that’s what’s good about internships: you can try it out before you actually take the job.
VFD: Yeah. How many people would you say make the Jake Tapper show happen?
Kaya Yurieff: Oh, good question. I don’t know if it has changed, because I also joined when he was pretty new to the show. This was 2015. It was a sizeable team – it’s hard for me to say. Maybe two dozen people back then? I don’t know. Now; that could be way off. I’m trying to do a headcount. But it was me and another intern for that semester.
VFD: Right, and you went to college in DC?
Kaya Yurieff: Yeah
VFD: Which college?
Kaya Yurieff: George Washington University.
VFD: Right… And what is that, exactly? Give me a picture of that, as someone who has no idea. George Washington: I’ve heard of him. Wooden teeth, right?
Kaya Yurieff: OK, so there are several universities in DC. George Washington is right in the heart of DC, so you can walk to The White House, you’re constantly going to classes and a motorcade passes by. I was there during the Obama years, but it was fun.
I thought it was a great hybrid of being in a city but you’re in a manageable city with a campus feel. I think NYU is a little more spread out over New York and a lot of people don’t necessarily live in dorms, so you don’t get that college feel. George Washington was a good hybrid for me: living in dorms for two years and then living in an apartment. It was actually cheaper to live in an apartment.
George Washington University is, I think, the biggest real estate owner in DC after the federal government. They own a tonne of real estate. My apartment in Senior year was walking distance from Georgetown – where the shops are, not the university – and Dupont Circle and Foggy Bottom. So that was a really fun place to go to school with awesome opportunities for internships, especially during Winter semester – you had way less competition than Summer internships where everyone in the world is competing with you. I liked it.
VFD: Did you do journalism?
Kaya Yurieff: I did. They have a really awesome journalism school and a lot of professors are still active journalists. So it was a really, really, awesome place to be.
VFD: Still active? So they’re working full time but also teaching?
Kaya Yurieff: Yeah, so for example, I took an investigative journalism class that was taught by a Washington Post investigative reporter, which was awesome. It was really cool and also super intimidating.
VFD: Yeah, not super chill, right? Can’t imagine that being a joke a minute. Did you grow up on the East Coast? In DC?
Kaya Yurieff: Oh, I grew up in Vermont.
VFD: Right, OK: Vermont. I’ll be honest it doesn’t bring up a lot for me. Bernie Sanders is from there, right?
Kaya Yurieff: Yep,
VFD: That’s about it.
Kaya Yurieff: It’s cold. It has beautiful mountains. Summers are awesome and it’s close to the Canadian border. Great foliage.
VFD: Did you get out of there as soon as you could?
Kaya Yurieff: So I was born in Vermont and it’s a really beautiful place to grow up but my junior year of high school I convinced my parents to let me study abroad in Poland, where our family is from. I grew up speaking Polish, and that was a nice way to spice things up. But I always wanted to be closer to a city. I am much more of an urban dweller.
VFD: Did high school in Poland freak you out?
Kaya Yurieff: I lived with my grandma, who is amazing. I loved that, and my grandpa had recently passed away so I figured I could keep her company a little bit. But I went to an international school and it was definitely helpful to have a half English, half Polish background. And I mean, I grew up speaking Polish so I was like: this is going to be a breeze. No problem. Of course, I got there on the first day of school and it felt like people were speaking a different language, because you don’t learn the slang with your parents, right? People speak really, really fast. And they would always tell me I spoke this very formal Polish. I thought it would be a breeze but it’s so hard and the education system there is very rigorous. I thought I was going to be having so much fun and not worrying about marks. And I was a certainly in a pass/fail situation, but it was still like: Oh my God. I was taking these really high level biology classes that were half in Polish. But it was still a good experience and I keep in touch with some of the people that I met in high school there.
VFD: Did you just get back to the US and start grabbing your American classmates like: I can do this. This is going to be easier.
Kaya Yurieff: There was one other girl who had just moved from DC and who had grown up speaking Polish. She was born in Poland but lived a lot in the US and we started at the same time. We became, like, best friends. Of course, I go to Poland, and I meet an American.
VFD: So when did you focus in on journalism as something you wanted to do?
Kaya Yurieff: I honestly don’t remember. I think I probably woke up one day and was like: I want to be a journalist. When I got back from Poland I wrote a column in my local hometown newspaper about studying abroad and it was fun to see my name in print and to go through that process. I was always a really avid reader and English was always my best subject. And it’s like: what do you do with an English major? It just seemed like journalism was a good way to actually turn that into a career. I always like talking to people and interviewing people and hearing their stories. It felt like journalism really melded all of my interests together well.
VFD: And from there you got out of college, did some stuff with Jake Tapper, and now you have done mostly tech, or tech-adjacent, reporting?
Kaya Yurieff: Yeah, that’s fair.
VFD: What drew you towards that?
Kaya Yurieff: It’s funny. I was in DC and I was like: I’m definitely going to be a political reporter.
VFD: Of course,
Kaya Yurieff: You just think about journalism and politics together in DC, and I never really thought about anything else. The catalyst for it all was graduating and thinking: OK, what am I going to do? CNN offered for me to stay on after my internships, but I really only wanted to work there in a reporting role. And I really wanted to live in New York. So I got this internship at Bloomberg News. I had no business background – I even thought about taking a business journalism course. But I just ended up being like: whatever… I’ll try and wing it.
I think when you're in DC, you're in this bubble where you just think politics is everything. And it was fun to go to New York and be in this bustling newsroom that almost felt like a trading floor and learn about something else. So I got into business journalism through that internship.
And then I worked at The Street, which is a financial news website started by CNBC anchor, Jim Cramer. And I was writing about stocks, but again, I had no business background.
VFD: Did you give out any bad advice? Did you have anyone sending you emails like: what the fuck, why would you tell me to invest here?
Kaya Yurieff: It wasn’t really financial advice. I was on this team called the speed desk and we had this programme that would auto-populate every day with stocks that were trading at unusual volumes and we had to figure out what was moving stock. So, obviously, sometimes it was hard to figure out. But I had just been thrown into the deep end. It was fun. I mean, it was a challenge. Every day I was like: Oh, wow…
I learned about all of these weird little things, like analysts at a bank downgrading stock and that’s why there’s a decline that day. I got a really hardcore financial education there and that’s kind of how I entered the journalism world.
From there, because I was covering all these different types of stocks, I was interested in technology. I’ve always been an Apple user and a big social media user and I was drawn to the stories that I felt comfortable telling as a user of these products.
Kaya Yurieff: So that’s kind of how the tech interest came out. Then I went back to CNN after The Street in a general assignment role on the business team covering tech.
VFD: When would you say you started reporting on this crossover between tech and people and culture?
Kaya Yurieff: I would have to go back through my archive, but one of the first stories I remember pitching within CNN that I was like: this is really important, was Snapchat giving creators analytics.
For a long time, if you were a big star on Snapchat, you had the same information as any average user. So this was a big deal. They were trying to compete with Instagram. And that was one of the first very incremental stories and my editors were all for it, but I had to explain why this mattered.
I also remember covering the Snapchat redesign and also when Kylie Jenner tweeted about it. It was like: Guys, Kylie Jenner is making Snapchat’s stock drop with one tweet. So I think that was the beginning, but I also did fun stories about Instagram-focused restuarants, talking to restaurant owners in New York, and built this beat on the side. And the stories resonated! I think they did quite well. But I was still covering a lot of other major tech stories: iPhone launch events, a lot fo work on Facebook, misinformation, Instagram.
VFD: This is pre-COVID?
Kaya Yurieff: Yeah, that’s right.
VFD: That’s always a fun thing to write about: misinformation. Lots of great DMs from fans about that I’m sure.
Kaya Yurieff: Yeah, yeah.
VFD: Does writing about that stuff not just drive you mad? I found when I had to do it you’re just pushing a boulder uphill. Like: now Facebook’s doing this. And they’re going to pay a million dollar fine and keep doing it. And then tomorrow there’s going to be another thing. And then another thing. And you just keep writing the same story.
Kaya Yurieff: Yeah, but I think that this type of journalism does make a difference. I remember when I did this story about the measles outbreak in New York when people didn’t want to get vaccinated.
VFD: Wait, I do not remember this. There’s a history of not wanting to get vaccinated, then.
Kaya Yurieff: Oh yeah. This predates COVID. There was a measles outbreak and I noticed that #vaccineskill on Instagram were doing well.
VFD: Just your really fun, cool-to-browse hashtags.
Kaya Yurieff: Yeah, and they were coming up very high in the search results. It’s not like I’m deep into Instagram and finding this. It was more like you search “vaccine” and you’d be getting all of this misinformation. So I did a story about that and they ended up blocking that hashtag. There’s little wins like that.
VFD: What’s your honest opinion on the bullshit behind it all, then? I guess I think about Facebook and Instagram – and TikTok more recently – and how periodically they’re in this mode where everyone gets growth, right? We’re watching the taps get turned on and everyone’s getting followers. And in the same way that Facebook did it in 2016, where videos of watermelons were getting a billion views, it just feels like it’s all going to fall apart again, right? Like, yes you can go online, become a creator, and make money doing it – but there’s a timeline to it. And it’s dictated by these companies and when they decide to change.
Kaya Yurieff: Yeah, I don’t envy it, because they have to have a massive amount of content that’s uploaded constantly. But at the same time I feel like they’ve been more vocal about saying things like: This is against our rules.
I remember a few years ago, YouTube had this big announcement that they were blocking – I don’t want to say the wrong word here – it wasn’t “white nationalist”. It was “white supremacist”, but not “white nationalist.” So they had this big thing about how they were banning white supremacists and then a week later I did a story about the former head of the KKK still being on YouTube. It was pretty easy to find him, too. And I think these companies get into trouble when they make these big PR pushes and big policy announcements. They’re not actually enforcing it – or they’re having trouble enforcing it. So I think that's where it's frustrating.
Or I did this story several times about this one Nazi in Canada. We reached out to him once and he was like: I’m not a neo Nazi, I’m a real Nazi. And YouTube had been playing whack-a-mole with his account and I was like: you’ve banned him so many times! He didn’t have a big following, though. So like, if an Alex Jones is trying to get back onto YouTube they’re gonna notice that, but it’s these smaller accounts that still have reach and influence that get through the cracks.
I’m like: You don’t even have a list of these accounts??? So I think they just get into trouble with the enforcement. And as they more and more come out and say: this is bad, or: this is against our rules, more people will find stuff that slips through the cracks. That’s where I think a lot of the tension happens: where the enforcement is really lacking.
VFD: Do you not think that they have an obligation to do that, though?
Kaya Yurieff: I always think they have an obligation. And even more-so because they’re saying that it’s banned from their platform. It’s not like before when they were like: Oh, y’know, we’re not a publisher, blah blah blah…
VFD: Yeah – and they also have, like, a trillion dollars. And they’re still like: how do we do it??? And it’s like: I don’t know. Hire a bunch of people? Spend more money?
So what do you think the future of this is? I won’t ask you to be the prophet of the digital future of the creator economy, but what do you see as something that’s coming up? And also, can you explain to me how NFTs aren’t just money laundering. I’ve been meaning to ask someone this for so long and I didn’t want to tweet it because I didn’t want to get harassed for asking a dumb question by people who are like: We’re revolutionising the art world! It just seems like money laundering to me.
Kaya Yurieff: OK, so which one first…
VFD: The first one.
Kaya Yurieff: OK, let’s see.
I think there are some several shifts that have been happening with the creator economy. One thing – and I think this is a big piece of the future of work, and what I’ve been surprised by with the pandemic – is that I have talked to so many creators who have suddenly gone viral on TikTok after losing their corporate jobs, for example, and they’re not going back to that life. They’re like: I kind of accidentally built this one million follower TikTok account and this is my job now, right? So I think the pandemic has definitely shifted things. It has shifted people’s priorities a little bit, too. Now they’re thinking: Life is short. I’m going to pursue what I want to pursue.
I think more and more that this industry is maturing. And people see it as a viable career path. Of course, there’s tonnes of creators that don’t make it and are still juggling full time jobs while doing this part time, so it’s definitely not easy. But I think there has been enough examples of people making it full time that it seems like a career path.
I hope that there’s more infrastructure for creators, because I think people talk about being a creator very romantically. Oh, you’re so creative, you make fun stuff online. But there’s a huge mental toll and burnout toll that people take on, and I think a lot of creators that I talk to are still on the fence about quitting jobs because of this lack of infrastructure. Like, you have to figure out health insurance, you have to figure out taxes. We’re seeing this a little bit with Substack with them giving writers health insurance or legal services or advances. I don’t know how you do that at scale but I’m curious. Is Instagram going to have a paid time off program? I don’t know. But I think that’s being talked about now. Like: OK, these people are actually entrepreneurs and building businesses. I think for the gig economy it’s talked about more – you talk about the labor issues – and I don’t think the creator economy has gotten there yet. Creators are more open about talking about burnout and mental health, but it’s hard. You’re on this hamster wheel.
For me, I write a newsletter, and I feel like I do see a lot of parallels with my job and creators where I come out with something Monday through Thursday and have an audience, but it’s very difference because I can go on vacation for a week and I have health insurance and a stable job. I’m part of a company. So yeah, I hope there’s more people solving that, and I think there are a lot of startups in the space that are helping freelancers and creators to run the backend of their business. But it’s really early. A lot of the creators I talk to, they don’t have time to be researching all of these services. They’re kind of just winging it, or doing it on Excel. There’s a disconnect, too, between these startups and creators.
VFD: It’s always wild when you talk to them. I found that whenever I have interviewed an influencer or a creator, whatever you want to call them, they have this sense of surprise in their voice with every answer they give you. They’re just like: I don’t know. I don’t know! I made one video, drinking kombucha, and now I’m a millionaire. And then I’m just like: OK, yeah. That’d be nice.
What do you think of this growing narrative that not anyone can do it but that it is so doable. Because I think, paired with the pandemic like you mentioned before, people are trying to think about themselves and their own time rather than giving it to some capitalist effort from someone else. But truthfully I see it as this whole new potential wave of depression and sadness, because not everyone has the ability to make themselves a thing, right? And you get saved from that by being a part of a corporation. You get health care, you get paid time off. But it’s going to become very clear that most people are not super talented. That’s the sad truth. We can’t all be that. And I feel like that’s going to really cause some stresses, right?
Is there a middle class? Is there a blue collar creator economy where you can run the equivalent of a mom and pop store?
Kaya Yurieff: There absolutely is. I talked to a creator recently who has about 4000 Instagram followers and makes $1000 a month from Instagram, which really blew my mind because that’s not a lot of followers but that’s pretty good, right?! Like, obviously $1000 in most places in the US, in a big city, that’s not going to cover your rent. But $1000 is $1000. That’s pretty good, especially for a small following.
I think we don't talk enough about the long tail of creators. There’s a lot of focus on the TikTok creators who are living in collab house in LA. And that’s obviously not the reality for a lot of people. It’s hard to get good research on the creator economy because it’s so fragmented, but there was a survey recently by an influencer marketing firm and they heavily skewed towards Instagram influencers. They surveyed, I think, between 500 and 1000 creators on how much they make, and it was people with 100,000 followers and above who were making about $100,000 a year – which is way above the median income in the US.
But it is hard. I made a TikTok and I happened to get a puppy during the pandemic and I was like: she’s gonna go viral. I’m gonna quit my job! And I posted a few videos and it totally flopped. It’s really hard! You have to be consistent. It’s not easy. But it’s definitely doable and I think TikTok has really levelled the playing field a lot, helping random content go viral.
I think that’s much harder to execute now on instagram and YouTube. It’s not impossible. Just the way that TikTok is set up makes it easier. But on the other hand I think it also creates this insane pressure where you have to keep creating because you never look at your following page on TikTok, right? You’re always on the For You page. So in order for creators to still be popping up there they have to keep creating. It’s really tricky and it’s harder to take a break.
It feels like, with Instagram, you have a little bit more of a connection with people than following your TikTok. You’re really going there to be entertained. Of course, you’re watching certain creators, but you’re just scrolling, really. It’s not as in-depth of a connection.
VFD: I think it’ll be really interesting when people start moving. There’s this portability, like there is with every social media, where people start going: I want to be on YouTube now and I want to try and move my audience over. But I have serious skepticism over people with 50 million followers. The video views on TikTok are very high. And I’ll be interested to see how that translates when they make a video like: Hey, I’m moving to YouTube. TikTok the company could even make it so that no one sees your video. It’s a scary thing.
What do you think is the creator economy, young-person-version of the return of newsletters? Because I feel like newsletters have risen again because you own that audience, right? I can take the VFD audience and bug them, or annoy them, in so many different ways, because I have their emails. I’m not going to, but I could. But that doesn’t really exist as much with things like TikTok and YouTube and Instagram.
Kaya Yurieff: Yeah, I’m curious to see if more platforms are going to try to do that. At least the startups. I think it’s harder for major social platforms to do that. And it’s probably against incentives to do that.
You’ve seen Facebook with Bulletin, its Substack competitor, and they also let you keep your email list. So that works for newsletters. But I don’t know how that will translate to something else. I wonder how Patreon could maybe make that work. I think that’s a big plus, if startups are able to offer that.
But that’s a big draw: keeping your audience. And I don’t know how the social platforms do that. I think that has become so attractive because for so many years the stories that I covered about influencers were about them being upset with algorithm changes. They don’t have a lot of control. So I think there is definitely an appetite for having more control over your audience.
But I think creators are very good at hacking things that don’t exist. Like: blogs are alive and well. A lot of creators are adamant about having their own website and having a mailing list, too. So I’ve heard of creators who have mailing lists – it’s not really a newsletter but it’s an email blast that goes out.
VFD: I think that’s definitely going to happen. I don’t know why, other than maybe that because Biden is the president and it feels like everything’s going not quite back to normal, but back to pretending everything is normal. And the thing that I associate with that is the blogging culture of: Let’s just write dumb shit online and who cares? Let’s build entire media brands on the back of writing dumb shit online. I can definitely see that returning in some way or another, I’m just not really sure that is.
Let’s just go back a bit though: do you understand NFTs at all to go into that question?
Kaya Yurieff: No, we have an awesome crypto reporter and she has a crypto newsletter. I’d have to ask her. I mean, I understand NFTs on a very basic level. I think what’s more interesting to me is that we see all of these NFT examples of, like, Logan Paul selling out and making a tonne of money on those Pokemon card unboxing things.
So I think some of it can be seen as very gimmicky. But it seems like some people are trying to use NFTs in a way where you can buy an NFT and then you’re also getting lifetime tickets to this artist’s show. Or they’re adding something on to it. And that’s more interesting to me, I think, than that. I’m really not an NFT expert, though. There’s a lot of crypto and creator overlap now, and there’s social tokens. There’s a lot of black mirrors.
VFD: Yeah, as someone who has deliberately tried to stay as far away from crypto as possible, because my brain just can’t handle it. I’m aware of that crossover happening. Maybe I need to read a book or something.
Well, thanks for doing this. I really appreciate it.
Kaya Yurieff: Yeah, no, thanks so much, Brad. I appreciate it.
VFD: No worries. Have a good day — I’ll see you online.