These days, almost anyone with a smartphone and a couple of social media accounts can be a content creator or believes they already are one (in their own mind). And this is true, up to a point. More people than ever create content, but the quality and originality are all over the map.
With digital content creation, there is a big difference between the average TikTok or Instagram user who sees themselves as "creating content" and a professional content creator. Ultimately, there are some pretty big distinctions between being noticed for occasionally creating impactful, creative and unique content and delivering content full-time every day. (We'll get into this below.)
If you've been curious about what it is and what it takes to be a content creator, then you've come to the right place.
Below, we will better define what a content creator is, sketch out how to become a content creator, and list some of the most common and in-demand digital content creator jobs. We'll also take a look at everything you'll need to become not just a content creator but a good one!
What is a content creator?
So, what exactly is a content creator? Well, it's a bit of an ambiguous term. Marketing folk love to talk about content creation and the people who make it, but it's not as well defined as being a filmmaker, a writer, a fashion designer, etc.
A couple of years ago, YouTuber Sam Newton (a video content creator himself) satirized content creators with a parody music video. "No, I'm not a filmmaker, I'm a Content Creator," Newton raps. "No one knows what that means, but I got my ripped black jeans, and my life couldn't be greater."
Newton's song lyrics get right at the sometimes mysterious and often amusing vagueness of the content creator job description.
But the best way to define a content creator is someone who makes content in various digital media formats that are fun, educational, engaging, entertaining, etc. It could be a YouTuber who makes tutorials, someone who manages an Instagram account for a brand, a TikToker or a writer/copywriter who writes copy for blogs, newsletters and so on.
Types of content creators
At the end of the previous section, we started to get into the different types of content creators. Now we're going to take a deeper dive into some of the most common digital content creator roles.
Many content creator roles are related to video, but certainly not all of them. Others can include audio, graphics and other visual information. We'll discuss some of these roles below.
Social media content creator
A social media content creator is someone who crafts content for upload to a variety of social media platforms. These platforms typically include YouTube, Instagram, TikTok and so on.
A social media content creator might do this purely for their own fun and amusement or as an influencer. Other times they could be employed full-time for this type of work, in which case, they might also be called a "social media manager."
Eventually, social media content creators might want to monetize their content. We've written extensively on how to monetize Facebook (gaming streams, for instance), making money on Instagram, and monetizing YouTube.
Marketing content creator
A marketing content creator will often work either freelance/contract or full-time for a company, creating written, video, graphics and/or audio for the brand. For larger companies and many new startups, a marketing content creator will be a role that is distinct from or adjacent to the larger marketing team. For smaller companies, the marketing manager might be pulling double duty as a content creator.
With a marketing content creator, the idea is to create content that can be marketed to a particular audience. This content can be aimed at individual customers or end-users (business-to-consumer, or B2C) or at other businesses (business-to-business, or B2B).
Graphic designers have been around for a long time. But with creating content in digital media, graphic designers can fill several roles. For example, you can find graphic designers working on still and motion graphics in social media posts, websites, blogs, newsletters, video and so on.
Somewhat related to the graphic designer content creator is the animator or 3D artist. Many content animators can be found on Instagram, TikTok and other platforms, and you can also find their work on websites, in various apps, etc.
Many successful animators and 3D artists start as modest digital content creators on Instagram or TikTok, and in the past, Tumblr. However, over time they've built up their portfolio and audience and now find work with big ad agencies on major brand campaigns.
As with graphic designers, writers can find influence and work across several media. Marketing content writers craft copy for social media platforms, blogs, web pages, newsletters, video (text), podcasts, product advertisements, technical writing, etc. What is more, marketing content writers can find work across a vast array of industries.
When visual content isn't video or graphic design, it is often photographic. So, you often find photographers' work as content on social media platforms, on websites, in ads, product advertisements and the like. Some photographers find great success as social media influencers, then turn that popularity into work for ad agencies and brands.
There are several different types of video content creators. First, there are traditional videographers who create videos for websites, traditional digital ads and social media posts. But in the last 15 years, video content creators can also create videos for YouTube (as "YouTubers"), TikTok, Instagram, and other platforms.
Yet another option for video creators is to sell their video content as stock footage to platforms like Artgrid and make passive income from their motion picture creativity.
Freelance content creator
By now, it's probably obvious that a freelance content creator could be any of the above types of creators. But instead of working full-time for one company, they work as contractors in one specific market or across several industries.
Some freelance content creators might only be writers. Others might create content in written, visual and audio formats.
How to become a successful content creator
Despite what some YouTubers and content creators might say, there isn't an exact, full-proof formula for becoming a content creator. What is absolutely true is that to become a content creator, one must create.
Here are some tips for becoming better at content creation. These tips will, if you desire, help you enhance your creative abilities, whether it's for yourself or to find work.
Gain experience, build a portfolio
As we just noted, to become a content creator, you must start creating. If you want to be a content writer, then write! If you're going to be a graphic design creator, then design graphics! So get started and make creating a habit and routine. But keep it fun.
Create a voice
Once you've started getting into the routine of creating, the next best thing is to create a voice or a style. Some people find this naturally and relatively quickly; others have to think about it for some time and work toward it diligently.
The upshot of finding a unique voice or style is that the audience of your visual, written or audio content will be attracted to and engaged by it. Think about it: if you're a musician and you have a style that is new, fresh, or unique, it will—through time and effort—attract listeners. The same is true for content creators of all types!
So, find your voice and style and give your audience reasons to pay attention to your creations!
Get the tools you need
Depending on what type of content creator you want to be, certain tools of the trade will be necessary.
To be a videographer, for instance, you will need a video camera and, eventually, lights, mics, a recorder and a computer with editing software. To be a graphic designer, you will need a computer (or 2) with design software. Even writers will need a tool—a laptop.
Know your audience
Once you have an audience, it helps to get to know them better. Many content creators ask their audience questions or engage with them in other ways through direct messages, comments, etc. Find out what your audience is looking for and try to tailor it to them without sacrificing your voice and style.
Stay current on social media and trends
Staying up to date on video, writing, graphic design, music, and other media trends is vital. Not only will this help you maintain and expand your audience, but it might even help you discover new ways of creating content.
A good example of this is the YouTuber CUCKOO. Known for his quirky but engaging personality, highly effective music gear tutorials and reviews and wild hair, CUCKOO’s videos have evolved quite a lot since his beginnings as a tutorialist. CUCKOO’s early YouTube work is decidedly lo-fi, and the content varies from video to video. You see a lot of live performances, some vlogs, and even a video in which he shows his prototype touch interface controller.
However, CUCKOO’s videos began to change eight years ago after obtaining a Teenage Engineering OP-1 sampler-synthesizer. A number of tutorials from that time deal with building drum kits and making songs, which laid the groundwork for his later tutorials. In the years since, CUCKOO has kept up with new electronic instrument releases, engaged much more with his audiences, introduced eye-catching graphics and better camera work and editing. Although he still films his electronic jams, CUCKOO also puts together sample packs for his viewers and does tutorials on things like putting together a live rig and creating 3D visuals.
Work in industries you like
Lastly, if you want to be a content creator, there are many markets and industries where you can find work. Think about the ones for which you would like to create content and start pitching your work to them.
Obviously, if you're doing content creation purely for fun, disregard the last paragraph!
DJ Pangburn is a New York-based journalist, videographer, and fiction writer, with bylines at Vice, Fast Company, Dazed and Confused, and other publications. DJ records ambient techno and IDM under the name Holoscene.