COVID-19 significantly shifted most of our lifestyles. Instead of filling our calendars with social or family activities, we found ourselves wondering what to do stuck at home. And rather than visiting our favourite yoga studio for a stretch and sweat sesh, we moved our exercise routines to our living rooms and found new teachers: digital creators.
Since the start of the pandemic, the passion economy has boomed. At boon.tv, we’ve seen an influx of new creators — people who adapted to COVID-19 by moving their businesses online. We’ve also seen significant success for experienced creators, too: on our platform, some creators saw their income triple or even quadruple throughout the pandemic.
But now, things look different. Countries around the world are vaccinating their citizens against COVID-19 and gradually opening up society. Soon, we won’t have to work out or learn new skills from the confines of our homes. If you’re a creator, you might be wondering: what does this mean for my digital business? Will my audience still subscribe to my channel? Or is it a safer bet to ditch the digital and go back to running my business in-person?
Nobody can predict the future — so we spoke to experts and looked at research for insights. The bottom line? You don’t have to choose between being a digital creator and an instructor in your local community. Instead, embrace the hybrid model: unite both to reap double the benefits.
And what are the long-term benefits of the digital, you may ask? Access to a wider audience, cost-effectiveness — and a head start within the business model of the future. Read on to find out why.
Your digital audience will stay loyal to you — with or without a pandemic.
‘Digital creators who are popular do a good job of connecting emotionally and providing a sense of social support and connection,’ says media psychologist Pamela Rutledge. ‘Because of this, audience members start to feel they have a real relationship with the person they see every time they tune in. This is called a parasocial relationship: it is one-sided but can be no less meaningful and important to the viewer, especially during isolation.’
Research demonstrates that your audience's relationship to you can be just as intense as any other relationship in their lives. Crucially, that makes them loyal to you over the long term. Plus, some people actually prefer parasocial relationships: they can eliminate the tension, anxiety, or discomfort that come with other social situations. Considering that COVID-19 has increased our social anxiety, this benefits you: as a digital creator, you can offer people an anxiety-free outlet for connection. ‘While the restrictions are easing, the anxiety over COVID-19 is not gone,’ says Rutledge. ‘And not everyone is an extrovert waiting to re-engage. For people who are more introverted, there will be a more difficult transition as they ‘re-learn’ to navigate the social environment and as we adapt to whatever new version of normal we face.’
COVID-19 supercharges what’s already happening: the rise of digital business models.
Businesses going digital during the pandemic isn’t a blimp on the radar. It’a tipping point towards a new normal — even after society opens up again.
First of all, digital business models (like creator channels) were already well-primed for success before COVID-19. ‘We have to keep in mind that a shift towards the digital has slowly been happening for a long time,’ says Matthew Philp, an assistant professor of marketing at Canada’s Ryerson University. ‘COVID-19 merely speeds things up.’
The important part for creators? According to McKinsey, this isn’t a temporary reaction to the pandemic. Instead, the massive shift towards the digital will likely be long-lasting. ‘As people have more choices, they will migrate to where their needs are met best. However, you can’t undo the new acceptance of virtual,’ adds Rutledge. ‘People will continue to subscribe to channels where they have meaningful emotional engagement with creators that goes beyond the content.’
Your digital business is key to growing a bigger, more diverse audience.
‘An obvious benefit to being a digital creator is reach,’ says Philp. ‘If you have a local studio or store, you’ll reach a 10 kilometre radius. But if you provide the same service online, you reach a much broader audience. So, the potential for growth is much higher than running your business in-person.’
At boon.tv, we have proof: 70-90 percent of our creators’ individual members are located over an hour away from where those creators live. The takeaway? Your creator channel allows you to tap into a market well beyond what is possible through your physical business.
As an added bonus, that bigger market includes people who may never look beyond your channel at all. ‘The boom in income and subscribers that creators saw over the past year happened because of COVID-19. But it wasn’t just because people had no other choice than to move their activities online,’ Philp explains. ‘The pandemic brought out this narrative of improving yourself by eating healthy, getting fit and more. For many people, digital creators offered their very first entry into those activities.’
Philp thinks that this dynamic is a good indicator of continuous growth for your digital business. ‘These are people who never did those activities in-person — which means creators can likely keep them on their channels over the long term.’
You get bang for your buck when you run your business online.
There’s another benefit to being a digital creator: your finances will thank you. That’s because running your business online can be significantly more cost-effective than relying on a physical model. ‘If you’re a fitness instructor, the only way to grow your physical business is to open up a physical location. That’s a significant capital investment,’ says Philp. ‘But on an online platform, you need a lot less to run your business: a good camera and lighting, an open space, editing software, etc. The operative scale is a lot easier.’
You’ll also save time as a digital creator. ‘By outsourcing all the tech, I am able to concentrate solely on the content — which is where my strengths lie,’ says Jen, a creator who runs meetyouatthebarre. ‘This has saved me so much time and stress, which ultimately translates into saving me money.’
How much money, you may be wondering? A recent survey by boon.tv showcased that 86 percent of creators on the platform spend less than 10 hours per week running their digital business. Meanwhile, that small amount of time accounts for 30 percent of their total income.
Your personality is the main ingredient for long-term success.
We know that you’ve built meaningful relationships with your audience throughout the pandemic. But now that society is opening up again, there are other meaningful relationships to compete with — the friends we want to see for dinner, the guest yoga instructors at our local studios, the colleagues we missed. Should you be worried? ‘The relationships won’t change,’ says Rutledge. ‘In other words, if people feel connected to some personalities, they will continue to if that platform continues to make sense and their priorities.’
Building the personality-driven aspect of your business helps maintain your audience because it’s unique. After all, ‘your personality is something that people can’t get elsewhere,’ says Philp. Once you have that in place, you have better chances of stable growth — especially if you reward your audience.
‘Rewards can be a big motivator for people and act like a barrier to exit,’ explains Philp. They can be perks, like a free t-shirt after somebody’s 100th class. But they can be smaller than that, too: think digital badges that celebrate a milestone, or even a personal note sent over email. The format doesn’t matter as much as the psychological effects that rewards bring to your audience. ‘Rewards help people meet the short-term goals in their minds,’ says Philp. ‘When you reward people in incremental steps, the further they go, the more invested they get. They feel like they’ve put a lot of effort in and might as well keep going.’
Stick with your digital business to benefit for years to come
So, what will happen to your digital business after the pandemic? ’I think it’s too early to tell what the future will look like for creators,’ says Philp. ‘But I bet you that people will find creative strategies to deliver content that works better than before. And in terms of end-users, you’ll probably have both extremes: people who can’t wait to be social, and those who won’t want to leave the house.’ With that in mind, the hybrid model makes sense for you as a creator. It lets you appeal to multiple audiences, be cost-efficient and reap the benefits of having two business models.
And last but not least: the future of business is digital. Embrace the hybrid model — and you won’t get left behind.