The creator economy is booming. With popular social media platforms like TikTok and YouTube making it easier than ever for people to build audiences and monetize their content, we’re seeing more and more digital creators hitting it big.
Just take a look at Forbes’ recent list of the Top 50 Creators of 2023. These creators are absolutely dominating social media and making millions in the process. But how exactly are they doing it? And what can aspiring creators learn from their success?
I decided to take a deep dive into the Forbes Top 50 Creators list to try to answer these questions. I studied their follower counts, engagement rates, years online, current platforms, income sources, and more. My goal was to uncover the secrets to their success so that up-and-coming creators can try to replicate it.
In this nearly 3,000-word blog post, I’ll break down my key findings and insights. Let’s dive in!
Questioning the Qualifications of a “Creator”
Before getting into the data, I first want to discuss who actually qualifies as a bonafide digital “creator” these days.
There were a few names on the Forbes list that made me scratch my head and question if they should count. While undeniably successful, do the likes of Elliot Tabeli of popular meme account @f***jerry, beauty mogul Huda Katan of Huda Beauty, comedian Druski, pop singer Madison Beer, and former MasterChef contestant Nick DiGiovanni neatly fit under the “creator” label?
I’ll let you be the judge. But the takeaway here is that the qualifications are fuzzy. And it raises questions around whether other big names in beauty, spirits, comedy, music, and more should also be considered top creators if we use Forbes standards.
Key Creator Stats: Followers, Engagement, Earnings, and Years Online
Now, onto the data. Here are some key averages across the Top 50 Creators list:
- Average Followers: 52 million
- Average Engagement Rate: 4.19%
- Average Income: $14 million
- Average Years Online: 7.7 years
The top follower earner unsurprisingly goes to MrBeast at a whopping 312 million. But it’s worth noting that followers don’t directly correlate with earnings. For example, Addison Rae has over 140 million followers but “only” earned $6 million last year. Meanwhile, lesser-known creators are bringing in way more money with fewer followers.
This shows the importance of monetization strategy beyond just building a huge audience.
The average 4.19% engagement rate is also telling. Aspiring creators often obsess over getting high engagement, but the reality is even massively popular accounts see single digit engagement rates. So 3-5% is perfectly healthy if you have a decent following.
It’s also interesting that the average years online is nearly 8 years. Many of these creators have been hustling on platforms like YouTube for over a decade. Practically overnight successes are rare. It takes time to build authority in your niche and figure out which formats and strategies resonate.
So if you feel frustrated that you aren’t growing exponentially year over year, you’re not alone. Have patience and persist.
Which Platforms Are Driving Creator Success?
Given how much the creator landscape has evolved in recent years, I was very curious to analyze which platforms are driving success for today’s top stars.
The first thing I looked at was which platforms each creator “blew up” on:
- TikTok: 40%
- YouTube: 26%
- Vine: 8%
- Twitch: 8%
- Blogs: 6%
- Hollywood/TV: 6%
- Instagram: 4%
- Podcasts: 2%
TikTok has undoubtedly become the rocket ship platform for emerging creator talent. A whopping 40% of creators on Forbes list gained initial fame on TikTok before expanding their empires elsewhere. YouTube also remains a strong launchpad.
Interestingly though, when looking at where creators are most actively posting today, YouTube and TikTok switch positions:
- TikTok: 46%
- YouTube: 38%
- Instagram: 10%
- Twitch: 4%
So while many creators are migrating from TikTok to YouTube once they gain some traction, TikTok remains the #1 platform where creators are currently the most active. YouTube follows closely behind though.
Clearly these two platforms should command the bulk of attention for creators aspiring to reach Forbes levels of success. Instagram trails far behind despite its massive user base.
In terms of earning potential, YouTube comes out way ahead:
- Avg Income on YouTube: $21 million
- Avg Income on TikTok: $9 million
- Avg Income on Instagram: $9 million
- Avg Income on Twitch: $10 million
So while TikTok might be the best place to gain initial traction efficiently today, YouTube remains the undisputed king when it comes to making big money as an influencer.
Monetizing Beyond Your Personal Brand
The vast majority of creators on the Forbes list diversify their money-making opportunities beyond their personal branding channels alone:
- 62% own external businesses
- 38% strictly make money from their personal brand
Furthermore, over half who own businesses are running more than one outside enterprise. Multi-channel YouTuber Preston Plains is a great example of someone monetizing through various avenues like selling branded toys in stores.
Top creators like KSI take it to another level by juggling side hustles in boxing promotions, beverage brands, vodka labels, clothing lines, and restaurants on top of their core YouTube businesses.
So to truly reach top creator status, having a dynamic entrepreneurial spirit to tap revenue streams beyond your personal site or channel is key.
The #1 Trait the Top 50 Creators Share
So what’s the #1 most common trait that all these massively successful creators share?
None of these creators found overnight success or got to where they are without tremendous persistence and patience.
MrBeast failed for years before finally having his breakout viral hit in 2017, 5+ years after starting on YouTube. Rhett and Link have posted consistently on their Good Mythical Morning YouTube show an astounding 17 years!
The road to building a prosperous creator career is not a sprint – it’s a marathon. You must put in the hard work day after day, year after year. That’s what separates the Forbes Top 50 from the masses hoping to “make it”.
While luck and the right opportunities sure play a role, persistence pays off more than anything if you want to build a sustainable creator empire.
So if there’s one key lesson to take from this analysis, it’s that your breakthrough as a creator likely won’t happen overnight unless you’re uniquely outrageous like Dr DisRespect. Manage your expectations, devise a smart long-term strategy, and get to work.
Becoming a massively successful digital creator like MrBeast, Charli D'Amelio or Addison Rae might feel totally unattainable if you’re just getting started out. But hopefully breaking down the common paths and strategies of today's top stars provides some clarity and lessons you can apply to set yourself up for long-term success.
It takes years of hard work, resilience through platforms changes and algorithm updates, as well as some serious business savvy and work ethic to make millions as an influencer. But with the right strategy tailored to your unique talents and interests, it's not impossible!
So which platform will you focus on first? How can you diversify your money-making opportunities beyond your core channel? And most importantly, how will you stay relentlessly persistent chasing your creator dreams even when progress feels sluggish?
Put in the work and believe in the marathon approach, and you might just land on a Forbes creator list one day too!