A new workforce
In recent years, globalisation, technological advancement and economic uncertainty have significantly changed the work landscape. Technology and decreasing job security, in particular, have propelled many to seek alternative forms of employment outside organisations.
As a result, a growing proportion of the workforce are making a career outside the traditional boundaries of the workplace. Over 20 percent of the eligible workforce in countries like the US and the UK engage in independent work – and this proportion is rising (Mckinsey, 2016).
What research is needed?
This has implications for research in Organisational Behaviour (OB), and there have been recent calls for research that paints a richer picture of the lives of independent workers (Barley, 2016). Therefore, there is a need for OB scholars to expand their scope of research in view of the current work landscape, in particular the rise of alternate work opportunities such as the gig economy and social media content creation.
I wanted to do something where we are able to help people and have a positive impact with our work
Nils Schultze-Scharnhorst, content creator
Interview with a content creator
To understand the work and life of a social media content creator, I had a conversation with Nils Schultze-Scharnhorst, who creates content for YouTube and Instagram. Content creators can earn money by joining the YouTube Partner program once they accumulate 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 hours of watch time. Partnership gives content creators access to special tools, such as the ability to monetise their videos via Google AdSense. Advertisers on YouTube pay based on clicks and impressions, with YouTube giving the content creator 55% of this revenue and taking 45% for itself.
With Instagram, on the other hand, one can earn through sponsorships, affiliate links etc. The rise of social media has made these platforms popular avenues for building careers and some creators have even emerged as millionaires on these platforms. In my conversation with Nils, I try to understand his experience of building a YouTube channel and transition into a content creator, the work ethic that went in building his strong following, and his one biggest challenge.
Rashi: Can you tell me a little bit about the work you do on social media?
Nils: I work with my girlfriend and partner Ana and together we create content mainly for YouTube, but also Instagram. Our YouTube channel is called Witty Lemon. We want to show our audience how easy and delicious it can be to make healthy food. We post a video featuring healthy recipes every other week on our main platform, YouTube. Ana designs the recipes as well as the set and edits the videos. I do more behind the camera stuff such as filming, marketing, legal, and strategy etc.
Rashi: Why did you decide to become a content creator? What are your short-term and long-term goals with this work?
Nils: There are several reasons. I love to create and develop things from scratch and I also love photography. Moreover, Ana, who loves to cook healthy, and I wanted to do something where we are able to help people and have a positive impact with our work. We knew that people are not always able to eat healthy, especially working professionals and students, and we wanted to give them easy ideas for batch cooking or meal prepping through which they could. In the short-term, we would like to know our audience better, increase our frequency and publish videos weekly instead of every other week, and take the next steps like starting a newsletter, an online store etc.
Before I started creating content, I was working with a big multinational corporation. I felt like I had reached a point in my career at that organisation where my professional development had kind of stopped and I wanted to change that. As a content creator, I am able to work and improve upon a variety of skills every day such as online marketing, filming and business development. Our current goal is to give our audience solutions for their needs as well as to improve our efficiency in work. If we do this well, we are optimistic about achieving our long-term goal of being able to live off of this work while helping other people. With this work I also feel a greater sense of purpose than I ever did before. Moreover, being my own boss and feeling free is a bonus, even if it means more work and less money.
Rashi: Tell me a little bit about your creative process and the work involved in creating a piece of content?
Nils: We start with an idea board of sorts. Whenever we get ideas, we write it down on the board. Then, we have monthly meetings where we plan for the whole month. So, for example, we come up with an idea for a 10-minute long video for YouTube. We then think about how we can reuse the same video to release the entire clip or part of it on other platforms such as Instagram. We also meet every week to discuss things in further detail such as designing the thumbnail, deciding on the structure of the video before we actually shoot it.
Rashi: You have around 80,000 subscribers on YouTube which is amazing and a feat in itself! What do you think enabled you to be successful in achieving that?
Nils: In my experience there were a few things that helped. First is finding the right niche. It should be something that you are passionate about, and that isn’t too crowded with big players (creators). Another one would be consistency. It basically means that you have somewhat of a rhythm or a routine of uploading content regularly, for example every week or so. Third, it should add value to the viewers. The content could educate them, inspire them, or just entertain them. A mix of all these is the most powerful one I think. Another very important thing is to be open to audience feedback and having a positive outlook towards it. We treat our followers like friends and listen to them. We check the video comments and incorporate their feedback in future videos. We also ask them for suggestions for the type of content they would like to see in future. Lastly, in my opinion, you should never stop learning. I had to hone my skills in the YouTube and Instagram analytics as well as behind the camera stuff. So, being able to test and constantly adapt and gain new skills helps a lot.
Rashi: What is your one biggest challenge while working?
Nils: I think the most important one would be perseverance, or should I say the lack of it. Success doesn’t come overnight. It is important to be aware that it takes time and to stay focused. Before I left my job to create content full-time, I used to come home at 7pm from work and then work for a few hours on creating content. It takes a lot of motivation to do that. In our first year, 2018, we gained 200 subscribers and we were not growing as we had hoped. I think a lot of people would have just given up then. We kept going, tried to adapt and make it work. In a nutshell, it is important to keep doing it and keep believing in it.
Through my interview with Nils, I was able to identify some of the opportunities and challenges of pursuing independent work. Through content creation, Nils is able to attain self-actualization in his work. This is what made him choose a career in this area over a traditional corporate job even though it requires more work and pays less at the moment. Content creation enables him to continuously learn and improve a variety of skills and he loves the greater freedom this work affords him over his work and career. On the flipside, he is aware that success does not come overnight at least for majority of people. He closely studies the social media analytics and is constantly trying to adapt while also keeping in mind the audience feedback. Lastly but importantly, he acknowledges that it takes a lot of perseverance and patience to find success in this work but once you put the work in, the returns are manifold.
Nils Schultze-Scharnhorst, a Berlin based content creator, and his Spanish girlfriend, Ana C. Martínez Expósito, create content in the form of easy, healthy food recipes and meal prep ideas on YouTube and Instagram. Nils and Ana started producing content in late 2018 and have been able to grow their social media channels greatly since then. Prior to YouTube, Nils worked as a Business Development Manager for Mercedes in Berlin, whilst Ana worked as a freelance web designer and taught Spanish at the University of Europe for Applied Sciences. A few months ago they decided to leave their jobs and go “all in” in order to fulfil their dream: make a living out of helping people to eat healthy. Check out their social media accounts know more about this incredibly creative and talented couple: