Artificial intelligence is here to stay. It's not a fad or a craze -- it's a movement. Sure, the buzzwords will become less popular with time so ChatGPT and AI won't dominate the news. But AI tools will become the basis of how we do things in life and work, much like the industrial revolution changed the foundation of our modern existence and the internet did subsequently.
The form of AI you've likely heard the most about is generative AI. It's the one that ChatGPT uses to create a letter, that MidJourney uses to create striking images, and Bard uses to translate documents and summarize bodies of text.
Content creators are one professional group that seems to be embracing the power of AI; from a survey of 1,000 content creators conducted by Lightricks, a video and image editing apps developer, 84% reported they were likely to use AI if it would save them time or money, and 86% said they would use it if positively impact their creative process.
But on the flip side, generative AI is also the same technology that can create deep fakes, which are images and videos that closely resemble the likeness of others to the point of proving hard to determine whether they're real.
Generative AI can also decrease the authenticity of shared content if someone uses it instead of originally-created content. Because it trains on massive amounts of data that multiple creators and authors have already created, it can raise red flags for copyright infringement.
What is the creator economy?
The vast success of social media has resulted in its growth into a full-blown business model. A long way from your Myspace Top 8 and glitter GIFs, we've found a way to monetize and create an economic model from our social media habits.
The creator economy is the socioeconomic system where independent creators monetize their content, directly or indirectly. Content creators, also called influencers, produce and share the material with their audience.
The material could be anything from written content in blogs, emails, newsletters, videos, photography, or a combination of several in one or more social media networks. A content creator can monetize content on YouTube and TikTok and sell it on Instagram, for example.
The audience consumes the creator's content, and, in many cases, the creator can benefit from that consumption -- in other cases, the audience member has to take further action to benefit the creator, like purchasing subscriptions or merchandise.
Content creators have many ways to monetize their content, from advertising revenue offered through views, as is common on YouTube, to brand sponsorships, affiliate marketing, merchandising, offering paid subscriptions to exclusive content, and more.
Though the term "influencer" is known for its negative connotation and is probably enough to elicit images of an excessively privileged world traveler in beige lace dresses and flower crowns, it is as accurate as can be to define the role of a content creator: "One who exerts influence: a person who inspires or guides the actions of others," according to Merriam-Webster.
With the understanding of what the creator economy is, let's get into how generative AI can change the game for influencers.
1. AI image creation
If you've consumed any media in the past few years, you've likely seen some AI-generated images, even if you've been unaware of them.
There are many widely available AI art generators that you can go and sign up for as quickly as you can sign up for ChatGPT. Bing, Microsoft's search engine, even has its AI-powered Image Creator that you can use with the same account you use to check Outlook or sign into Xbox, and it's not half bad.
OpenAI has its own DALL-E 2, but many others range in quality, ease of use, and price. The content creator and ZDNET's own David Gewirtz, who you may know from the YouTube channel, Advanced Geekery, detailed how he created images with MidJourney for an Etsy shop.
According to the Lightricks survey, 53% of creators use generative AI to create photo and video backgrounds, making this the most common use of AI among content creators.
Gewirtz tells me using MidJourney along with Adobe Photoshop's new AI-powered tools to create images for his wife's e-commerce company has "proven hugely helpful in providing those images for social media posts and newsletters."
The second most common use of generative AI was creating avatar profile pictures, which 46% of content creators reported doing.
Remini AI has recently garnered attention in social media platforms like TikTok for generating headshots. Another example is Photo AI, an AI tool singlehandedly created by Pieter Levels to create AI models based on photos of a person to generate new images.
A user uploads at least 30 photos of themselves into the site to train the model. The system learns the facial patterns from the images and can create a model, which you can name and generate new images following your prompts. This could enable you to create professional headshots without ever having to hire a professional photographer or capture the perfect Instagram influencer aesthetic without even looking at a camera lens.
"Photo AI can help content creators save time and money as they'll no longer need to travel to different locations or hire expensive photographers to do photoshoots," according to Levels. "After creating your AI model, you can take photos of yourself anywhere from your laptop or phone, 24 hours a day, seven days a week."
Testing it out myself, I can see the feature is still in its growing phases, as it's not as accurate as a real camera, but it's still impressive. The most remarkable part of Photo AI to me is that, while the images don't always precisely capture every single feature of a person, the delicate subtleties that make you stand out seep through the photos. It could be a crook under an eye or slight imperfection -- but the promise of what could be accomplished is incredibly stunning.
2. Social media content AI tools
A good creator can combine the excellent generative AI tools available and use them as instruments to more easily create social media content, like text for their Instagram posts or even some graphics for their photos.
Other companies have opted to become a one-stop-shop solution for content creators. Microsoft recently launched the Designer app, which uses AI to generate graphics you can edit. To use it, you need to enter a prompt, a description of the design you want, like an Instagram post about a hair product launch, including a photo you uploaded, like a ChatGPT-powered Canva.
Typeface is another multimodal tool that uses generative AI to create content using personalized product shots, social media posts, e-commerce websites, product descriptions, creative briefs, and more. ZDNET spoke to Vishal Sood, founding member and head of product of Typeface, and he explained the app brings the customer's brand and the foundational models together to create content in seconds.
"We let you bring your own assets into the system," Sood said. "You can bring examples of your voice -- brand voice, to create part of your output."
Typeface lets users upload their product images and create personalized photos and marketing assets with the help of generative AI powered by OpenAI's GPT-4 and DALL-E, Microsoft Azure AI, Stable Diffusion, and Google Vertex AI.
This goes beyond an AI tool for marketing professionals, extending to the creator economy. According to Lightricks, 56% of content creators report they've been asked to use generative AI by brands they work with.
"With Typeface, we have unlocked the power to generate thousands of personalized, on-brand images, spanning over multiple diverse markets and significantly reducing our production time to amplify our content factory initiative. Typeface provides us the capability to create a unified 'one brand' approach, amplifying our cross-selling opportunities, consistent brand representation across various business units, and the ability to deliver tailored content to each target market," said David Kang, SVP of digital commerce and marketing solutions at LG Electronics.
3. Using AI for video production
From scriptwriting to video editing, AI can accompany a content creator throughout video production, as evidenced by the survey showing most creators use it to generate video and photo backgrounds.
Video creators can streamline their scriptwriting process using ChatGPT or another generative AI text tool to enter a prompt describing the video details they want to make.
That said, there aren't as many widely-available AI video generators yet -- at least not ones capable of putting out realistic results to pass as human-created.
For post-production, different editing software programs have found their way of incorporating AI, like Adobe Premiere Pro using Content-Aware Fill and many of the AI tools in CapCut's editing library.
For example, Gewirtz explained, "I recently used Adobe's Generative Fill to repair a filming background. Adobe's podcast audio repair tool fixed a very damaged audio recording, which meant I didn't have to set back up and re-record it."
Among content creators, 71% found that their followers responded positively to their AI-generated content, while only 10% found they reacted negatively. "It's both a force multiplier and terrifying competition," Gewirtz says, adding his video audience seems to like the slightly higher production value tacked on by the AI tools.
"On one hand, it will improve productivity in certain areas (like where it fixed my audio). But it also will open a giant can of worms in terms of ownership, rights, and even whether something can be attributed to human work," according to Gewirtz. "In the near term, I think the biggest downside is that there has been a huge increase in spammy YouTube and social media content produced by AI-powered content farms. That wastes the viewers' time and creates a tougher competitive environment for human creators."
4. Blog automation and other AI writing assistance
Using generative AI to write content is a hot topic as we debate whether it will replace writers' jobs, among many other professions worldwide. In my completely biased opinion, I believe generative AI to be an outstanding instrument for writing, but no more than that. It's a tool, not a crutch. It's a key on your keyboard, not your entire keyboard.
If all the sites use AI to write content, eventually, all the content begins to sound the same, no matter how hard different teams tweak it. Ultimately, we'll end up craving the human voice behind the onscreen text, much like we desire simple answers over Google searches in ChatGPT.
But generative AI is still an excellent tool to keep in your arsenal -- I know I keep it in mine to quickly get summaries of long bodies of texts and translate news from other languages.
"Specifically, in writing, I have found that using ChatGPT (more than Bard and Bing) is useful for brainstorming. I will often ask it to discuss a topic or provide me with a list of ideas to play with," says Gewirtz. "Sometimes, I'll dive into those brainstormed ideas with it to further spark my thoughts. But I don't ever use the literal results in my work."
These AI tools can work exceptionally well to summarize text and write blog posts for you. They can also write emails, briefs, job posts with detailed requirements, resumes, cover letters, etc. However, it's still recommended you do a final edit with a human set of eyes.
For content creators specifically, there are many available that can expedite the creation of social media posts and go as far as learning your brand's tone from your past posts and even automatically posting them for you, with minimal interaction on your end.
Tools like Narrato and Lately use AI to generate web copy and social media posts but also follow tone guidelines to ensure your posts follow a consistent voice that sounds true to your brand. They can use AI to generate new blog posts for you and publish them automatically after you give them a prompt and a scheduled date.
It takes less time in your week to schedule these SEO-powered AI posts, but as with all generative AI, I'd say don't set it and forget it. Follow up on it to make sure the system is doing a good job.
And generative AI isn't limited to blog posts. Wix, a user-friendly website creation platform, recently released a generative AI tool to help users generate websites. Giving the WIX AI assistant some prompts in a conversation on a chat window to describe what you want the site to look like, including photos you want on it, the type of website, and how you want the layout, will easily generate a design for you to edit.
Concerns about generative AI
It's easy to imagine how generative AI can become a double-edged sword for content creators.
Content creators are very concerned about the adverse effects of generative AI, as 74% report they're worried about creating deep fakes, which use deep learning algorithms to superimpose someone's face and voice on another person's body over video or a photo.
When you consider using apps and websites to create images of yourself in places you've never been, you must also wonder about the ethical implications. What's stopping someone else from taking photos from your social media accounts and training an AI model to create whatever pictures they want?
Levels, from Photo AI, addressed these concerns for me, explaining that his company's terms and conditions clearly state that users cannot produce content based on another person without their permission and that each user agrees to these terms and conditions when they use the site.
"You can only upload imagery and train a model of yourself or people you know if you have permission from them," Levels added.
Sood, from Typeface, explains that the platform has a built-in plagiarism checker to ensure the content is unique to each customer and customized with each brand's voice. Their models can quickly learn styles to adapt and create outstanding output for each brand.
Among content creators, however, 58% are concerned about copyright issues with generative AI, and 57% are worried about decreased content authenticity due to using it.
How generative AI and copyrighted content will look in the future and the regulations behind it will remain to be seen. Still, different authors, including Sarah Silverman, have sued OpenAI and Meta for copyright infringement.
The future landscape of the creator economy
The proliferation of generative AI has created a big fear of the loss of jobs due to automation. While this may be true in some form, it won't necessarily be in the way most people believe. If you think back to the industrial revolution when many jobs were automated, the change forced many people to adapt and find new trades or learn new machinery -- we're at a similar crossroads, albeit a more minor one.
"As an individual creator, AI can save me time in several helpful ways," Gewirtz explains. "But it has the potential to be a much cheaper alternate solution to human-generated work and may well be used as a substitute by clients otherwise hiring creatives for a cheaper if somewhat lower quality solution."
While generative AI can be a time-saving tool to optimize a creator's workflow, it can yield lower-quality results. Many of the available AI services are free or cost a fraction of what an expert sound engineer, video editor, or writer with years of experience and skill would charge for their services. But the output from the generative AI tool could result in generic and low-quality stuff, especially when more people use it, and it all starts looking and sounding similar.
Levels believes, "AI won't replace creators like many scaremongers say. I think it will, however, become an essential part of any creator's toolkit. For example, in the future, we might see people mix elements of real photography and AI photography to create new content."
It's hard to say what the future of the creator economy will look like with things changing as fast as they do in social media. The YouTube and Instagram of 2023 are certainly not the same as just ten years ago. One thing is sure: AI is here to stay. But whether for work or use in our devices and software, we must use AI carefully.
Disclaimer: Using AI-generated images could lead to copyright violations, so people should be cautious if they're using the images for commercial purposes.