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Beyond the buzz: Local content creators seek sustainable hustle

Given the allure of flexible schedules and potentially lucrative earnings, it’s no wonder that many digital-savvy Indonesians abreast of social media trends are keen to try their hand at being content creators or influencers.

The creator economy has boomed in recent years and is expected to reach US$480 billion globally by 2027, according to investment bank Goldman Sachs. According to media reports on Nov. 17 last year, celebrity Raffi Ahmad’s fee for a single endorsement could reach hundreds of millions of rupiah.

Given the allure of flexible schedules and potentially lucrative earnings, it’s no wonder that many digital-savvy Indonesians abreast of social media trends are keen to try their hand at being content creators or influencers, fully aware of many others before them who’ve achieved fame from the comfort of their homes.

Indonesian creators dabbling in the new advertising sector as a side hustle, as well as those looking to it as a full-time job, have spoken to The Jakarta Post about both the up- and downsides to the profession.

Stephanie Dish, 25, a Jakarta-based content creator, says she typically makes between Rp 40 million (US$2,500) and Rp 80 million a month, but can achieve three times as much during “peak seasons” like Christmas and Lebaran.

“Being a content creator has never really crossed my mind as a profession. I’ve just always enjoyed doing it, and I’ve always been extremely enthusiastic about it,” she told the Post on Jan. 16.

“I firmly believe that if I do anything excellent, positive things will naturally follow,” said Stephanie, who recently returned to Jakarta after a few years in Australia earning a bachelor’s degree in marketing.

She adds that she has a strong preference for flexible work hours, and the idea of a 9-to-5 job did not appeal to her.

Stephanie recounts how she felt compelled to commit more of her time to producing content during the pandemic, when she was locked down with friends in her Melbourne apartment.

While many content creators specialize in a particular industry like travel, food, beauty or countless others, Stephanie’s content covers fashion, sometimes food, and life in general.

It requires courage for content creators to consistently feature the brands they endorse, she says. It is also essential to sustain a steady flow of material, whether photos or video clips, to grow followers. Viewership is valuable.

Stephanie has more than 400,000 followers on TikTok, more than 300,000 on YouTube and around 190,000 on Instagram.

“Similar to when people in a workplace must complete a specified goal, the [job] of a content creator is endless. All that is required is to produce more content,” she explains.

And while some creators might appear to enjoy an easy inflow of cash, creators must upload a lot of content to maintain relevance as newcomers enter the market.

Brand identity

Jerome Polin Sijabat, who has amassed an astounding 10 million subscribers on YouTube, says creators must understand audience behavior and establish a unique brand, noting that personal branding “plays a crucial role in setting yourself apart from other creators”.

“Like it or not, you have to stay up-to-date with the rapid growth of social media. One aspect of that is identifying and incorporating as many public interest trends as possible into your business or content,” Jerome told The Jakarta Post on Jan. 18.

Creators generally earn more revenue as more brands seek to collaborate with them, and this depends on a creator’s viewership as well as their brand identity.

Jerome holds a mathematics degree and initially gained recognition for educational content, but then expanded into the food and beverage industry.

“Challenges will arise, but I think every struggle brings opportunity,” he says. “The existence of more creators is a challenge in this digital age. So one solution is to diversify [your] income sources.”

And he’s one to know, since he founded talent management company Mantappu Corp. in 2018.

Vast market

Thanks to its population and expanding internet access, Indonesia offers a huge market for content creators.

According to digital marketing and research consultancy We Are Social’s Digital 2023: Indonesia report, the January 2023 projection for social media engagement among Indonesian users was 167 million. Meanwhile, Indonesian users spend an average of 3 hours and 18 minutes every day on social media, the tenth longest in the world.

Brands see that as a valuable opportunity to collaborate with influencers. A 2023 survey from market research firm MarkPlus shows that 57.5 percent of Indonesian businesses allocated marketing budgets in excess of Rp 100 million for collaborating with influencers, and that 71.3 percent of brands were in active collaborations.

Local businesses have shifted from “billboards and traditional mass media to sell” in the past, Jerome says. “Lately, [they’ve] started using ads on social media and involving influencers to promote their brands,” he adds, summing up the changing face of advertising.

This change in strategy appears to have had a significant impact on consumer behavior, with 87 percent of Indonesians making purchases based on influencers’ recommendations, according to a Kompas.id report in October last year, especially for beauty products but also for financial services, apparel, food, travel and more.

MarkPlus’s 2023 survey also found that 40 percent of brands allocated less than Rp 10 million for a single campaign featuring a nano influencer, which Forbes defines as a creator with less than 10,000 followers.

Hendrawan Agusta, an aviation enthusiast who lives in Jakarta, considers himself lucky to have the opportunity to pursue his interest in aircraft and travel through content creation, though he holds a law degree.

He says an influencer’s bargaining power grows when they can convert their audience into customers for the brands they endorse.

Hendrawan typically generates Rp 2 million-5 million through endorsements on YouTube. His income fluctuates depending on the agreements he has with the brands, he says, adding that brands ask about his viewership numbers and other metrics before clinching a deal.

In some instances, Hendrawan has been paid for his content with airline tickets or hotel vouchers. “In fact, the barter value is higher than if I received cash,” he says.

Not everyone makes it big in the industry though, he cautions, and minor influencers or those juggling full-time jobs find it hard to attract financially rewarding collabs.

“It is possible to work full-time [as a content creator]. However, some individuals continue to work full-time [in regular jobs], which limits the time” they can dedicate to content creation, he explains.

Marselina Lika, a relatively new content creator based in Sekadau, West Kalimantan, says nano influencers need to put in that extra effort to maintain their level of activity and output.

“Creating original content in my area, particularly in a village, is challenging,” adds the 23-year-old English literature graduate.

Marselina relies on YouTube ad revenue totaling around Rp 5 million a month, which she finds sufficient for her current needs. It is almost double the minimum wage where she lives.

“I think there’s always a market for everyone,” she says, emphatically.