For many, social media serves as a versatile tool, acting as a hub where they commence and conclude their day by engaging with various platforms. It has become a space where people check the latest news, keep tabs on their loved ones, handle essential tasks, and conveniently access the information they require. But for an increasing number of individuals, social media goes beyond being a mere tool; it becomes a means of livelihood. It opens a gateway to an alternative orbit known as the creator economy.
This emerging economic landscape is characterised by independent creators harnessing the power of the internet to both earn a living while also satisfying their intrinsic need for self-expression. Online content creators (otherwise known as influencers) tap into various avenues to monetize their audiences, such as through paid partnerships, ad revenue, tipping platforms, and product sales. The increased attention from conventional venture capitalists has the potential to confer legitimacy upon what some might still perceive as a marginal industry. Additionally, it could reinforce the idea that this expanding realm of fashion, conversation, and comedy transcends ephemeral youth culture and holds deeper significance.
At just 21-years-old, Ange Umuhoza also known as Ange Dababy, is making waves as an Instagram influencer and video vixen. Her impressive portfolio includes noteworthy collaborations with prominent brands like Infinix, as well as exciting projects alongside renowned artists such as Bruce Melodie and Eddy Kenzo. Notably, Umuhoza has cultivated a dedicated online following of over 58 thousand people who seek her guidance on fashion and lifestyle matters.
In 2020, Umuhoza experienced a significant breakthrough in her career when she secured a role as a video vixen for the popular track “Iyallah” by Okkama. As 2021 unfolded, new opportunities emerged, leading to an increase in brand sponsorships. “I found herself closing brand deals an impressive three times a month,” she said, highlighting the growing demand for her unique presence and influence.
Realising the potential of her aspirations, Umuhoza turned her passion into something more substantial than a mere hobby. When it comes to pricing her services, she adapts to the specific requirements of each brand. “For an advert, my rates start at $300. Advertising through my social media handles is priced at $500, while video acting commands a range of $600 to $1000, depending on the project,” she explained.
Not all creators fit into the fashion influencer category. Success in the creator economy can come in various forms, such as excelling as a sports commentator, showcasing exceptional gaming skills, or cultural storytelling.
Eric Ian Shema, a 28-year-old content creator, exemplifies this diversity within the creator landscape. He runs a YouTube channel named Kigali Hot News TV, proudly branding itself as “Your Home of Entertainment.” Shema’s channel is dedicated to curating the latest entertainment trends and sourcing news within the industry.
Numerous social media influencers can be likened to individual entrepreneurs, managing their personal brands and businesses. The most successful influencers possess a keen ability to identify emerging trends, fearlessly experiment with novel formats and platforms, establish genuine connections with their audience, closely analyze channel metrics, and find unique ways to stand out in a highly saturated media landscape.
Over the course of these three years, Shema has successfully cultivated a dedicated following of 135,000 subscribers, earning him the prestigious YouTube Silver Award. With pride, he shares, “On a monthly basis, I generate an income ranging from $400 to $900, and I continue to experience growth. Who knows how much money I will be making in the years to come?”
Being an influencer can be emotionally demanding, especially when it comes to family dynamics, particularly in cultures where it is still regarded with less prestige. Those who excel in this field often have spent years working their way up the ladder to attain validation.
Umuhoza shares her personal experience, stating, “Initially, my family had strong reservations about my choice, but now their focus has shifted to what I bring to the table. They have been convinced by the role I play in family activities and contributions.”
What these family members may not realise is that influencer culture has already established itself as a significant force in the business world. Many social media stars secure lucrative endorsement deals with major brands, in addition to generating revenue through advertising and merchandise sales.
Jackie Lumbasi, a versatile media personality who has been nominated for and received the Media Glass Ceiling Woman of the Year award, among others, recognizes the potential for profitability within the creative industry. As she aptly puts it, “The creative industry can be highly lucrative, although its profitability may vary across different markets.” In the context of Rwanda, there is a growing realization that certain individuals possess a greater level of creativity than others, and this understanding is accompanied by the emerging concept of rewarding creativity.
A major issue for creators, she says, is “longevity.” People initiate ventures but fail to sustain them over the long term, “which creates a cycle where successive newcomers struggle to find collaborators or mentors to guide them, perpetuating the pattern.” Another concerning issue is the occurrence of idea theft. “My friend, Innocent Muramira, a lawyer, emphasizes the importance of registering business names and trademarking creative work to protect against this. Failing to do so often leads to individuals lamenting over stolen ideas,” warned Lumbasi.
One notable hurdle encountered by individuals in the creative industries is the issue of inadequate compensation. There is a considerable journey ahead before individuals can truly receive the rightful recognition and remuneration for their creative contributions. Currently, brand sponsorships continue to serve as the primary source of income for most creators. However, many creators are expanding beyond brand promotion and venturing into developing their own brands. By redirecting their most devoted fans away from social networks and towards their own websites, apps, and monetizable tools, creators are able to generate additional streams of revenue.
One comes in the form of SELAR, a start-up headquartered in Nigeria that positions itself as an easy hub for trading digital products.
“With Selar, setting up an account to sell various digital products such as ebooks, courses, training, team packages, templates, and more can be accomplished in less than 5 minutes,” said Douglas Kendyson, the CEO of Selar.
Furthermore, the platform is accessible worldwide, allowing people from any location to make payments and access digital products in any desired format.
These days, numerous resources are dedicated to the influencer industry, ranging from platforms facilitating collaborations between creators and brands to life coaching services and networks focusing on pay equity. Selar focuses on localization, specifically catering to the African market.
“We have a significant customer base purchasing products from Rwanda on our platform,” Kendyson continues, “Hence, clients from Nigeria, the United States, Ghana, or any other country can pay for a Rwandan product in their local currency, such as naira, and we will credit the seller in Rwandan francs (RWF).”
Currently, the platform hosts over 90,000 creators and supports six different currencies on its website. The team behind Selar has plans for expansion to further serve the needs of both creators and customers.
According to Kendyson, there is a perception that Rwanda is not fully aware of the possibilities and potential in the digital product space. “Therefore, Selar’s focus lies in educating and informing people about what is achievable and the opportunities they can pursue in this field,” he says. The aim is to create awareness and empower individuals to explore and benefit from digital products.
In the creator economy, there is always room for new participants, regardless of how saturated the market may appear. This provides equal opportunities for everyone to thrive and succeed. The notion of oversupply is not a concern in a diversified market, as content consumption is not limited.
Jackie Lumbasi, who closely follows the work of content creators both in the region and beyond, acknowledges that creators have successfully built their profiles and are competing with established agencies and media houses. “I cannot wait for that trend to fully be embraced in Rwanda,” she said.
The advantage of this shift is that hardworking creators will have the opportunity to negotiate and earn the value they deserve. Lumbasi concludes by mentioning a few content creators whose work she enjoys watching, including “Papa Sava, Davis Higiro of TNT, and the Kanazi Talent Kids whose dance videos I enjoy.”