“I had maybe 200 million views from my time on there, and not one person stopped me in the street,” says Hobern, who is now creative director at Wildfire Social, a marketing agency. In 2018 he created a TikTok account and now has over 450,000 followers. “As soon as I got big on TikTok, it was a completely different thing,” he says. For one, fans now excitedly gather round him at conventions. “I was making content on Facebook that was performing extremely well, without any real financial benefit or any real kind of fame.”
In 2017, Facebook first began testing in-stream video ads that allowed creators to monetise their content – LadBaby managed to hit one million followers by the end of the year, but the platform’s focus on publishers remained frustrating. “It was really hard to penetrate the mainframe, to get someone over there who we could talk to,” Hoyle says, explaining he was only allocated a representative at Facebook around two years ago, while YouTube offered him a partner manager “very early on”. “I wanted to talk to them to hear about ways in which we could improve our videos or grow quicker, and it was really hard to find anyone.”
Facebook’s complicated history with its creators explains why they struggled on the sidelines while YouTubers went mainstream. Without a direct line to Facebook, creatives were left blindsided by changes to its algorithm: in 2018, it updated its News Feed to prioritise friends and family over brands and media. To compensate for a loss of organic reach, many media companies began to pay to boost their content, something individual creators often felt unable to do (neither Hoyle nor Hobern have ever put money behind their videos).
Brooke Erin Duffy, a communications professor at Cornell University, says Facebook earned a “pay-to-play” reputation. “Creators I’ve interviewed find it especially difficult to garner visibility on the platform without relying on paid mechanisms,” she says. As a result, few use Facebook as their primary platform.
And then there’s LadBaby. Last year Hoyle was able to quit his job as a graphic designer and become a full-time content creator. Every Sunday at around 9pm he and his wife release a new video between three to ten minutes long: at the time of writing, their latest, with 2.7m views, features Hoyle giving Roxanne a “new car” which turns out to be Little Tikes Cozy Coupe.
“We have a family, mortgage to pay, kids to look after, we couldn’t afford for it not to work,” Hoyle says. “It’s quite a risk to leave a job you went to uni for and have spent ten years working at. Luckily things are going well.” Part of that is down to LadBaby gradually building an engaged community of fans – but part if it is also down to a dramatic shift at Facebook.
BETWEEN 2019 AND 2020, the number of content creators earning $10,000 (£7,200) a month on Facebook grew by 88 per cent. It’s a striking statistic – both the earnings, and the growth – but Marne Levine, head of global partnerships, business and corporate development for Facebook, is coy about whether it reveals a change in Facebook’s attitudes to creators. “It’s a continuation of what we’ve been doing,” she says.. “Facebook is uniquely positioned for creators to turn their passions into their professions.”
In the last two years, Facebook has launched a number of monetisation tools. In 2019, the launch of “Facebook Stars” let fans directly show their appreciation for creators, who earn a penny for every Star sent. Facebook also expanded access to “fan subscriptions” in June 2020: audiences can now pay a monthly recurring fee to creators for exclusive content (hence LadBaby’s “Turbos”). This March, Facebook also widened the eligibility criteria for in-stream ads, meaning more creators can directly make money from their content. Creators can also make money on Facebook through paid live events and by finding sponsorships through its “Brand Collabs Manager”.