The creator economy and social commerce dominated social media in 2021—and companies responded in kind to the rapid expansion. From features aimed at generating and managing creators’ revenue streams to merchants expanding their businesses through social channels, companies found new ways to meet the increasing demands of a growing class of entrepreneurs. And what would 2021 be on social media without diving into non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and the metaverse? Though still in its nascency in the mainstream, Web3 has no intention of fizzling out anytime soon, which has given rise to startups looking to help creators leverage the burgeoning space. Leading the Most Innovative Companies in social media is Shopify. The e-commerce platform made major expansions in powering businesses on social media by bringing in-app shopping to TikTok, adding 27 markets in Pinterest, and expanding its Shop Pay feature to Facebook and Instagram. Shopify also made a play in music streaming by enabling artists to add online stores to their Spotify pages. Covering a different sector of social commerce is Ooooo, which aims to bring the fervor and massive revenue of live commerce in China to the West. In addition to its own live commerce app, Ooooo white labels its technology with partners including QVC Italia and Brazilian online retailer B2W.
Major platforms such as TikTok and Instagram laid the foundation for the booming creator economy, and now there’s a race to help creators monetize and organize their businesses and brands. Koji earned a spot on this year’s Most Innovative Companies list as a compelling addition to the link-in-bio services that have become an essential part of a creator’s toolkit. Koji’s standout features include selling ad space on a profile, paid video requests à la Cameo, and other monetizing features.
Pearpop, a platform for facilitating TikTok collabs between established and up-and-coming creators, was able to expand its services to include Instagram, Twitter, and Twitch with backing from Alexis Ohanian’s Seven Seven Six, Mark Cuban, and Jimmy Donaldson (aka MrBeast). And what’s not discussed enough in the creator economy is how creators are managing and protecting their businesses—a question Lumanu has answered with its suite of features such as expense automation and guaranteed income.
1. Shopify For bridging social and sales Shopify first introduced social commerce integrations in 2018 and has continued to double down in the space, which Insider Intelligence’s “Social Commerce Reports 2021” estimated would grow to $36 billion in the United States with 36% of U.S. internet users making at least one social purchase. Shopify’s easy-to-use tools, combined with social networks seeing heightened interest in shopping, are accelerating the behavior. In August 2021, Shopify brought in-app shopping to TikTok as well as product links for posts that take users directly to a merchant’s online store. Shopify also expanded its reach on Pinterest by adding 27 markets, including the U.K., France, Italy, Brazil, and Germany. And last October, Shopify enabled Spotify artists to add their online stores to their profile page within the music-streaming app. Perhaps Shopify’s biggest play in social commerce this past year has been extending its Shop Pay checkout to Meta Platforms’ Facebook and Instagram, which analysts estimate have more than 56 million U.S. buyers, even to merchants outside of Shopify’s network. In 2021, it averaged 1.16 billion monthly unique visitors on the sites it powers (Amazon averaged 1.1 billion) and grew revenue 57% to reach $4.6 billion.
Shopify is No. 40 on this year’s list of the World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies.
2. Tinder For making online dating more social In 2021, Tinder released new in-app features and events for making the dating experience more social online before meeting up IRL (or not). The Vibes feature asks users a series of questions aimed at showcasing their personality (Do you prefer podcasts or playlists? Would you rather always be 10 minutes late or 20 minutes early?) with answers displayed on their profiles as conversation starters after they match with someone. Hot Takes asks questions meant to elicit strong opinions (If you do this, you can’t be trusted . . . The worst thing you can text someone is . . .). Users are then paired up based on their answers and they have 30 seconds to chat to decide if they want to match up officially or not. More than 26 million people globally participated in Vibes leading to 11 million matches, and Hot Takes has led to nearly a 6% increase in overall message volumes. Tinder remains the standout star of parent company Match Group, growing revenue 22% compared with 2020, to almost $1.7 billion, with growth in payers up 16% year-over-year. Tinder also rolled out video profiles to go beyond text and photos, as well as season two of the in-app choose-your-own-adventure dating series Swipe Night.
3. Koji For supercharging link in bio Social media platforms have been notorious for their limitations on using links in posts, hence link-in-bio services were born. At their core, link-in-bio services allow users to link to their multiple sites (official websites, merch stores, subscription-based platforms, and so forth) from one link. Koji has emerged in an increasingly crowded category to make the link page a more dynamic part of a creator’s brand. In 2021, Koji pivoted from powering user-generated mini-games and meme content to focus on link-in-bio features, including tip jars (a way for followers to tip creators), a paywall to offer premium content, paid video requests (similar to celebrity shout-out app Cameo), and even allowing users to sell ad space on their profile. Koji’s standard link in bio is free (some competitors charge a monthly fee), but the company takes a cut from the certain apps they offer to creators. More than 120,000 creators are using Koji, with some creators making more than $10,000 a month from its services.
4. Genies For giving people swag in the metaverse
Genies has built a reputation as the go-to avatar generator for celebrities, creating 3D versions of Cardi B, Rihanna, J Balvin and more, giving those stars a new way to connect with fans in the digital space. Projects in 2021 included translating the members of Migos (Offset, Quavo, and Takeoff) into avatars, and as a signal of things to come, Genies also developed Migos digital collectibles and wearables for their fans to buy in the company’s marketplace. The startup has further cemented its connections with musical artists at the center of the culture, partnering with Warner Music Group last April and Universal Music Group in December, to build more digital identities—and fan merch for them to signal their love. Genies also launched a digital marketplace in collaboration with Dapper Labs, called The Warehouse, for celebrities and everyday users to sell their digital wares. It debuted as an invite-only platform in late 2021 but will expand to be open to anyone in 2022.
5. Rally For leading the social token charge As cryptocurrency becomes more integrated into everyday transactions, social tokens have emerged as the next wave in the creator economy with Rally being a pioneer in the space. Creators can sell tokens to fans in exchange for exclusive access and content with the value of their token increasing as the creator becomes more popular. For example, Grammy-winning producer Ramon Ibanga Jr. (aka !llmind), launched his own currency in 2021, $BLAP, through Rally where, for the right amount of $BLAP coins, he offers his community personalized shout-out videos, customized beats, drum kits, training courses, and more. Rally has facilitated social tokens for more than 180 creators, including TikTok stars Michael Le, Joe Bartolozzi, and Isabella Avila; heavy metal band Megadeth; and UCLA Bruins basketball player Jaylen Clark. Rally accepts both crypto and conventional currency and has given out 40 million in $RLY ($28 million) to creators and their communities. Rally signed with the Hollywood talent agency UTA to increase its pipeline of artists, athletes, and celebrities looking for a low-friction entry into the crypto/NFT space.
6. Ooooo For powering social commerce China has been the global leader in social commerce for years, with analysts projecting sales in 2021 at $363 billion, more than triple what they were in 2018. Ooooo aims to translate the fervor for live social shopping to the West—think of it as a hybrid of TikTok and Amazon. Operating out of three studios in the U.K., Ooooo works with retailers and entrepreneurs to shoot live shopping events broadcast via the Ooooo app. The app also incentivizes shopping through casual mobile games where users can win coupons toward their purchases. Ooooo, which launched late 2020 and has 400,000 installs in the U.K., has worked with U.K. retailers including Boohoo, Maplin, and Missguided. But the company also operates as a white label service. In 2021, Ooooo inked deals with the Brazilian online retailer B2W and QVC Italia to power their live commerce functionality. Ooooo also announced a partnership with fan engagement platform myFanPark to bring live shopping to South Africa.
7. Pearpop For brokering collabs between beloved creators
For established content creators looking for new revenue streams and for up-and-comers looking to grow their following, Pearpop exists as a bridge between the two. Pearpop launched in 2020 as a platform where users pay TikTok influencers to collaborate on content. In 2021, the company expanded to include Instagram, Twitter, and Twitch and has paid out $7 million in total to the more than 100,000 creators using the platform.
8. Launch House For creating hacker home 2.0 Silicon Valley popularized “hacker homes,” where up-and-coming entrepreneurs live together under one roof in the hope of leveraging collective synergy into everyone’s next great idea (as satirized on HBO’s Silicon Valley). Think of Launch House as a hacker home 2.0 with an emphasis on cultivating community. The company launched in 2020 and has since held monthly, four-week residency programs, amassing a community of more than 300 founders and creators, but in 2021, Launch House started to become more of a social network that blends both physical and digital space than a serialized accelerator for creators. It expanded its physical locations in Los Angeles and New York City and created a digital community through Gather Town, the virtual workspace backed by Sequoia Capital. One of Launch House’s success stories has been Alex Masmej coming up with the idea of the NFT social network Showtime, which has since raised $7.6 million in funding. Launch House, which functions through paid memberships and doesn’t require any equity upfront, is also ensuring more inclusivity through a grant program for underrepresented founders.
9. Lumanu For getting creators get down to business There are plenty of tools available to maximize a digital creator’s creativity, but Lumanu recognizes that maximizing the business side is just as important. Lumanu manages a creator’s workflow on the backend with tools for such things as handling invoices. In 2021, Lumanu launched a new suite of features including business expense automation, collaboration management, Creator Protection (a program that guarantees a creator gets paid up to $10,000 if a client’s payment is late or doesn’t come at all), and EarlyPay (a cash advance for a small fee). Lumanu clients include TikTok megastar Addison Rae, Jessica Alba, Snoop Dogg, and more.
10. Fave For being a place where a stan can be a stan
Instead of superfans of artists being spread across disparate social media platforms, Fave aims to be the central location where they can create content, compete in challenges, and buy and sell digital and physical goods in a fan-driven marketplace. Fave, which raised $2.2 million last May from Hybe, Sony Music, and Warner Music, launched in beta with Taylor Swift’s fan base, the Swifties. The app averaged 7.81 visits per day (TikTok, by comparison, averages 8). Fave has been able to maintain that level of intense engagement as it expands, as it next welcomed the BTS Army, where fans regularly spent nearly one hour on the platform engaging with each other’s content. Fave then sent three BTS fans to the American Music Awards where they got to see the band in person for the first time. Bruno Mars’s fans (aka the Hooligans), have been the latest to join Fave. In partnership with Bruno’s label Atlantic Records, Fave gave five Hooligans the chance to win a seat at an album-listening party for Silk Sonic, Bruno’s duo with Anderson .Paak.