The internet would not be what it is today without the creative individuals populating the space.

Imagine if Nathan Apodaca never took TikTok by storm with his combo of cranberry juice, skateboarding and Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” or if Jalaiah Harmon never created the Renegade. Social media would be kind of boring because, let’s be honest, your photo of what you ate for lunch doesn’t quite capture my attention like the content these creators put out.

Creators are also capturing the attention of brands and social networks, who see opportunities to expand their consumer base and collaborate on content. For starters, consumers are loyal to creators, regularly returning to their favorite creator channels over top brand outlets on Youtube. Add in the fact that two in three Twitter users agree creators change and shape culture, and it’s no wonder why brands and platforms are going all in on the creator economy.

But if brands are serious about working with creators, brands need to acknowledge they’re not the ones calling all the shots anymore and meet creators on their terms.

Hear me out…

The most successful partnerships start when brands empower creators and put them in the driver’s seat, a tough but necessary shift for a lot of marketers.

Creators have more tools than ever before to control their brand relationships and the content they create, as well as how they’re compensated for their work. Networks like Clubhouse and Twitter, for example, not only enable creators to generate direct revenue from their fans but also determine their price. And on platforms like Patreon, creators can keep the majority of their earnings, a relatively new luxury.

For marketers, the message is clear—either pay creators their worth or lose out on the collaboration. As they continue to branch out with their content on social, creators have every reason to pull the plug on brand partnerships if the terms and compensation don’t work for them

Creators are also forcing brands to confront their talent diversity (or lack thereof). As difficult as it can be to turn down work opportunities, there’s power in Black, Brown and other BIPOC creators saying no to brands that don’t prioritize diversity. And creators aren’t shy in calling out brands who fail to account for talent diversity and inclusion.

Another way brands can empower creators? Giving them proper credit for their work. Black creators are especially harmed by the lack of credit, as evidenced with creators like Keara Wilson or Mya Nicole. When brands correctly acknowledge the work of the original creator, they stand a better chance of building a relationship with that creator instead of trying to correct a misattribution.

As the creator economy continues to mature, expect to see creators exercise greater control over their content and brand partnerships. With a better understanding of their impact on culture, creators can (and should) demand more for the trending content they once gave away for free. And for many brands, learning to play by a creator’s rules is a price they’re willing to pay in exchange for a creator’s influence and content that resonates with millions of people.

To find the right creators to work with your brand, you first need to know your audience inside and out. Check out this article on how to surface the trends and content that will actually engage your audience today.