160+ Apps Used by Creators (2021)

The rise of the creator economy promises budding influencers and entrepreneurs-to-be more than the opportunity to create content. Instead, it extends the idea of earning a living or building a business. 

Many creators have drafted the audience-to-business blueprint, laying out the steps for influencers to find financial independence. Take Emma Chamberlain who parlayed her YouTube channel, where she shares intimate vlogs, into Chamberlain Coffee. And Hila Klien, a YouTuber and podcaster, now runs Teddy Fresh, a streetwear brand with over 100 employees.

While creator-centered businesses might begin with a notepad scribbled with hopes and aspirations, they’re built day-by-day with trusted tools. These include apps, platforms, and sites that creators use to craft content, distribute it to an audience, engage with their followers, monetize their fan base, build partnerships, run the back-end of their business, and more. 

An independent writer with thousands of subscribers might use Google Docs to pen their articles, Substack to share essays with an audience, Canva to add in graphics, Twitter to distribute their content, Discord to build a community for paid newsletter members, and Shopify to sell special edition supporter pins. 

This collection of tools is their creator economy tech stack.

While creator-centered businesses might begin with a notepad scribbled with hopes and aspirations, they’re built day-by-day with trusted tools.

The tools creators use are worth paying attention to: creators are cultural curators, irreverent innovators, and early adopters—their tech picks are often an indicator of “what’s best” and “what’s next.” 

This article will dive into the tools powering creator-centered businesses that interact with thousands or millions of followers—from the apps TikTokers use to edit quick bite-videos with millions of views to the hosting platforms podcasters use to transmit their voices to thousands of earbuds around the world.

The creator economy tech stack: 160+ tools to power creator businesses

The creator economy boom is hard to ignore: the total creator economy size is estimated to be over $100 billion and venture capital firms are increasingly focused on funding creator platforms, while creator-focused companies have seen over $1.3 billion raised in 2021. Influencers of every stripe can monetize their passions and build an audience in nearly any category—writing a food newsletter for baking enthusiasts, creating TikTok dance choreography for followers to mimic, or playing Fortnite with thousands of onlookers. 

Focus on investing in creators has led to a Cambrian explosion of creator tools entering the market, competing alongside incumbents and newcomers. This wide range of creators means a category-specific section of the tech stack, with each influencer curating and culling a list of their essentials—a photographer might include photo editing tools while a podcaster relies on audio editing apps. 

Focus on investing in creators has led to a Cambrian explosion of creator tools entering the market, competing alongside incumbents and newcomers.

However, as different as creators might be—from writer and photographer Craig Mod to dance TikToker Hannah Kaye Balany—many online creators converge on running small or large companies that require business tooling: project management to plan out content and campaigns, commerce platforms to sell products, membership sites to monetize an audience, back-end tools to look after financials and legal, and more. 

This infographic captures each layer of a creator economy tech stack, as well as a range of apps and tools in each layer that online makers and web entrepreneurs use to build creator-centered businesses. 

Creator category tools

creator category tools

From podcasters charting the course of history to streamers playing Final Fantasy, there are a host of different online creators. While many creators have more in common than apart—a magnetic online presence, creativity, and a love for their audience—different types of creators require different tools to create and distribute their content. 

The creator category layer of the creator economy tech stack includes different sections for different creators: YouTubers, gamers and streamers, TikTokers, Instagram influencers, podcasters and audio creators, writers and bloggers, and musicians, photographers, and artists.

However, many creators are increasingly triple, or even quadruple, threats: writing on Substack and Twitter, posting on YouTube, creating video content on TikTok and Snapchat, and hosting a podcast. The boxes in the creator category tools sections are dotted to denote the fluidity that often exists among creators who refuse to be boxed in.

Tools for YouTubers

In many ways, YouTubers paved the way for today’s creators. Early to the era of social content creation, they proved it takes little more than a camera, authenticity, and a spot in your bedroom to build an audience of millions of followers. Launched in 2005, YouTube remains one of the most popular and monetizable creator platforms today, with web-first creators like David Dobrik and Patricia Bright as well as mainstream converts like The Rock and Reese Witherspoon. 

While many video creators make their work appear effortless, the creator economy tech stack of a YouTuber includes a variety of tools: software like Final Cut Pro to edit videos, music platforms like Splice to breathe life into vlogs, and design tools like Canva to create aesthetic and clickable thumbnails. 

Here’s the YouTuber section of the creator economy tech stack: 

Tools for gamers and streamers

With the rise of esports and online gaming, it’s rare to hear this once oft-asked question: “Who would watch someone play video games?” In 2020, 18.6 billion hours of content was consumed on Twitch. In 2021, the platform had an average of 2.84 million concurrent viewers. Millions of viewers tune in daily to see their favorite gamers stream online—from louiseyhannah playing Resident Evil Village to alanzoka playing Final Fantasy XIV. 

Behind the humorous and lighthearted banter with the audience—across platforms like Twitch, YouTube Gaming, and Facebook Gaming—streamers use a host of tools to broadcast to their fans, as well as plug-ins and extensions to make gameplay more fun and interactive.

Here’s the gamer and streamer section of the creator economy tech stack: 

Tools for TikTokers

TikTok has taken the world by storm. In Q1 of 2020, TikTok became the most downloaded app in the world, surpassing incumbents like Facebook and Instagram.

The short-form video platform has become a media destination in its own right, pushing past its initial content reputation as a place to see lip-synched songs, silly dances, and pranks gone wrong. Instead, the platform is chock-full of every flavor of creator: from cooks like Alejandra serving up culinary delights to creator couples like itsthescotts giving viewers a peek into family life. While TikTok’s interface boasts a selection of tools to add filters, music, and effects, some creators opt to add third-party editing tools to their creator economy tech stack, bringing their own unique touch to videos. 

TikTok’s popularity has spawned imitation apps, including Snapchat Spotlight, Instagram Reels, and YouTube Shorts. For some TikTok creators, these tools are complementary and add an extra distribution channel from them to repost their original content.

Here’s the TikToker section of the creator economy tech stack: 

Tools for Instagram influencers 

While “influencer” has become an all-purpose term applying to many categories of creators, Instagram influencers are in a category of their own: 72% of creators cite Instagram as their primary content platform

On Instagram—whether you’re sharing fitness routines or showcasing interior design savvy—aesthetics are the name of the game. Instagram creators have a comprehensive set of tools as part of their creator economy tech stack: photo filter and editing software to perfect their photos, apps to create inspiring stories, and scheduling tools to craft the ideal grid ahead of time. Jourdan Sloane, an Instagram influencer with over half a million followers, details using apps like Facetune to edit her photos and Preview to arrange her feed up to two days ahead of time. 

Here’s the Instagram influencer section of the creator economy tech stack: 

Tools for podcasters and audio creators

Whether they’re consumed during city car commutes or chores around the house, podcasts have become a popular pastime. In 2020, 104 million people in the US listened to a podcast over the course of a month. From popular shows like the Huberman Lab to advice podcasts like If I Were You, there are podcasts across every category. With a quick search, it’s easy to find something to listen to, whether you’re in the mood for cultural commentary or true crime.

Aside from hardware tools like podcast mics, silencers, and mixers to get the sound just right, podcast creators use a collection of tools to host, edit, record, and add sounds and effects to their show. Plus, the rise of audio social apps like Clubhouse and Spotify Greenroom has given podcasters another venue to create shows for their audience or embody a new breed of audio creator entirely.

Here’s the podcaster and audio section of the creator economy tech stack: 

Tools for writers and bloggers

From serialized storytellers to newsletter writers to bloggers, many creators who have a way with words are making a living online. Seth Godin has blogged every day for almost a decade, while Emily Weiss turned her beauty blog, Into The Gloss, into the billion-dollar beauty empire that is Glossier. 

Today, there are an increasing number of ways to make money online as a writer, with a slew of blogging and newsletter platforms that help writers distribute their content to an audience or monetize their writing directly. 

Behind the craft of writing you’ll find tools like Google Docs and Apple Notes for getting the words on the page, editing apps like Grammarly to get sentences just right, and social channels to build an audience for your ideas or distribute them after the fact. 

Here’s the writer and blogger section of the creator economy tech stack: 

Tools for musicians, photographers, and artists

Not every creator is web-first. Traditional IRL creators—musicians, photographers, and artists—have their own creator economy tech stack of online tools to support their offline efforts. 

Musicians use an array of mixing tools to record and produce music and rely on platforms like iTunes, Spotify, and SoundCloud to share their work online. Photographers use online editing tools to make their snapshots shine. Visual artists use drafting software to bring their art alive and, more recently, can use web marketplaces to mint them as NFTs and sell to online art collectors. 

Here’s the musicians, photographers, and artists section of the creator economy tech stack: 

Creator profile: Kyla Scanlon—writer, TikToker, YouTuber, and podcaster

Kyla Scanlon is a multi-hyphenate creator. She writes a Substack newsletter about the stock market, hosts the Let’s Appreciate podcast, creates daily TikToks for 100,000 followers on the market, and uploads one to two YouTube videos each month on topics like stablecoins and the metaverse. 

Kyla uses a range of tools in her creator economy tech stack that can keep up with her creativity:

      • Social media and content: TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube
      • Video and audio editing: Capcut, iMovie, Descript
      • Writing: Google Docs, Substack
      • Front page: WordPress
      • Link page: Stan
      • Community and membership: Substack
      • Design: Canva and remove.bg
      • Planning and project management: Notion, Apple Notes
      • Business backend: Google sheets, Wave

“I pick tools that are intuitive but also allow for full creativity. I like to push the edge with some of my editing style choices, and it’s great when the tools allow for creators to really lean into design choices.”

Front page and link page

Front page and link page

While creators mostly have their fans visit their platform of choice—their YouTube channel, TikTok page, or Substack newsletter—many creators carve out a digital home by building a website. Creators can use their personal websites to tell a longer story about themselves, house their projects, and point to their links around the web. 

However, some creators have opted out of websites, using a link page instead—a lightweight single webpage with links to a creator’s social platforms, storefront, or latest campaign. In bios on Instagram or Twitter, that only allow one spot for a URL, a link page expands the number of sites a creator can point their audience toward. 

Here’s the front page and link page layer of the creator economy tech stack: 

Business backend

Business back end

Much of what we see from creators is what they show us—the content on their platforms, the online communities they cultivate, or the online pop-up shops to share limited edition merchandise. But behind every creator-centered business, whether they’re a solo business of one or a full-fledged team, is a host of back-end tools powering the front end. 

That includes the tools they use for planning and project management, the payments platform they rely on to make money, the finance and analytics tool for business insights, and hiring and recruitment platforms to expand their web ventures. 

Planning and project management

When it comes to building an audience, consistency is key. YouTubers often have a regular weekly upload schedule like “every Tuesday and Thursday.” Podcasters might sketch out an entire season of content months in advance. Instagram influencers might opt for one to two new photos each day, one reel a week, and a regular dose of stories. This steady stream of social media content often requires some planning. 

Often, the behind the scenes of being a creator involves project management tools to plan out campaigns in advance or a digital to-do list to stay on top of daily tasks. Beatrice from The Bliss Bean, a YouTube channel centred around college life, productivity, and mindful habits, uses Trello to plan out her content calendar across Instagram, YouTube, and her newsletter. 

Here’s the planning and projects management layer of the creator economy tech stack: 

Payments

Creators running businesses need a processor to accept payments from customers—whether that’s paying for an online course or snagging a midnight drop from an influencer’s merch release. From Shopify Payments to Stripe, payment platforms help creators collect money to further reinvest in themselves and their businesses. 

Here’s the payments layer of the creator economy tech stack: 

Finance and analytics

With cash comes cash flow management, accounting, and financial planning. Creators building business can opt for tried and true software like QuickBooks and Wave to manage accounting and send invoices to clients like brands and partners. 

Plus, there’s a host of new tools gearned directly at creators, like Stir––a financial platform for collaboration and money management, and Karat––a credit card for creator businesses. 

Here’s the finance and analytics layer of the creator economy tech stack: 

Hiring and recruitment

While many creators start as solo businesses owners, with enough success and scale, a podcaster can form a podcast network and a YouTuber can build a media empire. With size comes the need for support in the form of permanent hires and freelancers to help on the side. 

With a fan base to draw from, creators often go direct: sharing job opportunities in their Instagram Stories, tweeting out freelance gigs to an audience, and seeking out help at the bottom of a blog post. However, some creators instead opt for job boards and freelance hiring platforms to secure the help they need—whether that’s mixing the audio for a podcast or snapping professional photographs for a blog post. 

Here’s the hiring and recruitment layer of the creator economy tech stack: 

Community

Community

Creators recognize the value of keeping their fans close. While influencers can build a legion of supporters who subscribe to their YouTube channel or follow them on Twitter, cultivating closer relationships in an exclusive community is increasingly common. For instance, hosts of The H3 Podcast Ethan Klien and Hila Klien have a dedicated Reddit community as well as a paid subscriber community in Discord. 

These closed-off communities can be a paid perk for a creator’s most dedicated fans and help influencers engage more closely with their audience. 

Here’s the community layer of the creator economy tech stack: 

Fan monetization and subscriptions

Fan monetization and subscriptions

Often the audiences that a creator builds on social media platforms—Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, and more—enjoy their content for free. They like, comment, and share, but rarely pay an influencer directly. But with the rise of the creator economy has come more ways for creators to monetize their audiences and earn directly from their followers. Aside from the influx of tipping features in creator category tools, like tipping on Twitter or Clubhouse, there are tools dedicated to helping fans monetize off-platform. 

From Patreon to Cameo, an increasing number of platforms are helping creators provide exclusive perks to fans for a recurring membership fee or one-off payment. Additionally, creators can trade off their area of expertise—whether that’s interior design or gardening—to offer courses that fans can access for a fee on platforms like Podia or Gumroad. Creators keeping it simple can request tips from their audience through platforms like Cash App and Buy Me a Coffee. 

Here’s the fan monetization and subscriptions layer of the creator economy tech stack: 

Commerce

Commerce

Many creators and influencers alike partner with brands on collaborations that bring products to their fans—think Liza Koshy’s collaboration with Beats or Mr.Kate’s partnership with Target. Alternatively, some creators are accepting direct payments from platforms like TikTok and YouTube through newly minted creator funds. These collaborations use the star power of an influencer to boost an existing brand or platform. 

But in some cases, creators want to carve out a path of their own—using their image, likeness, and audience to build a brand and offering that’s truly theirs. In this case, they opt for creating a brand, selling items directly to their audience, and using a commerce platform—like Shopify—to do it. One TikTok creator, Sonja Detrinidad, has built a TikTok audience around plant care while selling plants on Shopify

Here’s the commerce layer of the creator economy tech stack: 



Advertising and affiliate

Advertising and affiliate

Creators aiming to reach outside of their existing audience can opt for advertising, attracting attention and engagement—for themselves or their businesses—through Google ads and social media ads on Facebook and Instagram. 

Creators can also earn money through a different kind of advertising: affiliate programs. Influencers get their name for the power they hold—the ability to influence trends, inform opinions, and drive purchasing decisions. Affiliate programs allow creators to take a cut of the purchases they drive. 

YouTubers can get a commission from the purchase recommendations they make in a fall haul fashion video, while a productivity blogger can take a cut off a book they recommend. Commission programs like LTK and ShareASale help creators monetize their influence and see a piece of the sales they drive. 

Here’s the advertising and affiliate layer of the creator economy tech stack: 

Social scheduling and distribution 

Most creators, whether they’re social-first stars or podcasters, rely on social media in some way, shape, or form to build up their audience and promote their work. Rather than staying tied to a laptop or phone, creators can use tools that make keeping up with social media easier. 

Tools like Buffer and Loomly can help creators deal with stress and burnout, letting them schedule posts in advance and keep up a regular cadence, all while still taking time to disconnect and work on other aspects of their creator-based business. These scheduling tools let creators schedule pins and plan out Instagram posts, while helping them automate and unplug.

Here’s the social scheduling and distribution layer of the creator economy tech stack: 

Events

Events

Occasionally creators opt for events—from live podcast recordings with an audience to meet and greets. COVID-19 and lockdown mandates have brought on a move to digital events. At the start of the pandemic we saw musicians playing music on Instagram Live.

As the move to remote continues, creators are using online platforms for digital events—like Hopin and AirMeet—to connect with their audiences. For events of both types—IRL and URL—creators often use ticketing platforms to let fans reserve their spots and pay for events. 

Here’s the events layer of the creator economy tech stack: 

More creators means more tools to help them create

Whether you’re a current or aspiring creator or simply looking for the best tools on the market, creator economy tech stacks can serve as inspiration. They outline the many corners of a creator-centered business—the tools and platforms that help a creator create content, monetize their audience, and run the back end of their business. A glimpse at a creator’s tech stack is a look behind the scenes of how a modern company is run.

With the creator economy here to stay, tools built for creators will continue to crop up as more people join the internet gold rush and build creator-centered businesses. 

Illustration by Woody Harrington. Infographics by Brenda Wisniowski.

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