“This is economic opportunity,” revealed Jackie Pimentel, Instagram’s director of creator product marketing. “It doesn’t matter if you have ten followers or tens of millions, creator monetization means that you can make a living doing what you love.”

Creator empowerment was the connecting thread throughout much of Meta’s messaging at the 12th annual VidCon. Every June, social media savants and their fans from around the world descend upon Anaheim, California to meet, greet and dive into the latest developments in content. As creator-first platforms  have grown, so too have the profiles of creators who’ve been cast as the new generation of celebrities that engage digital audiences with an expanding array of content.

With that in mind, it makes sense that Vidcon is fashioned as one sprawling opportunity for real-time creation at every turn. Throughout the four-day event, it wasn’t unusual to see a surprise dance challenge break out in the convention halls and talk of impromptu short skits was at an all time high. Meta drove the conversation with a pair of lounges where VidCon attendees could collaborate and create Reels with the help of Meta ambassadors who were on hand to play creative director and editor.

Marissa Joy Photography

Those looking to learn were invited to a series of creator-led sessions to master the Metaverse on their own terms. For many, that means exploring new dimensions. Recently, Karen Cheng (@karenxcheng) used artificial intelligence to create an image from scratch using only voice commands. Now, she’s utilizing Meta’s platforms to explore the endless possibilities of her work as a director. During her panel discussion, Metaverse 101: Everything You Need To Know, the visual artist unraveled the importance of Reels for both online discovery and development. While she felt that Instagram was once the most difficult social channel for creators to grow, she’s found that one successful Reel can accrue 20-30,000 followers in a matter of days and the potential is pushing creators to reimagine the realm’s possibilities.

Cheng’s primary example was self-shot choreography. Once limited to torso-up framing due to phone screen limitations, the moves that grace our feeds may soon be perceived as fully-fleshed routines thanks to virtual reality. Meeting in the Metaverse, Cheng believes, will offer digital artists both financial and creative longevity. In fact, Cheng’s early embrace of the alternate reality already facilitated an inking of several substantial contracts from corporations who want in — and she’s not alone.

“Brands are looking for opportunities that feel seamless,” echoed Pimentel during her panel, The Future of Monetization. “They want us to create the formats to bring together their marketing goals with the creator’s understanding of their audience to make that super magic.” Also featuring We Are Verified CEO Jordon Wornona, The Future of Monetization was a clinic for anyone hoping to make it big via brand deals.

Dispelling the misconception that more followers means more money—for both companies and creators—Wornona spoke to the power of niche-creators who can generate significant income from small-scale partnerships (think: several hundred dollars to create a video with a particular sound). For her part, Pimental recalled brands engaging an enthusiastic consumer base off the back of one great piece of content. Both experts also touted the value of the digital world to foster a closer connection between brands or talent, and their devotees. Web 3, they claim, will facilitate intimate VIP experiences both on and offline. Soon, they shared, access to talent will become collectible: bought and traded by fandoms the same way one might a baseball card.

Marissa Joy Photography

Naturally, fans themselves are a fundamental part of VidCon. It’s a chance to remove the screen that’s long separated them from their favorite online personalities, while enjoying live performances, freebies and much more. Nonetheless, for creators, online attention IRL can be overwhelming. Dotted throughout the fan-free ‘Featured Creators’ section were signs banning selfie and autograph requests — allowing talent to traverse between the social app-sponsored content lounges without interruption (in Meta’s case: a pool party outdoors and picture-perfect ‘meadow’ indoors). VidCon clearly understands its market—mental health maintenance can feel like a full-time job for many creators. For that reason, Meta introduced a particularly necessary panel into their programming slate: Staying Safe So You Can Create, Grow and Earn.

“If I go viral on Reels [and] it ends up on anyone’s page, I’m aware that young girls are reading the comments,” says fashion and beauty creator Achieng Agutu (@noordinarynoise). “I don’t want someone to say something nasty and ruin that [safe] space, so I will block you, I have the time.”

Alongside Agutu, illustrator Devon Rodriguez (@devonrodriguez) and Nurse Blake (@nurseblake) discussed some of the downsides of their significant followings. All three contend with existing imposter syndrome, worsened by trolls who are quick to dismiss creators as “frauds.” Over time, they’ve all developed systems to circumvent online negativity. While Rodriguez is quick to restrict comments rather than outright block, Agutu limits trigger words to keep her comment section clean. “The more you grow, the scarier it becomes,” Blake shared, “[Thankfully] there are features in place to protect you as you get bigger.”

Comedians Daphnique Springs (@iamdsprings) and Lonnie Marts, AKA @lonnieiiv attest that persisting through setbacks is essential to social growth. The duo, who concluded Meta’s programming on the panel Success At Every Stage In Your Journey along with designer-influencer Kheris Rogers (​@kherispoppin), reflected on the “ups and down” of their careers thus far. All three experienced significant advancement with the advent of Reels, packaging their personality into bite-sized clips. After years of rejection through traditional media channels, each pushed past their comfort zones and found community by embracing online audiences.

With so many examples of self-made success, it’s no wonder creators are betting on themselves. With a little help from VidCon, Meta and millions of combined followers, each Featured Creator is surveying a landscape of endless possibility. Now that they’re ready to share their stories, be sure to tune in — making a living doing what you love has never been so likable.