Shuang Hu’s journey from the glitz and glamour of the silver screen to the dynamic world of the creator economy is nothing short of cinematic. As film sets grew silent and theaters dimmed their lights due to global lockdowns, many in the entertainment industry were left grappling with an unforeseen intermission. But not Shuang. For her, the global pause was a beckoning to pivot and reinvent. Initially recognized for her acting prowess and behind-the-scenes production finesse, Hu, like a true artist, took the unforeseen challenges of the pandemic as cues for her next act.
Delving into content creation, she transformed challenges into opportunities, forming a creative powerhouse with fellow actors. Their digital skits, brewed from passion and film expertise, not only filled the entertainment vacuum but also catapulted them to viral stardom. Today, as we sit down with Hu, her story unfolds, echoing the resilience and adaptability of an artist in a world turned upside down.
Shuang Hu – The Unexpected Turn: From The Silver Screen To The Creator Economy
A 2020 Pause and Reset
Like many in her profession, Hu found herself in uncharted territory when the world went into lockdown, facing an industry in hiatus and an uncertain future. Yet, it was this precise moment that birthed her renaissance as a content creator.
“Traditionally, my role was in front of the camera, acting, or behind the scenes producing,” Shuang began, her voice evoking the unmistakable tone of someone who’s weathered a storm. “I had also ventured into writing. However, with the pandemic halting production, acting roles dried up.”
It was a scenario all too familiar for actors worldwide: A still set, scripts collecting dust, and characters left untold. But Shuang, ever the innovator, viewed this not as a setback but an opportunity.
“I’d already been dabbling in content creation a few months before things took a turn,” she said. Together with two actor friends who also ventured into the world of content, they formed a triad of creativity. Their collaboration birthed a series of skits. With the world’s pause button pressed, they decided to form a tight-knit “bubble”, committing to producing content regularly.
“We met three times a week to film,” she reminisced. “On other days, it was all about editing. I made it a goal to release a new video daily.” The rigor and consistency in her approach were evident. And, as it often happens in the digital space, one of her videos caught the viral wave.
“That was the turning point,” she mused. As the numbers soared, so did their ambitions. The trio expanded, welcoming more creators into their fold. “It wasn’t just about seizing an opportunity. It was about passion, leveraging the skills I’d honed in film and TV.”
First Kiss with Viral Success
“I always enjoyed creating these playful, cutesy scenarios,” Shuang shared, her voice reflecting a mix of nostalgia and amusement. Collaborating with a fellow creator, they produced vignettes, tiny snapshots of romantic entanglements that many can identify with. “They were light-hearted takes on that classic ‘will they, won’t they’ trope,” she explained.
The genesis of her viral video had a touch of serendipity. “It was right after the Chinese New Year, and I had this oversized ‘Kiss’ chocolate,” Shuang recounted. For the uninitiated, ‘Kiss’ chocolates are triangular-shaped treats, usually petite in size. “Someone had gifted me a particularly large one,” she added with a chuckle.
This piece of confectionery became the prop in a playful bait-and-switch scenario. “Picture this,” Shuang began with a gleam in her eye, setting the stage for her audience, “I turn to my co-star—playing my crush in the video—and he would ask, ‘Do you want to kiss?'”. The anticipation, the classic romantic tension, was palpable. And just when viewers expected a cinematic smooch, the punchline was deliciously sweet. “Instead of leaning in for a kiss, he’d present the ‘Kiss’ chocolate. It was playful, cheeky, and evidently, a hit.”
It’s these delightful twists on everyday situations that often strike a chord with audiences. The video’s charm lay not just in its execution, but in its relatability. Who hasn’t had a playful moment of miscommunication, especially in the dance of romantic interests?
Post the video’s success, Shuang continued in a similar vein. “It was a format people loved, and I enjoyed creating them. It was a win-win,” she said.
Buoyed by this initial success, Shuang and her co-stars leaned into the digital format.
“The early days were heady,” began Shuang, painting a picture of spirited collaboration. Working closely with fellow actors, they produced content with a shared zeal. “We met thrice a week, creating magic on screen,” she reminisced. The camaraderie translated seamlessly on screen, with their audience lovingly dubbing them as an “online trio”— the online boyfriend, the friend, and Shuang herself.
But as with all pursuits, scaling and sustaining collaborations posed challenges. “When you are small creators, you share time, passion, and the joy of each video,” Shuang reflected. “But as the demands grew, our rendezvous three times a week became untenable.”
The pivot, when the trio couldn’t maintain their consistent collaborations, was particularly hard on Shuang. Her content, which had become synonymous with this ensemble, now had to evolve. “It’s a curve every creator dreads,” she admitted, referencing the stagnant numbers on her videos post this shift. A phenomenon many in her community can relate to, this plateau can often lead to moments of self-doubt and introspection. “It was a tough pill to swallow,” Shuang shared, revealing the emotional toll it took on her. “From a trajectory that was consistently upward, to suddenly hitting a wall—it was disheartening.”
But true to her indomitable spirit, Shuang found ways to reinvent herself. “I started wearing multiple hats,” she said with a hint of pride. Embracing her versatility, she began producing content where she essayed all the characters. The idea was innovative— it gave her complete control over her narrative, and she no longer had to sync up with multiple schedules.
Further, Shuang recognized the merit in professional collaborations, bringing on board actors for specific roles. “Collabs are fantastic,” she opined, “but they’re contingent on everyone’s availability. Hiring actors gave me the flexibility I needed.”
Reflecting on her journey, Shuang’s story is a vivid illustration of the challenges content creators face in a rapidly changing digital landscape. It underscores the importance of adaptability and resilience, especially when the initial blueprint doesn’t pan out.
“Every challenge was a lesson,” Shuang mused, summing up her voyage in the content world. While she continues to innovate and adapt, her story serves as an inspiration and a guidepost for upcoming creators navigating similar waters.
Navigating Youtube, Tik Tok, Instagram, and new emerging formats.
“One would think it’s a simple game of ‘create and upload,’ but the reality is a labyrinth,” Shuang mused. Focused on optimizing her efforts, she typically designs content for a specific platform. “Every platform has its heartbeat,” she explained, “and understanding that is crucial for a creator.” Yet, in some instances, when she senses a video’s universal appeal, it finds its way to other platforms. “It’s almost like knowing which song would be a hit across genres,” she added with a smile.
Experimentation has been her trusted ally in this quest to understand platform dynamics. “I’ve played the field,” she remarked, speaking of her strategy of posting content across platforms to gauge its reception. “This approach helped me identify patterns—where a video shines best.” Yet, the unpredictability of the digital realm keeps her on her toes. “There’s no foolproof formula,” she sighed. “What’s a blockbuster on one platform might just be a whisper on another. And then, there are those rare gems that become universal favorites.”
Highlighting the nuances further, Shuang shared some intriguing insights. Instagram, she believes, has an audience that leans towards the mature side, one that engages deeply with edgier content. “Instagrammers appreciate a dash of controversy,” she shared. “It’s as if they’re keen on content that stirs emotions and sparks debates.” In contrast, she aims to keep her content wholesome and family-friendly for YouTube, which serves as her primary repository.
When asked about her current favorite platform, Shuang didn’t hesitate. “YouTube,” she declared, her voice echoing respect and admiration. She values the platform not just for its massive reach, but for the holistic support it provides to its creators. “They’re not just a platform; they’re partners in your journey,” she enthused. From information dissemination to marketing tools, YouTube’s approach to content creators, in Shuang’s experience, is unparalleled. “Their accessibility and the resources they offer set them a class apart,” she noted.
Storytelling on a new canvas, but drawing on practical experience
“For me, content creation isn’t a spontaneous act,” Shuang shared, her words illustrating the methodical approach she employs. Drawing heavily from her acting background, Shuang crafts narrative content—structured, scripted, and driven by character arcs. “It’s not a fleeting moment captured on the go,” she said. “It’s a planned production, with each frame telling a part of the story.”
But Shuang’s journey isn’t just about the art of storytelling. A unique element in her creative process is her academic background in hotel management and international business. While one might wonder how that fits into the content creation puzzle, it’s this very expertise that adds a strategic layer to her content design. “It’s not just about creating; it’s about positioning,” she explained. Shuang’s content often showcases an implicit business acumen, whether it’s subtly featuring a product she loves or crafting content that aligns with potential brand collaborations. “The business mindset, it sneaks in, sometimes even when I’m not consciously steering it that way,” she chuckled.
Indeed, for Shuang, content creation transcends just sharing a narrative. “I often feel like I’m helming a marketing campaign,” she mused. Just as commercials on TV target specific audiences with curated messages, Shuang considers her platform a space to create and showcase ‘advertisements’ tailored to her audience, crafted with her unique touch. “It’s like bridging the age-old TV commercial paradigm with today’s influencer-driven narratives. And the beauty? I control it all,” she remarked, the pride evident in her voice.
But amidst this strategic design and execution, the heart of Shuang’s content remains relatability. “I craft what resonates with me, what would make me laugh,” she shared, emphasizing that while strategy plays a role, authenticity remains at the core.
“It’s all about equilibrium,” Shuang started, her eyes reflecting a practiced wisdom. “I always alternate. First, a video tailored to what I sense my fans will resonate with, and then, a piece that’s truly close to my heart, irrespective of how it might be received.” This self-imposed rhythm not only allows her to serve her growing fan base but also ensures she stays connected to her own creative instincts.
“But let me tell you,” she laughed, “sometimes what I consider my magnum opus, a video where I’ve poured my heart and soul, might just tumble into digital obscurity. It’s perplexing!” Yet, even in those moments of unexpected responses, Shuang’s commitment to her craft remains unshaken. “It might sting a little,” she admitted, “but at the end of the day, the joy is in the creation. The joy is in knowing that I loved what I made.”
Navigating the vast and unpredictable world of online content, Shuang underscores the importance of staying true to one’s passion. “If you start creating solely based on trends or likes, the essence gets lost. Content creation, at its core, should be an expression of oneself. It has to mean something to you.”
For content creators, wearing multiple hats is often par for the course. From ideating to execution, brand collaborations to audience management, the responsibilities can be vast and, at times, overwhelming. For Shuang Hu, finding the right partnership was crucial. And in A3 Artists Agency, she found just that.
“It’s as if a weight has been lifted,” Shuang commented, her relief palpable. “Earlier, I was juggling so much on my own. But with A3 stepping in, I’ve regained the luxury of time.” And that’s time she has channeled back into her passion: crafting compelling content and narratives for her audience.
A3 Artists Agency, known for its holistic approach to talent management, has taken the administrative reins from Shuang, allowing her to truly thrive in her creative domain. From managing brand collaborations to offering guidance on potential opportunities, A3’s involvement has been transformative. “It’s like having a knowledgeable friend in your corner, someone you can bounce ideas off, someone who’s got your back,” she added.
But beyond the logistics and the strategy, Shuang emphasized the emotional support that the agency provides. “Just knowing they’re there, ready to advise, ready to support, it gives me an immense sense of peace.”
While that sense of peace is invaluable, finding the right partner is worth the time. “Take your time,” begins Shuang, emphasizing the significance of readiness. Her belief is that peer connection can be an asset in this journey. “Engage in conversations with creators you genuinely admire, those whose content and vibes align with yours. Get their recommendations,” she suggests. In an industry where personal connections and word of mouth are gold, such firsthand endorsements can be a game-changer.
Shuang’s emphasis on careful deliberation is clear. “Rushing can lead to regret. Speak to multiple managers, feel out the terrain. Remember, you’re not just seeking an agent; you’re building a partnership,” she explains. It’s essential to investigate who else is on their roster and, crucially, to trust one’s instincts about the interpersonal dynamics.
Looking beyond the immediacy is another pearl of wisdom Shuang offers. “While short-term gains might seem enticing, it’s the long haul that truly matters. You need someone who will stand by you, in sun and storm alike,” she underscores. A harmonious working relationship, where both parties truly “gel”, as Shuang puts it, is the ideal scenario.
“Never settle. You deserve representation that aligns with your vision and values. Seek it out, and you’ll find it.”
What’s next for the creator economy?
“A significant shift I’ve seen is the rise of affiliate marketing,” begins Shuang. Platforms like Amazon’s Shopfront have piqued her interest, especially with their recent pushes around the back-to-school season. “They’re offering incentives, which is a clear indication of recognizing the influence creators wield over their audience’s purchasing choices,” she observes.
Shuang’s sentiment resonates with many in her position. For years, creators have organically championed products, often without any compensation. With the introduction of affiliate links and partnerships, they now have the opportunity to monetize these endorsements. “It’s a win-win. I’ve always loved sharing product recommendations. If I can get compensated for it, all the better!” Shuang adds with enthusiasm.
But it’s not just affiliate marketing that’s caught her eye. Drawing inspiration from trends in Asia, Shuang notes the emergence of live shopping in Western markets. “It’s been a phenomenon in Asia for a while. I’m thrilled to see platforms like Amazon recognizing its potential here,” she remarks.
Shaung also believes that there’s a pressing need for a more level playing field. Her journey highlights a stark reality. “When I first started earning through content creation, the deals were minuscule, just a few hundred dollars, and I thought it was good money!” Shuang recalls with stark honesty. For new creators, especially those without a managerial team or a solid network in the industry, it’s easy to fall into the trap of accepting underpriced offers. The lack of a standardized pricing guide or a regulatory body leaves them vulnerable to exploitation.
In an industry where conversations about fair pay are often hushed or held behind closed doors, Shuang found herself in a perplexing situation. “It was only after I began conversing with peers that I realized how much I should be charging for videos,” she reflects, spotlighting the covert challenges creators face in evaluating their worth and securing equitable compensation.
Her experience is emblematic of the wider creator community. For those just embarking on their creator journeys, figuring out the metrics of fair pay, especially without representation, can be akin to navigating a maze without a map. “A3 Artists Agency has been wonderful. They understand fair pricing and manage negotiations, allowing me to focus on content creation,” she shares, highlighting the value of having a team to manage the business end.
When it comes to the future of partnerships with brands and content creators, Shaung is anything but circumspect. “Currently, many collaborations between brands and creators tend to be fleeting, often limited to a single campaign or project,” Shuang observes. “Though there are exceptions, many engagements are short-lived.”
However, Shuang believes that as the space matures, brands and creators will lean more into long-term partnerships, ranging from extended sponsorships to year-long ambassadorships. “Such continuity will not only foster deeper connections between brands and their partnered creators but will also resonate more authentically with audiences,” she suggests.
The push for longer collaborations comes from a mutual desire for stability and predictability. “The industry is still finding its footing,” Shuang notes. “It’s a bit like the wild west, with everyone trying different strategies. But as both parties get a clearer understanding of what works, I think we’ll see more structured, ongoing collaborations.”
Shaung also observes that the type of content on the platforms themselves are also going through their own transformation and redefinition. “Look at platforms like TikTok,” Shuang begins, drawing on the app as a pertinent example of where the shift is most evident. “The content that truly resonates on TikTok now? It’s deeply authentic, and often hyper-specialized. It feels like you’re a silent observer, peering into the simple moments of someone’s daily routine.” The mundane, it seems, has become the fascination.
To drive her point home, she draws a comparison, “This isn’t an entirely new concept. If you glance over at platforms like Twitch, especially in the ‘just chatting’ rooms, it’s evident. Early streamers, even renowned ones like PewDiePie, embraced this ‘fly on the wall’ style. Viewers simply watched them discuss a topic or partake in an activity. It wasn’t about the grandeur but the genuine.”
But TikTok, she says, has distilled this essence into bite-sized moments. “While TikTok now permits content up to 10 minutes, the reality is that the magic is often in the shorter, 60-second clips. Those fleeting moments, when you catch someone talking about, say, their toothbrush while standing in their bathroom? That’s the goldmine.”
There’s an undercurrent of candidness that audiences, especially those on TikTok, are gravitating towards. The staged and the scripted, which once dominated our feeds, are being overshadowed by real-life, unfiltered snippets. As Hu observes, “Scanning through my TikTok feed, the overtly curated content seems to have faded into the background. Now, I find myself engrossed in clips of individuals going about their ordinary tasks, sharing unabashed snippets of their day.”
Advice to Aspiring Content Creators
“Begin with love,” she emphasizes, “Before diving into content creation, make certain it’s something you genuinely love. Whether it’s travel, collaborating with a partner, or any other theme, it’s paramount you have passion for it.” She reiterates the importance of this sentiment, highlighting the frequency with which creators produce. “If you’re not wholeheartedly invested in what you’re crafting, you’ll burn out. It’s a relentless endeavor. If you don’t love it, eventually, you’ll come to resent it.”
Further elucidating her point, she adds, “Align your content with what you truly excel at. Establishing yourself as an authority not only fast-tracks your journey in amassing a loyal following but ensures longevity in your relationship with your audience.”
Yet, for Shuang, there’s another layer to the narrative – one that deeply intertwines with her personal experiences. As a person of color who grew up in Australia, she faced the scourge of racism, leading to feelings of isolation, particularly in media representation. “The paucity of faces resembling mine, both on TV and online, was stark,” she reflects. This very void, however, became a driving force behind her digital endeavor. “I felt an intense need to represent my community, to provide a beacon for others who might feel alienated.”
Her commitment resonates, with feedback from her audience underscoring the impact. “Receiving comments from fans who say they’re inspired, seeing someone akin to them pursuing creative avenues, is incredibly heartening.” This is particularly poignant considering societal expectations. Drawing from her Chinese heritage, Shuang highlights the challenges many face, “Our parents often have traditional aspirations for us. While my mother is supportive now, the early days were riddled with apprehension.”
In this, Shuang offers a beacon of hope and resilience to budding creators, especially those from diverse backgrounds grappling with similar concerns. “It’s daunting, stepping into the world of content creation, especially if you’re uncertain about familial support. Yet, persist in your passion. Ultimately, what parents desire most is their child’s happiness and well-being. Don’t let fear deter you.”
Reflecting on her transformative realization, Shuang credits comedian Andrew Schulz: “His words, ‘You are the cavalry,’ were a revelation to me. It encapsulated a truth I’d overlooked in my own career,” she shares. Like many artists, Shuang spent years in anticipation, poised for the next audition, awaiting the phone’s ring, ever-hopeful for a breakthrough project. This passive approach, she realized, was the anchor weighing down her aspirations.
Shuang’s epiphany led her to a profound understanding: “I am not just a passive participant in my journey; I am its architect. Why wait for opportunities when I can forge them?” This mindset pivot was nothing short of transformative. While her ascent as a content creator three years ago might appear meteoric to some, the reality is rooted in a decade-long endeavor. “I dabbled in content creation for nearly ten years,” she admits, emphasizing that despite the innate desire, she grappled with where to begin and doubted her capability to transform this passion into a sustainable profession.
Yet, amidst the challenges, her dedication bore fruit, culminating in a remarkable milestone. “During the pandemic, I didn’t just wait for roles to come my way. Instead, I co-wrote and sold a film to Amazon Studios in Australia,” she says with a hint of pride. This endeavor wasn’t merely about adding a credit to her portfolio; it was a testament to her newfound belief in self-initiation.
Shuang’s story underscores a dual mantra: Self-reliance coupled with unwavering persistence. Reflecting on her earlier days, she draws a parallel with renowned content creator MrBeast. “Starting out, not every piece I created resonated. Similarly, MrBeast spent two years crafting content before experiencing virality. Had I recognized this earlier, I’d have persisted, knowing that with continuous effort and refinement, I’d eventually connect with my audience.”
In her narrative lies an invaluable lesson for emerging creators. Shuang’s journey is more than just a tale of success; it’s a call for self-belief, persistence, and the audacity to craft one’s own path. As she aptly summarizes, “Whatever your narrative, there’s an audience yearning to hear it. But they won’t come to you. It’s a dance—sometimes you lead, and sometimes you seek. The magic lies in never stopping.”