The Ethics Of Professional Streaming – Community Based Income

Broadcasting yourself and your personality to the world as a career can come with some hidden challenges. Beyond the struggle of creating new content, growing your community and generating income, your choices in who you are as a person and how you present that can have a tremendous effect on your success.

In this series, we’ll examine some of the deeper ethical aspects that challenge us in this emerging platform.

Seizing The Means – Self Made Income


20 years ago, nobody could have imagined that platforms like Twitch, YouTube, and other streaming sites could exist. Anyone in the world can turn on a webcam and easily broadcast themselves to an open market of entertainment consumers for profit.

Today, streaming content creators are a massive economy, complete with its own issues of economic class struggle and equality. At the center of it all, some would say, is the subscription button.

Monetizing your content to a sustainable level of income is the holy grail for many content creators. How each of us gets there is our own personal story. Navigating within the Terms of Service (ToS) of your platform, you’re free to engage your community any way you see fit to encourage support.

Finding Your Tone

Let’s face it, being a professional content creator involves receiving a consistent income from your audience. Only the very elite in this industry get to the point where their momentum and popularity sustain a long-term income. The vast majority of content creators need to find a way to repeatedly incentivize their audience.

Subscriptions and tips won’t materialize without some encouragement or incentive to your viewers. The most complicated relationship you might ever have with both yourself and your viewers is how to proceed with this.

Bringing up donations/tips to your audience in hopes of them supporting the channel can be a delicate process. Suggesting them too much might lead your audience to think you’re greedy, while not mentioning them often enough may mean your income could suffer. Using these methods without engagement or incentive may not lead to much success.

The tone you must develop for your incentives must be done with your own sense of identity as well as with your community.

The Ethical Tin Cup Rattle


How people feel about being solicited for subscriptions or tips varies widely. Assuming your community is there to support you, encouraging them to sub occasionally shouldn’t really pose you any ethical dilemmas. After all, you’re creating content that people consume.

The tone you use when you engage them for monetary support, however, should be from a place of honesty within yourself and your brand. The relationship you have with your audience is greatly shaped by their perception of your modesty, humility, sense of entitlement, or presumptuous nature.

Having emotes, doing special events, and playing specific games requested by chat are all ways you could incentivize your community to support you, all being more equitable and indirect than simply asking for donations.

“The Beatings Will Continue Until The Sub Goal Is Met”

One of the more problematic ways to go about encouraging subs and tipping that seems to appear is when a streamer is being aggressive or belittling the audience. This is when a streamer either singles out a specific viewer in chat, or generally chastises their entire chat for not giving money with genuine anger or frustration.

New people in your community will most likely be turned off if you’re taking your frustrations out on them for not subscribing or cheering with bits in the chatroom. Even as a joke, it can be taken out of context easily, clipped, and used to attract some unwanted attention.

Of course, there are going to be people in your chat that you have this kind of familiar relationship with. What streamer hasn’t responded to a good-natured, trollish comment from a regular with a quip about their sub, but those are anecdotal compared to your overall tone with your entire chat.

Not to say some content creators haven’t had success with creating this type of persona, but it does invariably create a lot of drama and stress for the community and creator when something gets taken out of context and exposed to the general public, so this is not something we recommend.

Psychological Weight

How many times have you asked yourself “why do people support me financially?” Do you find yourself sometimes laying in bed with guilt over the fact that someone gave you a large tip? What about finding yourself frustrated that you’ve worked so hard and seemed to have gotten so little in return?

There’s a very real reason for all of that… and you’re not alone.

We as humans strive for a sense of equality in all things. Setting selfishness aside, most people want to feel like the amount of “work” they do is equal to the amount of “reward” they get.

Adam’s Equity Theory attempts to explain this in detail, and can be applied to both professional and personal relationships. This theory works both ways too, in the sense that you can either feel like you’re not earning enough of a reward for your work, or that you’re not working hard enough for the rewards you receive.

You could often find yourself overwhelmed when people do support you in the idea that you feel inadequate compared to other streamers. You may have felt that you have no idea what you’re doing but people still “buy” into your brand.

Imposter Syndrome is a psychological phenomenon where someone constantly doubts their accomplishments and feels like they’re a “faker”. Even if they have a track record of success, they attribute it to luck or people being deceived into believing in them. Often times, fearing exposure as a hack and being abandoned is a constant worry.

Because we’re in such a wide field of content creation, filled with so many unique and talented people, it’s easy to fall into a negative head space. Especially if you constantly compare yourself to larger, more popular creators. Remember that your community is your own, and there’s no proper comparison to your brand!

Donation Guilt

One of the more difficult aspects of being a long-term content creator is coming to terms with the fact that there may be at least one person in your community who gives you an overwhelming amount of financial support. Apart from a subscription, this person may tip you an amount far above everyone else. As the Equity Theory above mentions, you feel guilty that there’s nothing much you can do to reciprocate on that level.

The best frame of mind to have about this is, it’s the viewer’s choice to provide whatever level of financial support they give. Just because someone is tipping a large amount does not mean that they should. While we can’t stop them, we should definitely keep that in mind when we think about our methods of solicitation and encourage healthy, responsible spending habits.

We’re All Human

While the above theories might be academic ways of thinking, it doesn’t change the emotions we all feel when we encounter them. “This isn’t worth my effort” and “I’m not worthy of this” are common emotions that all of us face.

Streamers have to do what they can to keep their interactions for support a positive experience. If viewers feel good about supporting their favorite streamer, then the likelihood of them continuing to do so is higher.

Being a content creator full time means that you’re in an industry primarily relying on the generosity of others. It is a very stressful market to make your living in and has the possibility to take a toll on your mental health.

If you approach how your viewers can support you with honesty, transparency and a healthy dose of humility, you’ll set a tone that’s bound to be an experience that doesn’t pollute your relationship with your community. Be genuine, be positive and be appreciative of the support you get in the best way you know how.

The author would like to thank WesCisa and Kiratze for their valuable input and contributions to this article.