Freelance platforms see even more of an increase in supply and demand for AI skills

Artificial intelligence continues to raise questions about the future of workforce disruption, but it’s also creating new opportunities — and new challenges — for freelancers and the companies that hire them.

AI-related skills are increasingly in demand on freelance platforms like Fiverr and Upwork, which are seeing surges in companies searching for help with everything from AI modeling, AI-generated content and developing new AI chatbots. 

In the second half of 2023, searches for “AI reels” skyrocketed 1,646% and searches on Fiverr for “AI influencer” grew by 3,037%, according to data provided by Fiverr. Other searches from July 2024 through January of 2024 — for terms like “AI content editing,” “AI chatbot,” and “AI consultant” — grew by 148%, 164% and 689% respectively. Although it’s difficult to tell how much volume increased or the high percentages just illustrate the newness of the concepts, it shows a sampling of what companies are looking for when looking for freelancers to work with on AI projects.

The increased searches also seem to be arriving amid increased demand. In a new report from Fiverr, 39% of 500 U.S. tech execs said integrating AI and other emerging tech was a top concern. Half of the respondents also noted adding people proficient in AI and other emerging tech as a top priority, according to the survey, which was conducted in February by the research firm Censuswide. And just last week, generative AI modeling and machine learning were the fastest growing skills on Upwork, which had a 70% increase in its AI and ML subcategory.

Along with the increased supply and demand, freelance platforms are also building more of their own AI-assisted tools. Besides adding AI service categories to Fiverr’s homepage, the company also added new AI features for matching freelancers and clients. Another recently introduced feature offers a way to generate AI-assisted briefs to help clients explain what they want a freelancer to do, which helps with onboarding freelancers to clients and helps clients get the skills they’re looking for. 

According to Fiverr CMO Matti Yahav, the company isn’t seeing AI displace humans, but instead increase the need for humans to help deploy AI. Another trend he’s seeing: More people are using the platform to turn an AI concept or draft into a viable product. 

“I think many businesses and many customers don’t actually care about the actual tool [freelancers] are using,” he said. “Do you care as a business if the talent is using this kind of tool or a different one — is it Midjourney or Dall-E or whatever? In many cases, what we see is they are agnostic. They care how you create the right kind of value, the right kind of service that was requested, and was done on time.”

In Atlanta, the freelance platform Wripple is also noticing shifts. The startup, co-founded in 2019 by three execs from the agency Razorfish, has seen freelancers increasingly used AI for copy and design. But instead of AI being the full focus, the increases are more about using AI to improve ad copy, augment designs or experiment with special project and prototypes.

In a new survey of freelancers, Wripple found that 80% of full-time freelancers were “fully committed” to using AI in their work compared to just 40% of part-time freelancers. (Another 44% of freelancers said they plan to use AI occasionally.) However, large brands are still “paralyzed” and “overwhelmed” by AI concerns related to copyright and other legal issues, according to Wripple co-founder and CEO Shannon Denton, who was previously Razorfish’s global CEO.

Wripple has also added a half dozen of its own AI tools to the platform. Along with adding new categories, it’s built a matching tool that uses OpenAI’s API to score freelancers based on the job a client is looking for. It’s also added in a tool for generating AI cover letters.

AI adoption also is leading agencies and freelancers alike to reconsider the monetary side of their businesses. With AI adding new efficiencies, some agencies wonder if they need to change how they charge clients for projects. That will likely be one of the next areas of big change for the agency world, especially as more marketers rely on freelancers amid budget cuts.

“When AI changes the dynamic of how fast you can do things, it’s a challenge for them because they really want to get paid for as much as they can and when they can,” Denton said. “What we’re seeing is a lot of agencies trying to shift to selling more the whole solution or the project. That way they can reap the benefits of the tools themselves.”

Others are looking for correlations between how freelancers use AI and what they charge. When the AI detector Originality.AI analyzed hundreds articles and cover letters written by Upwork freelancers, it detected AI in 24% its a sample of 100 writers. And while AI was detected in less than 10% of content from writers charging $60, the startup detected AI in 40% of articles from writers charging between $10 and $19.

Researchers are also seeing quantitative shifts in how AI impacts the freelance market. According to London’s Imperial College Business School — which analyzed 1.73 million unique job posted to an undisclosed freelance platform between July 2021 and July 2023 — graphic design jobs declined 13%, writing jobs fell 30% and coding jobs fell 20%.

“While our findings may paint a gloomy picture for online freelancers, as ever there will be winners as well as losers in this era of change,” Xinrong Zhu, assistant marketing professor at Imperial College, wrote in a blog post about the findings. “Whenever technology sweeps professions aside, new jobs emerge. New paradigms bring new opportunities and propel industries into unknown futures.

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