If you’ve spent any time on social media, you know that influencers rule the digital roost, standing in as spokespeople for all sorts of brands, from small startups to massive corporations. And they make big bucks—those with a million-plus followers earn up to $100,000 per post on Instagram and YouTube, all for putting their stamp of approval on certain products. It seems pretty simple, right? Get a bunch of followers, promote a product, and profit. In reality, though, becoming a successful social media influencer is a challenge, but it’s definitely one worth pursuing.
How Does Influencing Work?
Social media influencers get paid by promoting products and services on Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, and other popular social media platforms. The strategy serves as a sort of affiliate marketing program, where the recommenders are paid for each new customer, subscriber, or click they obtain, depending on the contract between the merchant (the advertiser) and the affiliate (the influencer). Influencers are social media users who have lots of followers—the more followers, the more the influence and the higher the payout.
Because of this, the focus for any budding influencer should be growing his or her following on the platform(s) of their choosing. There are a few other important steps to complete in order to get your foot in the metaphorical influencer door, though. Here’s what to do if you want to be taken seriously as a personality who can influence.
Create a Niche – What are you into? Fashion, design, food, pets, sports, cars, music—they’re all great, but the more specific your interests, the better. Think: mid-century imports rather than simply cars; homemade ramen rather than simply food. The thing is that every single interest has its own presence on social media, and people who share that interest are constantly seeking out content. At the same time, the social media landscape is crowded, so you have to set yourself apart. Create a niche that’s hyper-specific, and make sure it just so happens to be one that genuinely interests you.
Grow Your Following – Without followers, there’s no influence, but you have to be careful about how you gain followers, as the top brands can tell if you’ve acquired yours nefariously or through “black hat” marketing methods. The best way to boost your followers is to post quality content often and to promote the heck out of it through hashtags, mentions, and shares. Some fun ways to get more followers include:
- Hosting a giveaway or contest. Count likes, follows, and shares as extra entries and watch as your following explodes overnight.
- Engaging with accounts in the same niche. Their followers are your target, so you need to figure out smart ways to grab their attention. Avoid spamming other accounts or copy-pasting the same generic comments—users notice!
- Tagging users, brands, and your location. This way, your content appears on a wider array of searches and shows up in tagged posts, gaining more views.
- Using different formats. Users like a wide variety of content, so try not to get stuck in a single mode of promotion. Use stories, posts, videos, and more.
- Always make your content valuable. As a person who’s interested in the stuff you’re posting about, you know what’s valuable and what isn’t. Contribute to the conversation about your selected niche, and people will engage.
- Leverage your network. Consider trading clout with other influencers, promoting one another to grow both of your follower counts.
- Network – Influencing is like any industry in that who you know is a part of the equation. Remember to spend some time networking both online and off, building relationships with marketers, brands, and fellow influencers who can connect you with tools and resources that will help you make a big impact online. You also want to serve as a resource and supporter of other budding influencers—networking is a two-way street, after all!
- Promote the Right Products – Be picky about what you promote. Users can be hypercritical of anything labeled #ad, so make sure you carefully select what you recommend. Steer clear of anything hokey or controversial—don’t get sucked into the flat tummy tea scam, for example—and make sure whatever it is you choose to sell is totally legitimate and something you’d actually use. Always ask to test the product or service beforehand and only post about it if you actually believe in it.
- Cross–Promote – Don’t forget to leverage your followers off social media. Many of the top social media influencers also have blogs and websites where they run successful affiliate marketing campaigns, earning dollars for every referral. Some even have their own e-commerce stores, selling merchandise and products they personally recommend. While Instagram or YouTube may be your main channel, don’t forget to promote to all platforms, including your own website.
- Follow All Laws – If you’ve paid much attention to promoted content online, you know that it’s governed by rules and regulations set forth by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC says all social media endorsements must be clearly disclosed on each ad so that users are completely aware that the post has been paid for by an advertiser. That’s why you often see the hashtag #ad labeling promoted posts. Before you hop into influencing, make sure you know the ins and outs of the law.
Be the Person You Want to Follow
The key to transforming your basic YouTube account or Instagram profile into a high-earning influencer account? Create a high-value, likable online persona who promotes yourself, and your products, in a way that feels totally authentic. Today’s uses are savvier than ever, and trust is a major part of the equation. You need to position yourself as someone with good taste and your audience’s best intentions at heart. As a result, you’ll grow your social media following and have companies knocking down your door for partnership opportunities!
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