influencer series part 4 building a following
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Becoming an Influencer: The Six-Month Guide to Building a Following (4 of 5)

As influencer marketing continues to reach and attract mass markets, journalists are eying the idea of creating a social media wave of their own. Though the debate is still out on the respectability of influencers in the age of media, their impact is proven by the numbers. In this series, we investigate the emergence of the influencer, the ethical challenges of writers who tap into this field and the misconceptions of the role.

In part four of our series, we speak with influencer marketing experts on how to rev up your followers.

In an industry where numbers are, well, everything, modern influencers might not whip out a 1,200-word article in a few hours, but they certainly can quickly detail their organic growth and reach off the tip of their tongue. At its core, an influencer job description is creative but also inherently data-focused. Because brands pay attention to those who can — you guessed it — persuade various markets and sectors to trust them, having a large, robust and engaged following is not only the first goal, but a continuous task throughout the transformation of their online accounts.

Though many believe paid bots can be a solution to their numbers problem, experts are quick to remind professionals that with an ever-competitive market, fakers are easy to spot. Even so, they understand it isn’t an easy avenue to take, especially since plenty of social media platforms work against them, with ever-changing policies, algorithms and features.

This requires influencers to be nimble and reactive, as well as consistent. Not to mention, niche-focused. As freelance marketing consultant Melanie Long explains, it is more difficult than ever to build a following on social media because consumers are increasingly more selective about who they follow. “People don’t want a bunch of noise in their feed, so they tend to follow accounts that provide value and publish posts they care about,” she says.

Setting yourself up to stand out

So how do you stand out from the endless scroll of Instagrammers? Or make your voice heard — and appreciated — on YouTube? Or, somehow, manage to attract subscribers to your personal plot of real estate on the world wide web, when hundreds of thousands of others are vying for attention, too? First, you set a long-term approach toward your influencer dreams, since time is in your favor.

Here, experts in this dynamic field recommend a six-month blueprint to creating and fostering a following: 

Six month guide to building a following as an influencer: Start by defining your target audience.

Month 1: Define your brand — and audience.

The database of influencers is robust and plenty, across nearly every country and each industry or interest. From travel Instagrammers who detail the beauty of the world, to food bloggers who taste it all and report back on the spice and concoctions, and makeup vloggers who teach how to contour everything — there’s a space for all.

But here’s the catch… According to Long: You have to define your brand, right from day one. 

Are you a nomadic journalist who seeks immersive local experiences — or a luxury resort hopper? If you decide to post about parenthood, what’s your unique positioning on the topic? What sets you apart? You might find these questions easy to answer, but Long reminds wannabe influencers they can’t be answered without considering who is going to be double-tapping or following along your ramblings.

It’s a task many newbies switch, she says. “First you need to know who you want to appeal to and then create your brand to match. You need to have a clear, unique voice and set your own brand guidelines so you can always refer to it before posting. Setting brand guidelines establishes guidelines for your posts so you’ll always stay consistent,” she explains.

To begin the brainstorming process, influencer and publisher of East End Taste Vanessa Gordon recommends taking time to research, identify and articulate these queries: “What would you want them to know about you? What would you want them to know about your brand right away? What color aesthetic would you like?” These will help guide your creation process.

Gordon also adds it is worth the investment in the earlier days of your blog, Instagram or YouTube channel to hire experts to ensure you’re portrayed polished and professional. Whether it is a web developer to create your site, a seasoned photographer to take headshots, or an experienced videographer who can get you started, you will walk away from the first 30 days prepared to grow.

To be serious about becoming an influencer, you have to define your brand, right from day one. #contentmarketing #socialmedia #influencers Click To Tweet

Guide to becoming an influencer: Define your content strategy.

Month 2: Create your content strategy.

Congrats: you’re up and running! Followers are starting to flow in. You feel proud of what you’ve created. Um, now what?

Though it’s tempting to fly out of the gate, guns blazing and prepared to take over the wondrous world of Instagram, Long says careful content planning can make or break the success of an influencer. She explains you need to not only know what you will write about, but how often you’ll post and what type of goal you have set for each interaction. Influencers who have made a career out of their online or social presence pay attention to these numbers and carefully pivot as they learn more about their audience over time. If you start with this mindset from the beginning, you’re more likely to reap the same position of fame and hopefully, fortune.

Begin thinking about the long-term and brands you want to work with.

During the second month, Long also suggests thinking about your prolonged future, when you’ll work for the attention of brands for paid campaign opportunities. It might be months —o r years — down the road, but as your mother warned you, the internet is much like an elephant and never forgets.

Maintaining your voice to attract the type of sponsorships you’re hungry for is as important during your early days as it is when you’ve carved your position in the industry. “If you’re wanting to attract family-friendly campaigns, then your past posts can’t include vulgar language or suggestive pictures. Think about who you’re trying to attract and make sure you exemplify the same attributes,” she continues. “Brands want to work with influencers who fit their brand, so remember that if you have specific brands in mind you’d like to work with.”

Gordon reminds budding influencers not to forget about the specifics either, since each post should be optimized to ensure you prosper. “Find similar accounts, and start engaging with them — it only takes 20 minutes a day. Always post your location, at least thirty hashtags in a comment per post, and make the captions as short as possible unless posting a recipe or how-to,” she explains.

Guide to becoming an influencer: Populate and test your content calendar.

Month 3: Try out your content calendar.

Since last month was geared toward developing, understanding and honing your content, now it is time to make it go live. By month three, it’s recommended to have at least 30-days worth of content pre-planned. Consider this your safety net in case an unexpected distraction takes your attention away from your influencer goals.

This allows you to schedule ahead and to continuously create further posts so you’re never left in a bind. 

It’s a smart idea to put this all in an easy-to-access calendar, to save on hiccups and of course, your sanity. This same document can be used to track performance and engagement, too. “You know who you want to target, you have defined your brand and you’ve determined a strategy. Time to start gathering and posting content! Creating a content calendar helps you to organize your content and plan out what you want to publish. It also ensures you have consistent content in the pipeline,” she continues.

One of those days, Gordon recommends a giveaway, which can be known to draw in followers and interactions. After all, who doesn’t want a freebie? “Get together with two to three similar accounts and do a loop giveaway. Follow twenty to thirty similar accounts to yours and accounts within the same location, and engage with them,” she says. “This could help grow your reach.”

To be a successful influencer, you must have a content calendar to schedule ahead so you’re never left in a bind. #influencermarketing #contentmarketing #freelancing Click To Tweet

Guide to becoming an influencer: By month four you should be evaluating your interactions with followers.

Month 4: Focus — and react to your followers.

Long has five very important words for anyone aiming to test out their Insta or blog chops:

Do not pay for followers. Do not pay for any service that promises followers or likes.

Did you hear her? Just in case, she’ll iterate it again: “Build your following organically. Do not, I repeat, do not pay for followers. It may seem alluring to try and get a lot of followers at once, but these aren’t real people,” she explains. “Brands aren’t going to pay you to publicize them to a fake following. Engagement matters more, which only comes from real followers.”

To be a successful influencer, do not pay for followers. Repeat: Do not pay for followers! #influencermarketing #digitalmarketing #freelancing Click To Tweet

Instead of taking this seemingly easy way out, Gordon says true audiences are derived from continuous edits and analysis of your followers — and who you are following. This requires a little extra elbow grease, but when you remain consistent, your reach becomes more reliable and tuned-in to whatever you’re raving or ranting about.

“Revisit who you are following. Are they following you? Are they active? Are they worth following?,” she asks. “Continue to follow similar accounts, and now start to think outside of Instagram. Attend and host events, solidify your own unique hashtags and encourage others to use those hashtags. Don’t forget to tag relevant accounts in photos you post, too.”

If you’re serious about turning your social habit into a profession, Gordon also suggests seeking out social media workshops during month three, since you have a lick of experience under your belt, now. By arriving to class with an account already set up and moving forward, the lessons will be more valuable to you and action-oriented, since you can put them into play right away.

Guide to becoming an influencer: Get yourself out there and being to pitch to brands.

Month 5: Get yourself out there.

With your content calendar steadily flowing and your reach developing, Long urges influencers to spend some time preparing to put your iPhone or computer aside — and start selling yourself face-to-face. After all, to earn an income in this industry, paid campaigns are what will ultimately pay your bills and pad your savings account. She suggests beginning with a one-page media kit with fast facts a potential brand would want to know. “Include your metrics, from website visitors and engagement to followers and more, all in one place that you can quickly provide to potential clients,” she explains.

Then learn the art of pitching… to be prepared for opportunity.

As you’re pulling your media kit together, you can begin to think about your pitch, since part of your job description is selling yourself and what you can offer. “You need to be able to effectively communicate who you are and why a company should pay you to post about them,” she continues. And while you might think you need to reach at least 100K followers before thinking about this, Long argues otherwise, as hey, practice makes perfect. “Do it now so you can be ready when you find yourself influential enough to start reaching out to companies,” she says.

During this time, Gordon also recommends setting aside a few hours each week to do a deep dive on your performance. Since you’ll be creating your press kit, you need to not only discover your numbers, but know how to digest and illustrate them, too.

“When are your followers most active? You may try posting at these times, or even the least active times, to see how much attention each post receives. Focus on posting more of those types of images. Do your followers love when you post a new outfit? A recipe? A destination?” she offers.

Guide to becoming an influencer: At the six-month mark, evaluate and decide what's next.

Month 6: Decide what’s next.

Here’s the bottom line as you reach the start of month six: No matter how much hard work you’ve put into developing your page, there are no guarantees—or even a ballpark figure—on how many followers you’ll have at this time. As CEO and branding expert AJ Adams explains:

There is no such thing as an “overnight success.” 

Adams should know, since while he did manage to grow his following from a few thousand to more than 100K, it took him six years of trial-and-error, learning and preserving to accomplish the feat. “You must be willing to play the long game and build relationship equity with your audience over time,” he says.

However, half-way into the year, you probably will have some sort of an active following, with a few mega fans in the mix. You know more about those who comment, like, and share your content than ever before. Now, Adams says it is time to make a plan to expand your brand by ten times its size by leveraging the right platforms. Not all of these are digital either, but rather, opportunities to showcase who you are and what you’re selling. From speaking at conferences to being a guest on podcasts, to seeking higher-level collaborations with larger influences, all of these aid in your growth.

Who knows — a year into the wild ride, you might find yourself further along than you ever imagined. Isn’t that what Instagram is all about, anyway? Aspiration? By setting markers for yourself, you’ll be well on your way of becoming an influencer.

 

Lindsay Tigar

About Lindsay

Lindsay Tigar is an experienced, established travel and lifestyle journalist, editor and content strategist. Since uprooting from Asheville, North Carolina in 2010 to Manhattan, Lindsay's work has appeared on several websites, including Travel + Leisure, Vogue, USA Today, Reader's Digest, Self, Refinery29 and countless others. While she is always up for the challenge of any assignment, her main areas of focus include travel, wellness, career, psychology, love and healthy living.

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