Spend any time on social media and you’ll know exactly who the influencers are. They’re usually the ones with the perfectly-curated posts and millions of online followers — and the body of a supermodel. They’re the online personalities and ‘gurus’ that seem to have so much clout online.
So is that it? Do you have to be under 40 and an expert at air-brushing, TikTok dances, and fish lips to become a successful influencer?
As it turns out: NO!
You’ll be pleased to know that being able and willing to flaunt a six-pack isn’t a prerequisite to building a smashingly successful online following. Becoming an influencer on social media is about so much more than taking a great selfie. (Whew!)
So what is the key?
In a nutshell, It’s about creating a solid brand, connecting with an audience by meeting a need, and being consistent and persistent.
In this post, we’ll go over the ins and outs of what it means to be an influencer, why you might want to become one, and how to go about building your own massive following from the ground up.
Table of Contents
What is an Influencer in Today’s World?
If you’re thinking of Kim Kardashian, you’re not wrong. She’s considered the original influencer in many circles — but not all influencers follow in her footsteps.
An influencer is someone who has a large audience and following. Through knowledge, passion, and social intelligence, he or she has developed the authority and the social power to affect the purchasing decisions of his or her audience.
That being said, an influencer isn’t just a savvy marketer. They don’t just post ads for their products and call it a day.
To be an influencer, a person needs to have developed a genuine, personal connection with their audience. It goes beyond simple advertising and into the relational space — which is what makes the influencer identity so powerful. People might be tempted by an effective ad, but they’ll put their faith in someone they feel a relationship with.
Why Become an Influencer?
According to one study, for every $1 spent on influencer marketing, businesses make $6.50. And 92% of millennials trust Instagram influencers over traditionally famous celebrities.
Rather than becoming an influencer for fame or fortune, think of it this way: becoming an influencer could be good for your business.
It can get you an audience and give you a voice. You’ll have a platform you can leverage to suit your needs, like marketing your products, promoting someone else’s products, or gaining traction on a new business venture.
Becoming an influencer isn’t easy. There isn’t a magic word and you can’t wave a magic wand and poof, you’re an influencer. It takes time, dedication, and work. Let’s go over the steps in that long — but often rewarding — journey below.
1. Decide on Your Market
One of the first things you need to do as an aspiring influencer is to
It’s tempting to try to appeal to anyone who might be interested in your brand, product, or service. But here’s the secret: you need to narrow your potential audience in order to grow your audience.
If that sounds backwards, that’s okay. It might feel counterintuitive. It’s natural to want to appeal to the broadest range of people possible, and you might feel scared to leave some people out.
But the truth is, the person who markets to everyone appeals to no one.
If you try to appeal to a very broad audience, your content will feel a bit too vague and watered-down. It’s by having a clear understanding of who you’re marketing to, their interests, and how you are helping them specifically that you can start to create compelling, rich content that attracts a loyal following.
Sure, that loyal following will come from a specific demographic — but it’ll be strong.
2. Decide on Your Niche
Because people understand the benefits of influencer marketing, most platforms online are saturated with influencer hopefuls vying for the attention of the masses.
So the best way to give yourself a leg up? Niche down.
Choose an area that you’re interested in and can see yourself creating content about for hours at a time. You should also be at least slightly experienced in that area and have some level of expertise.
Say you want to market yourself as a finance blogger. That’s a great start, but you might even want to niche down further. Find your “niche within a niche” — for instance, instead of marketing yourself as a finance blogger, you might market yourself as a finance blogger who specializes in offering actionable tips to software-as-a-service (SaaS) finance companies.
By picking a niche, you’re committing to becoming an expert — a voice of authority — in your chosen area. Learn everything you can, and share that knowledge. Soon, you’re going to get noticed by your target audience, and they’ll trust you as the expert you are.
3. Decide What Makes You Unique
Okay. You’ve picked your target market and your area of expertise, and now you need to understand what you uniquely offer your potential audience. This is sometimes called your unique selling proposition (USP).
How will your content stand out from everyone else’s?
For example, lots of people blog about technology. You could choose to be the person who writes about tech in a conversational, relatable manner that cuts out confusing technical jargon. Or you could be a food instagrammer who turns every photo caption into a cultural history tidbit.
To get a good idea of how you can stand out from the crowd, try my guided exercise here to analyze your competition, your target market, your industry, your ideal customer, and your USP.
4. Decide on Your Platform
At least when you’re starting out, it’s best to limit your presence to one or two social media platforms. Odds are good that you don’t have unlimited resources or time, so trying to be present everywhere will just lead to burnout.
To decide where to focus your efforts, try thinking about what kind of content excites you:
- Are you a good writer? Blogging might be for you.
- Are you a photography pro? Consider choosing a visual platform like Instagram or Facebook.
- Do you love making videos? YouTube or TikTok might be your platform of choice.
- Have a voice made for radio? Perhaps a podcast is where you’ll shine.
And of course, don’t forget to analyze your choice from the business side with questions like:
- Is the platform already saturated with wannabe influencers?
- Is the channel declining in popularity (like Snapchat, for instance)?
- Is this platform the place your audience is likely to hang out? Instagram is a great place to find millennials, while you’ll find teens on TikTok and baby boomers on Facebook. If your audience is in the business space, consider LinkedIn.
Once you’ve chosen your platform, get to work optimizing your profile. Since it’s the first thing someone sees when they visit your profile, make your bio clear, engaging, and informative. Include your name, location, and website (if you have one).
And of course, make your niche or area of expertise extremely clear in your bio.
Check that your profile picture (and cover photo, if applicable) are professional and align with your brand identity. You may want to invest in some professional headshots so that you have high-quality photos of yourself.
Becoming an influencer means you have a solid understanding of who you’re attracting and what they’re interested in. Switch to a business account, which on most platforms allows you to monitor your engagement rates, metrics, and create promoted content. Analyze your current follower base to get a better understanding of their demographics and what interests them.
5. Build a Following: How to Grow Your Audience
Once you’ve decided on your audience, your niche, and your unique angle, it’s time to start building an audience with your engaging content.
Notice I said “engaging,” not “copious.” When it comes to content marketing, it’s all about quality over quantity; the world doesn’t need any more mediocre content, after all.
You might be tempted to start churning out as much content as possible — be it a new blog post every day or a new Instagram live every hour — but be careful not to overload your potential audience.
Developing a true following takes time. You need to develop a content plan that keeps your main objective in mind. Don’t just create something to create it; why are you creating that content? What value are you trying to provide to your audience?
Use that guiding principle to come up with your categories and individual topics, then create a content calendar. It’s all about being intentional with your content so that you’re always tying it back to your USP and your “why,” then making sure you’re not overwhelming yourself.
After all, once you start creating your content, you still want to have time and bandwidth to engage with your audience.
You’ll want to develop an authentic relationship with your growing audience, and nothing does this faster than demonstrating that you’re here for them. When they comment on your blog posts, reply to them! When they ask questions, be there with an answer.
Becoming an influencer is about more than just amassing thousands of followers. It’s about getting true, authentic engagement. And building that interaction starts with you.
Building an Instagram Following
Though it may feel like it sometimes, Instagram isn’t just the realm of the young. Many older influencers are thriving on Instagram, like American fashion designer Tory Burch, whose Instagram feed is relatable (she often posts adorable dog pics) and focused on empowering other women.
In fact, she states plainly in her bio that she focuses on “empowering women entrepreneurs.” She’s chosen a niche within her niche (fashion) and knows exactly how each post ties into her purpose and USP.
Since Instagram is a highly visual medium, make sure you’re posting high-quality photos. This doesn’t mean you can’t use your phone to take pictures, but make sure to utilize good lighting and free editing tools.
And try to incorporate a variety of posts, including:
- Educational posts — teach your followers something useful to them. If you specialize in gardening, post an infographic about the times of year to plant different veggies. Or post a lovely photo with a caption about how to choose the right fertilizer.
- Quotes — these do well on Instagram. If it’s a short quote, turn it into an image (be sure to include your logo somewhere in the graphic). If it’s a longer quote, place it in the caption instead, along with a nice photo to capture your audience’s attention.
- Behind-the-scenes — a surefire way to build a following is to help your audience feel like they know the person behind the brand. Share your creation process, your workspace, or something personal about your life (just don’t overshare).
- Introduction — new people are being exposed to your brand every day, so it’s wise to do a re-introductory post every month or so. Share your story, who you and your team are, and why you started your business.
- Product showcase — this one speaks for itself. Show off whatever it is you’re selling (if applicable), but don’t be too salesy.
Take advantage of the different features Instagram offers and engage with your followers and the existing communities within your niche. Post often and consistently — but remember, aim for quality over quantity.
Check out Hootsuite’s extensive guide on how to get free Instagram followers for more tips.
Building a TikTok Following
If you think Instagram is a young person’s game, odds are good you don’t even want to think about TikTok, where most users are younger than 35.
But fear not! Even someone in their eighties can thrive there, like the 82-year-old influencer Old Man Steve (as he’s known), who’s is a TikTok darling with 1.3 million followers.
He specializes in videos depicting his bucket hat, cooking demonstrations, and cheery words of encouragement. He embraces his age, making it part of his online personality: he’s TikTok’s “grandpa” — and uses it to his advantage!
And 46-year-old dentist Tim McNeely (or Dr. Tim on TikTok) specializes in showcasing trendy dance moves and tricks with a dad-like sense of humor.
While it can seem intimidating to build a following on TikTok (it is the app that originated the phrase “OK boomer,” after all), the way to succeed is much the same as with any other platform: organically.
Interact with others’ posts, increase your network by friending other accounts, and create content that others will appreciate and share.
Making popular content on TikTok comes down to the following:
- Create original videos — don’t just lip-sync and call it a day. TikTok is the place to let your creativity shine! And pick soundtracks to your videos that your audience will enjoy and appreciate.
- Upload content daily — in a perfect world, you should create new videos daily for maximum exposure and growth. But as always, choose a pace that’s sustainable and doesn’t sacrifice quality for the sake of quantity.
- Use trending hashtags — make the hashtags relevant to your video, of course. Consider occasionally making a video that relates to trending hashtags, if it will interest your audience.
- Engage with others — like and comment on other users’ videos, especially others in your niche. Make your comments something of value (not just another “good video” or “I enjoyed this”)!
Building a YouTube Following
Like TikTok, YouTube is all about having video-savvy. But if your target audience isn’t necessarily just millennials or gen-Z, you might decide to focus on YouTube.
Many middle-aged (and beyond!) folks are killing in on YouTube, like 73-year old Tim Rowett, whose 1.45 million subscribers tune in to watch him demonstrate interesting and wacky toys and games from his extensive collection.
One of his most-watched videos, “Tim Whistles,” demonstrates various interesting and unusual whistles. Tim shows off a few whistles from his collection in an informative, down-to-earth manner.
While it can be tempting to follow in the footsteps of many YouTube personalities and upload random videos made for general laughs or interest, don’t forget where we started: focus on your niche and create with intention. Remember your USP and keep your target audience at the forefront when designing your YouTube content.
Follow these tips to build your YouTube following naturally:
- Use keywords in your titles — as with any online content, you want it to show up organically when people search for the topic. Try to phrase your title the way people would type it into the search bar. Remember that on YouTube, only the first 45 characters of your title are visible in the search results, so it’s best practice to frontload your keywords.
- Make good use of your thumbnails — on YouTube, the thumbnail for your video is like a still-shot preview of what your video will be. If it’s boring or bland, people probably won’t click on your video. Including the title of your video in the thumbnail along with a brightly-colored and high-quality image should do the trick.
- Take advantage of playlists — YouTube allows you to create playlists that appear along with individual videos in search results. You can create a web series or series of videos and place them in a playlist to help your audience watch them in the order you meant them to be viewed. And when you’re getting started, you can curate a playlist with other creators’ content to help entertain your target audience while you build up your own content.
- Use a branding watermark — you can easily upload watermarks to your videos that let viewers become subscribers to your channel with a click. The option to use watermarks can be found in your channel settings.
Building a Facebook Following
Facebook may feel like more familiar territory to many, since it’s just been around longer. There’s also a lot of room to experiment; you can post written content, photos, videos, and share from other sources very easily.
There are also many different ways to use Facebook, be it with a business page, groups, Facebook marketplace, ads, Facebook live, and your personal profile — and ideally, some combination of a few of these.
The brand CatLadyBox, founded by cat lover Dorian Wagner, is a subscription box service for cat lovers. The company is doing very well on Facebook by posting relevant and visual content for their target audience — cat ladies — and hosting many interactive events like giveaways.
Try to keep these tips in mind to build a following on Facebook:
- Invite your friends to like your page — when you start a professional page, draw people in from your personal life. Invite them to like your page, and suddenly you’ll have a much wider reach; the fact that each one of them liked your page will appear to their networks in turn.
- Host giveaways and promotions — a great way to invite engagement is to share a giveaway on your professional page. Ask participants to visit your page to enter the giveaway, which will increase the chances of getting a few more followers.
- Lean on humor — memes and jokes go viral quickly on Facebook, so use that to your advantage. If you can create a funny or witty video/meme on your own, go for it. But you can also share relevant viral content from your niche that you think your audience will enjoy (just make sure to always credit the creators).
- Get their attention — Facebook users will scroll by unless you can get their attention with an eye-catching video or graphic. Try to incorporate something creative or unique to help stand out from the hundreds of other posts your target audience scrolls by on a daily basis.
Building a Blog Following
If you love to write, starting a blog may be a great fit for you. Unlike the other online channels we’ve gone over, blogging is primarily about written content — and you can go more in-depth and long-form than other platforms.
A blog can be an amazing tool for increasing your reach online. Every day, there’s an average of 3.5 billion Google searches, meaning you have that many chances to answer someone’s questions or provide the content they’re looking for.
Here are a few tips to developing a strong audience for your blog:
- Use SEO best practices — you can easily disappear down the SEO rabbit hole, but the main things are to (1) create readable content with lots of subheaders and whitespace, (2) use keywords naturally, (3) use a mobile-friendly theme, and (3) use internal and external links in your blog posts. Check out Moz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO for more details.
- Use a consistent and appealing brand voice — as always, keep your eye on your target audience and your USP. Don’t fall to the temptation of making your blog your personal diary; your goal is to provide reliable, entertaining value to your target audience. Stick to your brand voice (whether it be conversational and sassy, formal and information-packed, etc.) and keep your focus on your readers’ interests.
- Update your older blog posts — blog posts gain traffic over time, so it’s important to go back and update older posts to make them more relevant and increase views on those pieces. That’s also good news for you, since it’s less work to update something you’ve already written than to be continually creating brand-new content.
- Blog as often as you can create quality content — according to HubSpot, brands should publish as much optimized content as they possibly can. To increase organic traffic (meaning they found you through a Google search), post 3-5 times per week. To increase brand awareness, focus on publishing diverse and educational content 1-4 times per week.
Check out Blogging Wizard’s in-depth and always useful definitive guide to starting and promoting a blog for more helpful instruction!
6. Take Advantage of Your Network
Becoming an influencer doesn’t start and end with building a following. A huge part of online influencing is networking with other like-minded individuals in your niche, especially those who are where you want to be.
When you’re getting started, try making a list of the influencers who are already successful in the space you’re wanting to join. Lift them up by liking and commenting on their posts, and after a few interactions, feel free to reach out privately through email or direct message. Introduce yourself and keep it casual — but DON’T treat this as a transactional relationship.
You’re not trying to get a guest blogging opportunity, a backlink to your site, a retweet, or a social media boost.
Just like you’re trying to build a genuine audience, you’re building a genuine network with other like-minded people who, just by spending time with you, will help you level up.
Networking with others in your niche is going to be a continual part of your life as an influencer, so embrace it! Don’t be afraid to ask your trusted connections for advice or help. Approach your influencing journey with a mindset of inclusivity, rather than trying to go it alone or shut everyone else out on your mission to become the “top influencer.”
And now we come to the exciting part. You’ve done the work, you’ve built the organic following and the network of fellow influencers, and you’ve got that social capital.
It’s time to elevate your brand and start earning some money!
Before we go further, the first thing to remember is this: your route to sales is always going to be about adding value for your audience. As Nas says in Nas Daily, “if you optimize for attention, the money will come. If you optimize for money, you’ll lose the attention.”
That being said, how will you monetize the value you provide to your audience?
Creators use many different approaches to make money from their online content. According to a 2017 Social Media Examiner survey, the most popular ways are advertising, selling your own products, and providing consulting services.
Though there are many approaches to monetization, some of them are better than others. Advertising is a popular choice, but due to monopolizing by megalith corporations like Google, your chances of making bank this way are slim.
Let’s look at YouTube for example.
In recent years, YouTube has changed the way it monetizes content that focuses more on the big hitters. To be allowed to run ads, a channel must have:
- At least 1,000 subscribers
- At least 4,000 “watch hours” over the last 12 months
- An approved Google AdSense account
While there was understandable uproar over this shift, it makes sense from YouTube’s perspective. They have to spend a lot of time moderating content and keeping offensive — and even illegal — content off the site. And advertisers understandably don’t want their ads thrown up next to bigoted or extremist videos. So YouTube needs to reign in its content, and part of that strategy is to hire more humans to screen videos and limit the money-making opportunities to a smaller number of “legit” platforms who can be closely monitored for abuse.
But for small brands looking to monetize, these kinds of barriers to entry make advertising a difficult way to make money off of their content.
2. Sponsorships and Brand Deals
The barrier to entry is pretty high for sponsorships and brand deals. While more and more companies are starting to rely on influencer marketing over traditional advertising these days, there’s no standard rate for how much they’ll pay influencers to promote their products.
It turns out, the people who’re making millions from sponsored posts are the people who are already rich and famous.
Micro-influencers and middle influencers tend to charge modest prices. For instance, a health and nutrition blogger who’s in the micro-influencer camp (with 30K followers) shared her price packaging in this post by Later, which included:
- Dedicated Instagram Post: $325
- IG Giveaway: $350
- Brand IG Takeover (minimum 2 photos + Stories): $250 per day
- IG Caption Mention (No visible product): $75
- Series of 5 IG Stories: $85
- Series of 3 Dedicated Posts: $825
- Series of 5 Dedicated Posts: $1400
These prices are nothing to sneeze at, but it’s still a risky way to depend on income. Those sponsors can leave at any time, and by going this monetization route, you may feel pressured to promote products you don’t legitimately like.
Depending on sponsorship deals, while doable, can easily spiral into a bad place.
So what are some good ways to make money with your influencer marketing, you ask? Let’s look at a few of them below!
3. Affiliate Marketing
Possibly one of the best ways to easily monetize your brand is through affiliate marketing. Much like sponsorship deals, a company pays you (the influencer) to promote their products or services.
However, while a brand deal involves negotiating directly with the brand and proving your high engagement/follower numbers, affiliate marketing is usually done through programs that don’t have such a high barrier to entry.
Translation: you don’t have to be a huge influencer to monetize your business with affiliate marketing.
With affiliate marketing, you simply need an audience that’s engaged and willing to try what you recommend. Once you have that, you can join an affiliate marketing program and start dropping links to recommended products in your content. Every time one of your followers buys that product, you’ll earn a commission.
Sounds amazing, right?
Of course, the downside of affiliate marketing is that you must keep your audience consistently engaged and growing so that they’ll continue making those purchases. But as an influencer, that’s part of your mission — so no sweat!
4. Digital Downloads
If you’re still leery of depending on other companies to give you a commission on the sale of their products, you might consider creating a product of your own.
And no, you don’t have to start an Etsy shop or sponsor a new fashion line (though if those things are up your alley, go for it!) — as an influencer, you have something equally valuable at your disposal: your expertise.
No matter your niche, you’ve got some knowledge that people will pay for. That’s where digital downloads come in. Essentially, you’re creating an offering that your followers pay to download. No inventory management, no shipping, and minimal upkeep over time.
Sounds great, right?
And keep in mind that you don’t have to be a prolific writer or designer to create something your audience will buy. A digital download can be one of many kinds of downloadable content to match your skill set, like:
- Apps (for computers or mobile phones — or both)
- Calendars and other printable templates
- Audio lectures
- Premium podcasts
- Pre-recorded webinars
Take Vanessa Ryan, who built a business around providing templates and digital designs for entrepreneurs. She charges anywhere from $19 to $475 for her Canva and Adobe templates.
If digital downloads sound like something you’re interested in, check out Shopify’s post on how to create and sell digital downloads for more tips.
If you like the idea of creating a digital product that’ll earn you money over and over, another (slightly more labor-intensive) option is to create an online course.
Now, before you start shaking your head: you don’t have to be a professor or hold a certain number of credentials to create a lucrative online course.
Build a solid following and understand how to price your course reasonably, and you’ll be shocked at how many people will be willing to pay to learn what you know.
What are the benefits of an online course, you ask?
- The cost is relatively low: after the startup costs of creating the course, you’ll just have to pay for marketing, hosting, and occasional course updates.
- You’ll get to pass on your expertise and advice to your audience, effectively being a personal coach and mentor to each of them (without spending hours of your time per day).
- You’ll get to keep all of the revenue (unless you use a platform like Udemy, which charges a fee).
By creating an online course, you’ll put in the work to create it once, and then you get paid each time someone purchases the course. It’s the content that just keeps giving!
Just look at Bryan Harris’s amazing success story with his online course, which made $220,750 in 10 days.
If that doesn’t get you eager to try out online courses for yourself, I don’t know what will!
You don’t have to be the top expert in your field or hold seven PhD’s to offer an online course; just a bit of bravery and the confidence to market your specific expertise.
— And, of course, a loyal following that’s willing to buy your knowledge and spread the word about your course to others.
Becoming an Influencer: No Bikini Required
The influencer world in 2020 may seem like it’s reserved for swimsuit models and Kardashians, but if you start digging into the process, you’ll discover it’s an industry like any other.
True influencers gain influence by understanding who they are, the unique value they offer, and who their audience is. They let those things guide everything they produce online — and they grow their audience organically by being someone their followers can engage with and trust.
And once you’ve become an influencer, you’ll be able to reap the benefits involved, like monetizing your content and using your platform for whatever subject or movement is important to you.
So what are you waiting for? You’ve got this!