The formula for becoming an online influencer has always been easy (and for the most part, relatively free):
- Start a blog.
- Build a community on social media to create awareness of that blog.
- Work with like-minded brands to create content for your blog and turn it into a business.
For some of you, yes, but for others, it’s a slightly skewed version. Because in the past few years, the formula has been changing. People are bypassing the way of the blog and heading straight for social (particularly Instagram) as a means to build their brand. For some, they actively set out to grow their Instagram account into a business, while for others, it’s something that happens over time (they gain a following, then realize they have influence). Some of these Instagrammers are attracting massive followings – hundreds of thousands, sometimes even millions – building an entire personal brand on one platform alone. They’re models, photographers, writers, interior designers, make-up artists, fashionistas – you name it. They invest time and money in the channel, sometimes buying their followers or joining comment pods to increase engagement and fool brands. Yep, being an Instagrammer has become a business in and of itself, and can be quite a lucrative one at that.
But there’s just one simple problem with being an Instagrammer…
To put it bluntly – you don’t own shit.
That’s right. That account you’ve grown, those followers you have, that engagement you’ve collected – none of it is yours. Sure, those photos are yours, but Instagram could get sued tomorrow and shut down. It could go the way of MySpace (no hate, MySpace) and vanish into the abyss. Someone could flag your account and it could go bye-bye. Or the Zuck could get rid of the channel for something newer and shinier. And then what? Where is that personal brand you’ve spent so much time growing? How do you tap in to an audience that you no longer have access to? How did you go from having immense influence to having absolutely none?
A little depressing when you think about it, huh?
But really, I’m not here to rain on anyone’s parade (or ‘piss on anyone’s chips’, as Damien would say). In fact, I applaud anyone who has put in the time and hustle to build a personal brand, on Instagram or any other channel – I know from experience that it’s not an easy feat. It takes a helluva lot of time, heaps of creativity and endless focus. It’s also my favourite social channel and the one that I spend the most time growing. All I’m saying is:
Don’t put all of your eggs in one Instagram basket.
Instead, use social media as a means to drive traffic and awareness to something you own. Launch a blog, an online store for your art prints or a content hub of all your workout videos – a place that isn’t owned by fickle Silicon Valley types always looking to reinvent and move on to the next big thing. And once you’ve built that online space, your very own little corner of the internet that no one can take away from you, do these three things to develop a broader, deeper, and more engaged online influence:
Build a newsletter database.
Once you’ve launched your site, focus on growing newsletter subscribers. Not only are e-newsletters a great way to send steady traffic to your site, but you actually own that database of e-mails and can tap into that audience whenever you want – no one’s going to shut-down GMail (hell, even Hotmail’s still around). That database is golden – imagine having 30,000 subscribers that will ALWAYS be served your content straight to their inbox, not just a random selection of them based on an algorithm?
Expand your social media focus.
Like I said, social media plays a massive part in being an online influencer – there’s no denying that and there’s no reason not to make it a key component in building your brand. But instead of investing all of your efforts into just one channel (and having no say in the future of that channel), choose 2-3 channels that you’re set on growing and that make sense for your brand. If your content is heavy on visuals, look to both Instagram and Pinterest as growth and brand awareness channels. If your content is more service-driven or informative, focus on Faceboook and Twitter, which are great for shareable posts and driving traffic.
Create a 3-year plan.
If being an online influencer is a business for you, treat it as such. Develop a plan that outlines where you are now and where you’d like to be in three years’ time (and how you plan on getting there). Your plan should include growth strategy, but also expansion strategy – how will your brand evolve over time to not only stay relevant, but attract new audiences as new forms of social media pop up?
This post is just the first of many I plan to do on the topic of online influence – it’s growing at a rapid rate and will only continue to expand and evolve, so it’s a conversation we need to be having. As bloggers and content creators, what should we be doing with our online influence? If you can buy your influence, how can brands and followers tell if it’s genuine? When is the Instagram bubble going to burst from oversaturation and what’s next?
So to all my bloggers, Instagrammers and leisurely social media users alike – let me know what you think and feel free to suggest any points of interest you’d like me to explore further on this topic. Share your thoughts, rants or fist pumps in the comments below!