So you want to be a famous social-media influencer? Join the 3.6 billion people using social media worldwide. After all, who wouldn’t want to earn a living making unboxing videos of tech gadgets, sharing beauty habits with nearly 40 million Instagrammers, or dancing “The Renegade” on TikTok? Or better still, earn $1.27 million for a single sponsored Instagram post like Kylie Jenner?
The allure is real. There’s evidence that you can get famous for almost anything these days as long as you have a video camera and a platform (ahem, Danielle Brigoli, famous for her “catch me outside” moment on Dr. Phil).
More to the point, where there’s fame, there are followers, and where there are followers, there is money. Sometimes big money. Just ask Eleonora Pons (aka @lelepons), the YouTuber and Instagram mega-influencer with a net worth of over $12 million. Her career launched with Vine videos chronicling how poorly she was doing in school.
So, how do you become the next social media sensation?
As the social-media sphere gets more and more crowded, you can’t rely on a fluke viral video on par with the Fleetwood Mac and cranberry juice skateboarder to kick off social media stardom (Where’s that guy now, anyway?). A better bet is to pave your way through smart, measured business practices on how to build a social-media influencer empire. Read on to learn how to do just that.
Table of Contents
- What Defines a Social Media Influencer
- What Successful Social Media Influencers Have in Common
- 8 Steps To Building a Social Media Influencer Empire
At its most basic, a social media influencer is someone who has a huge social media audience and is able to persuade them to follow their recommendations. It has nothing to do with getting paid and everything to do with how much of a social media leader you are.
The greatest-reaching social media platforms that social media influencers use are:
But of course there’s more to social media influencer success than hopping on these platforms and doing your thing.
Successful social media influencers vary so widely in personality, reputation, and expertise, it’s hard to see similarities at first glance. Take the Dalai Lama and Logan Paul for example. (This may be the first and last time you read their names in the same sentence!) The former is one of the major thought leaders who uses his influence to perpetuate peace and mindfulness. The latter leverages influence to entertain and make money.
The common thread? They’re both on social media and have massive followings.
Traditional celebrities excluded, social media influencers come from all walks of life and cover all sorts of topics. They do, however, have a few things in common:
- A distinctive content offering. Whether they start as bloggers or celebrities or launch on social media platforms like Instagram or TikTok, social media influencers have generally developed credibility as an expert in a specific industry. His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama covers the Buddhist spirituality sector. Logan Paul? Comedic YouTuber turned actor and boxer. Given the global reach of social media, it’s almost fair to say where there’s a subject, there’s an audience. Like what kind of subject? You name it: the paranormal, hamsters, felting, and more.
- A large audience interested in their subject or personality. It doesn’t matter how rad your Instagram parkour images or denim jacket stylings are if no one sees them. To be an “influencer,” you must have reach, and that means a big following. How big? That depends on your target niche and your financial goals. The threshold for earning money depends on whether you’re monetizing based on views or followers (more on this later).
- Marketable content. It’s not enough to have a following if you don’t activate them. Influencers consistently engage and consequently keep and grow their audience by regularly posting great content, be it through videos, images, or tweets.
- Multiple revenue streams. The most successful influencers have more than one revenue stream because more is more! We’ll get into specific sources of potential revenue later in this article.
Social media influencers may look like they’re having fun as they selfie in the Greek isles (and who are we kidding, they totally are). But behind the scenes they (or their agent) are working hard to build and engage community and monetize social media reach.
If you’re ready to market yourself as a social influencer, the passport and bathing suit will have to wait. You first need lay the foundation for success with the following steps:
1. Conceptualize Your Brand and Niche
Only celebrities can be famous for being famous. The rest of us have to come up with brilliant ways to engage people. A winning (or absurd) personality is a great place to start, but it won’t continually amuse a crowd. You still need to specialize in something.
Thankfully, the field is broad so you don’t necessarily have to duct-tape yourself to a billboard to get attention. Following are the six most uber-popular social media marketing subjects:
- Gaming and technology
- Health and fitness
- Home improvement
But popular doesn’t necessarily mean optimal. More interest equals a more crowded playing field. Remember, you don’t need to appeal to everyone. The world is large and the audience is vast. The trick is to stand out, so focus on something you’re passionate about.
Once you know your focus, begin to formulate your brand persona. Is it serious and kind like Malala? Quirky and irreverent like YouTuber Miranda Sings? Approachable-chic beauty influencer Michelle Phan? The choice is yours! If you need some guidance on how to package yourself, check out this step-by-step guide to defining a winning online identity.
2. Identify Your Target Audience
As an influencer, you’re a brand. That means you need to do the same audience-identifying exercises as any business. Then you need to create content for and market to your target audience. If you don’t know how to do that, follow these guidelines on how to find and target your social media audience.
3. Optimize All the Right Social Media Channels
Now that you know who your audience is, you need to meet them where they are. That means exploring all the social media platforms listed earlier in this article, finding out if your community is there (hint: they probably are), and creating and managing channels on each platform. Follow The Complete Guide to Social Media Marketing for Small Businesses to help you get there because this leads to the next important step.
4. Create Exciting, Marketable Content
Here’s where the real work begins. To be top of mind, you have to stay top of mind. That means posting quality content regularly and often. And yes, this is easier said than done.
Half of the burden of creating quality content is totally on you. There’s no shortcut or automated program that can conceptualize the right influencer content for you. You’re going to have to come up with ideas that attract YouTube or TikTok viewers, Facebook or Instagram users, or all of the above social media accounts.
Then you have to execute. Fortunately, here’s where you can catch a break. There are lots of free, easy-to-use online tools to help you create epic, pro-looking content. Here are several that will save you hours of effort while improving the quality of your posts.
Whether you need posts for Instagram, Instagram stories, or Facebook; cover images for any of your channels, or thumbnails for YouTube, these free customizable social media graphic templates have you covered.
These free customizable Instagram Stories templates are a great tool for creating cool, engaging Stories graphics, including cool text animations!
This free online video editor allows you to trim, resize, and add music to your videos, plus create slideshows that include text, images, and more. Tap the template above to begin editing your own video.
5. Use Algorithm-Friendly Titles and Tags
Sure, your existing followers may see your “how to make a vegan steak” video. But you’re missing a world of new viewers if you don’t use keywords in your video or post titles and add relevant tags wherever you can. Make sure to optimize for Google search with names and tags. Learn more about best practices for keywords and other SEO marketing tactics here.
6. Engage With Your Audience and Peers
It’s not called “social” media for nothing. Part of creating a loyal community is interacting with your people. Like and reply to comments. Give shoutouts. Partner with other bloggers, vloggers, or influencers. Do TikTok duets. Every personal exchange you have makes your followers that much more excited to engage with you.
7. Actively Build Your Audience
Your success all boils down to the size of your audience. So much so that marketers have created categories for social media influencers:
- Mega-influencers: Celebrities with ridiculously large reach who may or may not have come up in social media.
- Macro-influencers: Those who gained fame through their social media efforts and likely have a smaller following than mega-influencers, like 100,000 to 1 million followers.
- Micro-influencers: These are often experts or thought leaders in a specific industry with 1,000 to 100,000 followers who are interested in the niche subject matter the influencer covers. (Digital marketers know this tier is particularly impactful in driving online actions due to the trust of their followers and the focus of the content.)
Once you cross the 1K threshold, you’re headed for influencer status. But successful influencers know there’s no such thing as a large enough following, so you have to work all the angles to capture a bigger audience.
How? Leverage other social media platforms to promote yourself and gain more of an audience, even if your primary platform is YouTube or Instagram. When you post your sure-to-be-viral video of you explaining the 2020 pandemic to your past, then-oblivious self, you can tease it on other platforms and drive traffic. And like followers, traffic equals money! Brush up on how to social media market here.
Speaking of, let’s wrap up with how to cash in on your hard work!
8. Explore Potential Revenue Streams
There are multiple ways to make money as a social media influencer. All of them require you either have followers, traffic, or both. Let’s start simple, with traffic.
If you’re on YouTube and activate their ad-server, Adsense, ads will automatically be integrated into your videos. The more views you get, the more money you make. Learn more about Adsense here.
Now, how to make money through followers:
- Sell sponsored posts: You can charge companies a per-post fee to create a sponsored post or get paid to be a brand ambassador. At a minimum, you’ll get free products. But a decent number (think 5K or more) of engaged followers enables you to negotiate fees. If you’re just starting out, join an influencer network; they’ll do the selling for you and include you in their influencer marketing campaigns. Learn all about selling posts and influencer networks here.
- Sell your own products: You can perpetuate your brand and generate revenue by selling items that align with you or your specialty or expertise. If you’re an artist or musician, sell art or music! If you’re a “personality” or an owner of a famous dog of Instagram, sell a custom T-shirt (design a free logo here). Are you a master gardener? Open an online store selling your favorite tools.
- Make appearances: Why not dream big! Get enough followers and people will pay you to show up on red carpets, launch parties, and more.
What are you waiting for? Go get famous. (Kidding. Sort of.)
Obviously, building yourself up as a social media influencer is more of a long game than a sprint. But do it right and you’ll not only be able to be your own boss — you can also pull out that passport and bathing suit and take a selfie-promo trip to Greece. As if fame and fortune aren’t enough incentive, consider this: a properly promoted island getaway is a business write-off!