How to become a social media influencer: The ultimate guide

I got my first chance to see Jerome Jarre at work during the Cannes film festival in 2015. It was a sunny day and the Croisette was full of fans hoping to see A-list celebrities.

Jerome’s fans noticed him right away in Cannes. Hundreds of young inspired teens from all over the world huddled around him, some frantic and in tears.

Jerome Jarre is not necessarily the type of celebrity you would expect to see in Cannes but he is a self-made social media influencer with the size of following that even elite movie stars would envy.

“He is so famous, that when he recently organized a meet-up in São Paulo, Brazil, the riot police were called in to quell the crowd of thousands” — a New York Time article said about Jerome Jarre a few years ago.

Jerome recently showed what can happen when the power of social media is leveraged for charity. Along with several other influencers he managed to raise in just 19 hours more than $1 million for Somalis facing famine.

Becoming a social media influencer is a job that many teens dream of having. Pays well, fulfills their wanderlust and gives them a chance to help people — maybe even change the world.

But the journey to becoming a social media influencer is not an easy task and it doesn’t happen overnight.

Most influencers have spent years working very hard, learning progressively and posting daily to get to where they are today.

What follows is a summary of the steps on this journey that I have observed while working with different social media influencers.

Finding the right niche

Reality check: unless you are a movie star or an established social media influencer no one is interested in your selfies, what you ate last night or how many miles you ran over the weekend.

But people are interested in themselves, how they can progress in life and achieve their dreams.

If you want to be an influencer, you need to provide followers with something they actually care about— something that can improve their life in some way— and all done in a creative and accessible way.

Why? Because there are millions of people making average posts about stuff they don’t really know much about in a very standard way.

A good place to start is to research what other influencers are already doing and make lists of the content they share.

For example, on Instagram there are influencers that focus on travel, photography, humor, fashion, pets and self-help, amongst other things. Can you capitalize from your current skills to become an influencer in any of these fields? Are there other field, as yet untapped that could be of interest?

What are the skills you need and would like to learn in order to stand out and differentiate yourself from the crowd of existing content? Influencers always have their own unique “thing”— something that differentiates them makes their content unique, authentic and memorable.

Posting Plan

However it’s not enough to have great content and carve out a niche for yourself. In fact there is a lot of amazing content out there that does not get the visibility it deserves.

Whether you have found your niche or are still in the process of discovering it, the one thing you need to constantly do to improve the quality of your content is to “Keep posting”

When Casey Neistat reached 3 Million followers his main advice was 3 words: “Just keep uploading.”

I am not sure about the “Just” but “Keep uploading” is great advice.

Posting regularly and engaging often with people on social networks will lead you to getting the best out of your chosen social platform(s).

It will also show you what works well and what works less well (or not at all). Many people are too shy to “Post and learn” but instead keep editing and re-editing their content, which ultimately never gets uploaded.

You have to get in the water to learn how to swim. The best advice for your posting plan is this: “Keep posting, keep learning, and keep improving.”

Which social network?

“Try to learn something about everything [every social network] and everything about one thing [one social network].” Thomas Huxley

It is really hard to get followers on mature social networks like Instagram which now has more than 600 Million users. If you are not one of the first users of a new social media network, your chances of becoming well known are pretty low.

A new successful social media network is like a wave that can take you to online stardom if you catch it on time. If you miss that wave you are more likely to become a drop in the network’s ocean of millions of users.

“Business opportunities (social networks) are like buses; there’s always another coming around.” Richard Branson

In the early days on Instagram if content was liked by Instagram’s algorithm Gods, it was sent to “heaven” or what used to be called Instagram’s explore page.

One of my early posts made it to Instagram heaven in 2014 and the levels of dopamine in my brain gave me my best social media high ever.

I had a stream of followers flooding my account in seconds and got more than 1000 likes on the post that made it to the explore page. (My average before and after this post was 300–400 likes.)

Today it is difficult to get followers on Instagram and the explore page no longer exists in its old form.

Look out for new networks that have good reviews and a steady growth rate. Chances are much better for you to grow a community there.

At the time of writing, musical.ly could be worth taking a look at. It’s growing fast with a very young hyperactive community.

Instagram started out as a photography focused social network and grew to become one of the biggest social networks in the world. Musical.ly started with a music video focus but can quickly grow and become a “Global Video Community”.

How to get followers (To Hack or not to Hack?)

There are good, bad and ugly methods for getting followers. I recommend sticking to the good methods, but here is a list of the different ways people can get followers and the risks/benefits that come with each.

The ugly method: Fast but with high risk

Buying followers 💰

Buying followers comes with risks. When you buy followers, normally they are bots, not real people (although some sites claim they sell real followers). While getting fake robot followers has its advantages, there are a couple of possible pitfalls.

The advantage is obvious, it’s called “Social proof ”. A powerful psychological phenomenon where people assume the actions of others. Someone with 200K followers, even if they are mostly bots, has a higher chance to get more followers than someone with 200 followers. Bots are great to create the “Social proof” effect on social.

But social networks also have their own bots and they’re out there hunting down fake accounts.If they catch your bots (fake followers), then you’re busted and you lose all the followers you bought and your account might get suspended or blacklisted.

Also, bots have a negative impact on your engagement. they become ghost followers. “Ghost followers” are followers that do not engage with your content.They therefore decrease your overall reach and engagement rates which slows your path to social media influence.

However, you can read on some forum like this one about the current hacks that are available and experiment with smaller accounts at your own risk.

The bad method: Fast but with a moral question and risk

Automation or turning yourself into an online bot 😜

There a couple of sites and apps that automate your account and turn you into a robot who follows and unfollows people.

This method works to build a real community of followers but there is a moral question of tricking other people into thinking that your account is really you when in fact it’s just a bot.

One of the popular sites (Instagress) for automating your Instagram account has been recently shutdown.

There are other alternatives to Instagress of course but logging into a third-party software with your Instagram credentials is against Instagram’s term of use policies.

The good method: Slow but has a great return

I recommend good methods of getting followers. It is slow, and at times frustrating to see others who hack their way to fame around you. But getting followers the good way is authentic, sustainable and will eventually have a much higher return on your investment.

Community manage like a pro

This might seem obvious but your current community of followers are the base for your success. You can find many tips online on community management best practices.

Giveaways

Giveaways can do wonders to grow and engage your community. When Casey announced his plan to give away a DJI drone on his Instagram, his post got 440 k comments (he usually gets around 1.5 K comments.

Pods

Pods are groups of people who support each other on social networks through liking and commenting on each other’s posts as soon as they are posted. Having many likes and comments as soon as you post sends positive signals to the network’s algorithm which then rewards you by boosting your post to more people.

This is a great post on how to start an Instagram pod.

Final tips

Becoming a social media influencer can be frustrating if you develop bad habits in the process. Here are some tips to keep you motivated along the way:

  • Don’t get tricked by the sense of urgency that notifications elicit on social networks. Turn them off. You don’t need to respond to people right away.
  • Don’t check every few minutes how your content is performing. Keep 15–30 min per day where you can check results, analyse some data and respond to comments.
  • Don’t get frustrated with results, they are there to tell you how to improve.
  • Don’t give up. If you are not feeling motivated push your self and “Keep posting”. The activity of working on content and posting will bring back the motivation.
  • Commentary on social media can be unfair, harsh, negative,sexist,racist and insulting. If you find fair comments that you could use to help you improve or start a positive conversation, then great. Otherwise focus on your plan and don’t let unfair comments hold you up .

If you follow the journey to social media influence, you will at the least have a much needed skill set to help you market yourself or whatever it is you plan for your career.This journey has given me the opportunity to grow in my own career and have far greater access to amazing online communities across the different social networks.

This story is published in The Startup, Medium’s leading publication for entrepreneurs and startups.

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