Everyone wants to be an influencer these days. It sounds like a glamorous lifestyle: people give you free stuff, and they listen to everything you say. If you’re running a business, it can mean a steady stream of new customers.
According to one study, businesses make $6.50 from every $1 they spend on influencer marketing. So it’s easy to imagine the benefits if you were the influencer, generating much-needed – and extremely valuable – attention for your own business.
But if becoming an influencer was easy, everyone would do it. I’m not going to sugarcoat it – the process I describe below takes work. But if becoming an influencer really makes sense for you (and we’ll talk about that too), these six steps will make it possible to build a name for yourself in any industry you choose.
Understand Why You Want to Become an Influencer
We’ll get into my specific tips in a minute, but first, I want to ask you a simple question: why do you want to be an influencer?
Here’s a dirty little secret: being an influencer isn’t nearly as glamorous as it seems. A lot of work goes into the process of earning and maintaining influencer status.
To top all that effort off, influencers don’t make as much money as you think they do in influencer marketing platforms. While Kylie Jenner can reportedly charge $1 million per Instagram post, only 18% of bloggers say their blog is their current main source of income.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t aim to become a thought leader in your space. It just means you need to be realistic about what’s involved. If you’re only in it for the money, there are plenty of easier paths to take. Starting a company or investing in building a skill set is going to pay significantly more dividends than trying to become an influencer.
But there are plenty of reasons you should go after influencer status. Becoming an influencer means you have an audience. It gives you a platform. It gives you a voice. And it gives you respect – nine in 10 millennials trust social media influencers more than traditional celebrities. For a lot of people in a lot of industries, that’s more valuable than money.
A few years ago, I knew I was planning to launch a marketing agency soon, so I started doing a lot of writing and other kinds of content creation. I wrote a book, but I wasn’t doing it to sell downloads. I knew where I was headed with my new company, and I knew that having an audience following me ahead of time would make it much easier to get it off the ground.
The bottom line is this: know what’s in it for you. Figure out why you want to be an influencer and what you’re willing to give up in exchange to make it happen before you get started with the tips below.
Tip #1: Define your area of expertise
If you think you’re going to go out there and become a digital marketing influencer overnight, I’ve got some bad news for you. The space is incredibly crowded, and it’s unlikely that you’re going to get real traction covering such a broad topic.
You’ll see much better results if you “niche down.” What do you do better than anybody else? What do you see others getting wrong about your work? What can you write about that will add genuine value to your audience and persuade them to come back for more?
In other words, you need to find your “niche within a niche”. Don’t just be a digital marketing blogger; be a digital marketing blogger offering practical, actionable advice for SMEs. Or give tips and tactics for companies with limited expertise and low budgets that want to leverage the benefits of video content.
Take some time to define not only the area of expertise in which you want to become an influencer, but also to nail down what you don’t want. You’ll need that insight to determine exactly how to proceed with the tips below.
Tip #2: Pick your channel
There are dozens of different platforms you can become an influencer on, such as YouTube, Instagram, Instagram Stories, Facebook Groups, LinkedIn publishing, LinkedIn video, blogging and podcasting.
The thing is, you can’t be an influencer on all of them. Unless you’re working with Kardashian money, you need to pick a single channel where you can focus your efforts (this is all part of building a “niche within a niche”). Start with the following questions:
- Are you good on camera? If so, YouTube or LinkedIn video might be good choices.
- Are you a strong writer? Blogging (on your own site or on a platform like Medium) might be a better fit.
- What kind of content do you want to create? If you’re better at taking pictures, look at Instagram, Snapchat or Facebook. If you have a voice that was made for radio, check out podcasting.
- Can you dominate on the channel? Is it already saturated with influencers? Is the platform as a whole declining in popularity (looking at you, Snapchat)?
- Are you predominantly speaking to a B2B audience? A business-centric platform like LinkedIn will probably be a better fit for your content than Facebook or Twitter.
This last point brings me to a really key consideration: where is your audience most likely to find you? Not every demographic responds equally well to every platform.
My friend Justin Wu got his start with quick videos on Snapchat before moving to Instagram and Facebook Stories. Another friend, Josh Fechter, used Quora answers and a Facebook Group to build enough of an audience to launch his own marketing agency, which is doing incredibly well.
When I first started my YouTube channel a couple of years ago, I saw that the platform had a lot of traction, but I also saw that there weren’t many B2B marketers sharing good information on it. So I went for it. I wouldn’t say I’m dominating, but fast forward a few years, and now I get hundreds of thousands of views, and it’s working really well for me.
Tip #3: Find the existing influencers in your industry
Now that you have a general idea of the area you’d like to influence and the platform you’ll be working on, you need to understand who’s already in that space. Start by looking up the influencers on your chosen channel, but expand your search as needed. Platforms like Post for Rent, HypeAuditor and Upfluence can do a lot of the legwork for you. I want you to find at least 50 people who are already experts in your space.
As you come across different people, add them to a spreadsheet like the one below:
I put a few fields on here as a starting point:
- The influencer’s name
- The name of their business
- Their main business website
- Their email address (find this using Voila Norbert if it isn’t on their website)
- Links to any guest contributions they’ve written (these may be places you want to get published as well)
Expand this spreadsheet based on how you plan to build your own influence. If you’re going to try to become an influencer on YouTube like me, for example, you should also consider adding metrics such as:
- Channel URLs
- Subscriber counts
- Number of videos
- Video view data
- Engagement metrics (average number of shares, likes and dislikes, and comments)
Tip #4: Start creating content
Now, start creating content. Every single day. Or every single week. Or even every single month.
Whatever interval you choose, keep in mind that the more you can do – and the better the quality you can produce – the more you’re going to get out of content creation. It might sound obvious, but blogging more often really does produce results. In fact, companies that publish 16+ articles a month generate more than three times the traffic of those that only post once per week or less.
But volume is nothing if it’s not guided by strategy.
Start by figuring out your angle. Earlier, you defined what you want your area of expertise to be as an influencer. Now, how are you going to package that insight for your audience? How are you going to approach content in a way that’s different from everyone else?
As an example, if you look at this blog, you’ll see that my content isn’t going to win any awards for groundbreaking new research or techniques. But it doesn’t need to. There are tons of people in this space doing that already. The way I differentiate myself is by being relatable. I break down big, complicated things, and I share how exactly I’m doing them. I try to skip the crap and only tell people what they need to know.
On the Moz website, Rand Fishkin created an angle that’s really transparent – producing highly detailed walk-throughs to specific SEO challenges, many of which (unsurprisingly) are based on using the Moz suite of tools:
Neil has a different angle. He breaks down different tools and techniques. He’s very thorough, and he uses tons of screenshots and examples. He’s also known for pumping out a lot of content.
Then there’s Ann Handley from MarketingProfs. Her niche is in content – how to write better blogs, create better email newsletters, and tell better stories. She doesn’t tend to go super in-depth on her topics, but she makes you think.
Think about your angle. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. But your approach, and the public personality you use to convey it, needs to be distinct enough from what’s already out there that you’ll stand out in your audience’s mind.
Tip #5: Build relationships with the top 50 influencers in your space
Take a good look at that list of influencers you created earlier. They’re going to become your new BFFs. They’re the people who are going to help you grow and become an influencer in your own right.
Don’t view this as an opportunity to get something out of them – whether a backlink, a guest blogging opportunity, or a spot on a high-profile podcast. Instead, think about spending time with influencers as a way to level yourself up.
Simply hanging out with smart people or leaders in your space is going to make you smarter. You’ll learn from them through osmosis, and you’re going to become an influencer with them faster than you would without them. Ultimately you need to forge your own path, but it’s much easier to do when you already understand what works (and what doesn’t).
Spending time with influencers, you may notice that they’re on another level than you. A couple weeks ago, I was in a room with two billionaires. I was just sitting there quietly, and one of the guys called me out and asked why I wasn’t talking. I was just trying to listen to everything they were saying. I probably picked up 4-5 different things that changed the way I was thinking, simply by being in the room.
You get in the room by asking to be there. Offer to help out at conferences so you can spend time in the speakers’ lounge. Lend a hand on podcasts or other interviews for up-close access to smart people. Reach out to newer influencers who still have the time of day to connect with you. Do it enough times, and you won’t just be an unknown anymore. You’ll be on their level. And even better, you’ll be friends.
These days, I can make a few calls to a few different friends and get published pretty much anywhere I want. It’s not that I’m asking for a favor. It’s simply that we’re friends, and I’m pinging them to share something I’m working on. The same can happen for you.
Tip #6: Engage your audience
Remember earlier when I pointed out that millennials trust social influencers more than traditional A-listers? One of the biggest factors behind this is that they’re more accessible.
Your average social influencer with a decent-sized following doesn’t live in an elite gated community, cut off from the public by a team of bodyguards and a bunch of PR gurus running their accounts. They’re just like their audience: they think similar things, they have similar experiences, and – most importantly – they’re eager to engage with their followers.
Because “influencing” isn’t a one-way street. You can’t expect to build an engaged audience by posting a video or writing a blog, then forgetting all about it.
When people comment on my articles or react to my videos, I respond to them. If people have taken the time to engage with what I’m doing, I want to thank them for that. Engaging with your audience in this way is about demonstrating that you’re a real person, not just a faceless drone churning out content.
The biggest secret to becoming an influencer in any industry is to create content for years and years. It takes time and effort, but the rewards are worth it, both for you and businesses. That’s why people argue that influencers are the holy grail of micro-marketing.
I’ve been creating content regularly for four years straight now. I’m talking publishing weekly or biweekly – usually multiple pieces of content. I’m emailing my list every single week. Because of that, things fall into my lap that I used to have to chase down. I get speaking gigs because of the content that I created years ago. It’s not the content I’ve created recently. It’s the track record I’ve built over years and years that’s getting me attention.
Once you’ve become an influencer, there will be countless ways to monetize your audience. Take a look at Rand. He started blogging back in 2005. He didn’t see any ROI until 2007. But now, more than a decade later, he’s built a massive audience and a massive web presence that pretty much guarantees him instant rankings whenever he publishes new content.
Publishing for years without seeing any results is hard. But I guarantee, you will get the ROI. Don’t give up. Set your expectation that you’ll start seeing results two years in, and get to work.
What other tips would you add to this list? Leave me a note below with the strategies you’ve seen influencers use successfully: