How to become an influencer
November 12, 2019
If you think influencer marketing is something new, think again. While it’s undeniable that with the advent of social media the phenomenon reached a new level, brands have a long history of trying to influence people’s purchasing decisions.
For example, back in 1931, Santa Claus himself stopped his sleigh for a quick drink of Coke.
While we can’t really say that Santa is a social media influencer (for instance, he never Instagrams about his favorite choice of soda), it’s true that he’s a household name absolutely capable of influencing people.
What is an influencer
Before you can become an influencer, first you need to know exactly what an influencer is and does.
According to TechJury‘s influencer definition, “an influencer is an individual who’s capable of affecting (i.e., influencing) people’s purchase decisions because of his/her knowledge or authority. … This individual has a following – usually on social media – in a specific niche, such as fashion, food, fitness, photography, and so on.”
Based on the number of followers, we can distinguish between micro (5-25k), small (25-100k), big (100k-1 million), macro (1-7 million), and celebrity influencers (over 7 million).
Before the era of Facebook & Co, only a select few celebrities had the opportunity to influence purchase decisions. However, thanks to social media, any person with internet access has the potential to become an influencer.
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Dream profession: social media influencer
And why not become one? Influencers seem to have an easy job. They get to do what they like, can post about what they’re doing on social media, and even get paid for it. Sounds like everybody’s dream job, right?
It’s no wonder that, according to a recent study, 17% of children aged 11-16 want to become social media influencers.
However, becoming an influencer is a lot harder than it seems. First of all, there’s a lot of competition. On Instagram alone, there are over 550,000 active accounts with more than 15,000 followers. With “noise” like that, it’s not easy to make yourself heard.
However, those accounts are typically unique to their niche. So, you’ll have to be good at something. Or, alternatively, do something that interests people. And while being famous for being famous is nothing new, there’s a catch: you have to become famous before you can be famous for being famous.
And last but not least, you have to be able to actually influence people. Which means that you have to get them to follow you, like, share, and comment on your posts on social media, and have an impact on their decisions.
Before you give up the idea and go back to your day job, here’s a spark of hope: despite all this, millions of people managed to become influencers. You can do it too.
Becoming an influencer
If you want to become an influencer on social media, here are the steps you need to follow.
1. Find your topic
Are you passionate about cooking? Do you like fashion? Are you an avid gardener? Do you have a unique/funny/insightful take on parenthood?
Whichever your chosen area, remember that you don’t have to be a professional at it. Having a degree in engineering doesn’t preclude you from posting about your life with a litter of kittens.
Regardless of your topic and experience, you have to be passionate about what you do. You can write a blog about being a skydiving expert, or learning how to skydive starting from the first time you put that parachute on.
Your expertise doesn’t matter. Your authenticity does. Be honest and credible in your writing. Remember, the audience (and an influencer marketing agency) can smell a phoney from miles away.
2. Find your audience
With your topic comes the audience. Who are you posting for? A group of disgruntled parents? Would-be skydivers? Fellow amateur gardeners? Or professional fashion experts?
You need to determine your audience because a lot depends on it: the style of your content, the platform you choose, your influencer personality, the frequency of your posts, and so on. Becoming an influencer is just like working as a marketing professional. You have to know your audience and cater to its tastes.
Knowing your audience also comes in handy when you’re looking for brands to partner with. If you have a well-defined following from a certain market segment, you’ll have a much easier time catching the attention of brands that are looking for an influencer.
But if you’re not a marketing expert, defining and reaching a market segment may prove to be difficult. Luckily, influencers can rely on the targeting of social media platforms themselves.
Snapchat, for example, targets young people. In fact, 90% of its active users are between 13 – 24. If you’re looking to share your gardening tips, Snapchat is probably not the right platform for you.
Facebook, however, would be a great home for your gardening influencer page. With its 2.41 billion monthly active users, Facebook is considered the biggest social media platform in the world. However, due to its sheer size, Facebook’s audience is highly segmented.
For example, 85% of daily Facebook users come from outside the US and Canada. And while it’s awesome to influence people from all over the world, brands may not want to choose you for their influencer campaign if the majority of your following is in a country they don’t sell their products in. (For a more detailed description of the social media platforms and their user demographics, see Find your influencer platform.)
In the US, Facebook appeals more to those beyond the millennial and Generation Z demographic, which means you won’t find a lot of teenagers among its most active users. As an influencer, you have to take these characteristics into account when defining your audience.
3. Find your influencer platform
Finding the right platform depends on your audience. Instagram seems to be the most popular choice: 93% of social media influencers focus their efforts on this platform. However, depending on your audience, you may have to look for other networks as well.
For example, if you target the 30-45+ generation, your best bet would be Facebook or LinkedIn. But if you want to reach 18-29 year-olds, you’ll have to look into Snapchat or WhatsApp.
You don’t have to choose only one: you can be active on more than one platform. However, make sure your content is tailored to each specific platform’s needs. What works on Facebook may not work on Twitter, and so on.
If your style and topic call for it, you can start a blog in your niche. However, you can’t bypass social media. You need to regularly share your blog posts on social media. Otherwise, you can’t build credible following that’s essential to becoming an influencer.
Let’s take a look at the most popular social media platforms for influencers.
Facebook is the most popular social media platform in the world. And of the 85% of users that reside outside North America, 270 million of them live in India, while Brazil and Indonesia both have 120 million users. 190 million people in the US, and 380 million in Europe use Facebook
Regarding age, older internet users seem to have a preference for Facebook. 84% of internet users within the age group of 30-49 are on Facebook. 62% of people aged 65 or more who are active online have a Facebook account. Only 51% of teenagers use Facebook. 57% of all Facebook users are male, and 43% are female.
After Instagram, Facebook is the second most popular social media platform for influencers. No wonder: the sheer number of potential followers, combined with a format that works for almost any type of content is enticing enough. However, Facebook’s algorithm often changes. This means that you need to keep on top of those changes to make sure that your content still appears on your followers’ feed.
Twitter has 330 million active monthly users, 262 of whom are outside the US. The five countries with the highest number of Twitter users are the US (68 million), Japan (36.7 million), the UK (14.1 million), Saudi Arabia (9.9 million), and Turkey (8.6 million).
80% of all Twitter users are middle-class millennials. In total, 22% of American adults use the platform. Men have a noticeable preference for Twitter: 66% of all users are male, and only 34% are female.
Twitter’s format allows users to post quick, short (280 characters max.) messages. This is perfect to share blog posts, videos, or display catchy, funny opinions. If your influencer style doesn’t fit this format, Twitter may not be your best choice, though.
Also, many users regard Twitter as a place to share their political opinions. As a result, “heavier” topics tend to dominate the platform. Again, if your influencer persona doesn’t fit this model, you may have a hard time finding followers on Twitter.
Instagram is the most popular platform for influencers. It has over a billion monthly active users. With 110 million of those, the US has the largest number of Instagrammers in the world. 63% of all Americans use the platform on a daily basis.
The younger generation has a clear preference for Instagram: 72% of teenagers are active on the platform. Regarding other age groups, 31% of 18-24 year-olds, and 34% of 25-34 year-olds use Instagram. 52% of all Instagram users are female.
Influencers love Instagram, and with good reason. The platform’s format is perfect to share beautiful images AND add long captions. Currently, roughly 500,000 influencers are active on Instagram, and their number is constantly growing.
Instagram’s large number of users in the right demographic, as well as its lack of strict guidelines around posting make it an obvious choice for influencers. On the last point, Facebook has recently cracked down on certain organic and paid posts on their platform amidst political and congressional pressure.
Seeing as Facebook owns Instagram, beware of future algorithm changes that may push your content to the bottom of the page, or be banned altogether. Also, because of the sheer number of influencers of the platform, it’s hard to stand out. Make sure to produce content that catches potential followers’ eyes.
Similarly to Twitter, Reddit has 330 million monthly active users, 26.4 million of whom are American. This constitutes 55% of all Reddit users. Another 7.4% come from the UK and 5.8% from Canada.
The younger generation is visibly overrepresented among Reddit users: 42% of 18-24 year-olds use the platform. 14% of 30-49, and 6% of 50-64 year-olds are active Reddit users.
15% of American men and 8% of American women claim they use Reddit frequently.
Reddit has a very special format that may be perfect for some influencers while downright catastrophic for others. Reddit users upload content, and other users vote whether they like it or not. Content with positive votes gets to the top, while content with negative or no votes sinks to the bottom of the page.
It’s easy to see how this helps influencers who address popular, mainstream issues. If you’re publishing content about popular topics like celebrities, fashion, blockbuster movies, or sports, you’ll get lots of positive votes and even more people will be exposed to your influencer content. However, if you target a very specific niche, you may not get enough votes to rise to the top and your content will be forgotten.
Reddit’s users love videos and pictures; they tend to get the most upvotes. If your influencer content falls into a mainstream category, you can try uploading your videos to Reddit and see what happens.
Influencers on other platforms
Other platforms like Snapchat, LinkedIn, YouTube, Periscope, and Pinterest are all viable options for influencers reaching out to a specific target market.
LinkedIn, for example, targets professionals. While these are mostly the same people who use Facebook for fun, they want to show their professional side on LinkedIn. This means that any influencer content besides strictly work-related matters will seem out of place on the platform.
Snapchat users, on the other hand, are mostly young people looking for fun. 90% of all users are 13-24 years-old. If your influencer target market corresponds to that age group, Snapchat is a must-have platform for you.
4. Follow other influencers
Find influencers active in similar niches and engage with them. Comment on their posts, follow their accounts and build your network. Remember, you can learn a lot from your peers.
Plus, it’s really helpful to see what they’re doing so you can differentiate yourself and create your own influencer voice.
Here are a few examples of popular influencers active in a variety of general interest topics.
With his 188 million followers, Portugese soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo is currently the most popular influencer in the area of sports, closely followed by another soccer player, Leo Messi. While these guys are definitely role models in various respects, it’s quite impossible for non-international sports stars to reach their level of influence.
On the other hand, mid-level influencers like Elise Young, a New York-based fitness trainer with her 205,000 followers provides a much more attainable example for newbie influencers. Her workout pictures and videos show her passion and authenticity while she lets her personality shine through to complete her brand.
When you think of fashion, you think of Kylie Jenner. No wonder: the reality star turned influencer and beauty entrepreneur has an impressive following of 149 million and is currently the highest ranked fashion influencer on Instagram.
Again, her experience is impossible to recreate unless you can fund your own prime-time reality TV show. Aim lower at first. For example, with “only” 62,000 Instagram followers, Em Roberts fashion blogger has already worked with brands like Pantene and Shopbop. As is the case with most other influencers, Roberts’ key to success is authenticity, quality content, and engagement with her followers.
Travel is a very popular topic for influencers. One great example is Chelsea Martin and her blog Passport to Friday. With 20,400 followers, travel advisor Martin kills two birds with one stone. She publishes content that promotes her personal travel planning services while building her related influencer brand.
But you don’t have to be a professional travel advisor to become a travel influencer. Philadelphia-based Brendan Lowry shows his 34,700 followers every nook and cranny of his beloved city as well as other places he happens to travel to.
Cuisine is another great topic for newbie influencers to consider. Everybody needs to eat, and watching appetizing pictures of food, or videos on how to cook said food can be a strangely mesmerising experience for many people.
Food blogging provides many niches to would-be influencers. Health-foods, specific national cuisines, quality fast food, or cooking from scratch are just a few examples of many, many topics to choose from. Food and lifestyle blogger Emily Wrecker, for example, mostly shares pictures of healthy meals with her 13,000 followers.
Parenting is a goldmine for influencers. Whether hands-on advice, heartwarming stories of everyday and extraordinary struggles, or a humorous take on raising children, the topic of parenting resonates with many would-be followers.
New York-based Ilana Wiles started her parenting blog Mommy Shorts in 2009. Her 165,000 followers value her down-to-earth take on parenting, authentic content, and sincere engagement with people.
5. Create an influencer content strategy
Do you think influencers post on a whim? Not likely. Most influencers have a thorough content strategy that tells them what and when to post, what kind of hashtags to use, who to tag, and so on.
Your content largely depends on your style and topic. Blogging about cardiovascular health would require a rather serious tone, lots of text, as well as graphs and charts to build credibility. On the other hand, it may be enough for a fashion influencer to post a few quality photographs and an inspirational quote here or there.
Create a content strategy for your blog and/or social media accounts. Remember that you need to post meaningful content regularly to become an influencer. However, don’t forget that sharing other people’s posts will help widen your network and deepen your relationships with other influencers in your niche. Calculate that into your content strategy as well.
6. Get your content out there
Share your content on your social media platform(s). When you’re starting out as a social media influencer, you may not have a large enough following. And since nobody’s aware of your content, the number of your followers can’t grow. This is a vicious cycle, but don’t worry, you can totally break it. And no, not by buying fake followers.
This is where your network comes in. Comment on other people’s posts, and, if applicable, bring their attention to your content. Share your posts to their pages and engage them in conversation.
Ask bloggers if they accept guest posts, and publish content on other influencers’ pages who have a more established following. This will help bring attention to your page and your following will start to grow.
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7. Engage with your followers
Followers are not just numbers attached to your account. They’re living, breathing, and thinking people. You need to show them your appreciation, otherwise, they can unfollow you just as easily.
Treat your followers like royalty. Engage them in conversation, reply to their comments, and show them how much you value their support. After all, you can’t become an influencer without a sound, loyal following.
The various platforms provide you with different ways of engagement. Comments, for example, are the easiest ways to reach out to your followers, and it’s available on most platforms. Make sure you allow comments to appear beneath your posts, and reply to your followers’ comments as soon as possible.
Be careful with following back, though. If you follow back every single person who followed you, you’ll quickly end up with an unmanageable feed.
If you follow other influencers, liking, retweeting, and commenting on their posts is a great way to break the ice and introduce yourself to the niche.
Some forms of content are better than others if you’re looking for engagement. For example, live streams, or videos and pictures in general provoke a higher number of engagement than simple text. However, make sure to create interesting, quality influencer content. A live stream of sitting around in your living room doing nothing may not be the best way to establish your influencer brand.
8. Create a community
People need to belong somewhere. Influencers who can provide a sense of belonging and community to followers have a higher chance of succeeding. Engaging with your followers online is only the first step toward this goal.
If geography allows it, organize live meetups with your followers. Go out for a simple chat, or even better, do your thing (cook/garden/skydive/shop/etc) together. Meetups like this will anchor your status as an influencer and show your followers your engagement, authenticity, and passion on a whole new level.
9. Approach brands
Once you have your social media influencer accounts up and running, you have a sound base, and you’re producing a steady stream of quality content, it’s time to test the waters.
Approach brands you like and that would be a good match for your content. Don’t aim too high; if you’re an aspiring fashion blogger, Dolce & Gabbana would probably not take notice of you yet. Start with small brands that share your vision and target audience.
Show your chosen brand(s) how your values and image align and why working together would be beneficial for both of you. Don’t sound overly self-assured, but be confident and polite.
Don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t work out at first. Remember, there are many influencers and most brands tend to have tight marketing budgets. However, with patience, hard work, and dedication, you can show the world what you’re passionate about and become a highly respected influencer.