Uploading a strategically-filtered selfie or a perfect plate of avocado toast has become a serious revenue source for influencers. Your food looks just as good, but nobody’s willing to pay you a dime? You’re doing it wrong — but it’s not too late. After working with thousands of social influencers and celebrities and learning the little secrets that make them stand out, I’m here to tell you that you can be just as successful.
It’s January 2010, and 28-year-old Grace Atwood is working for an international beauty brand in a corporate role. Feeling stifled by her 9-to-5 life, she decides to start a blog as a creative outlet to share things she loves — beauty products, DIY projects and lifestyle-oriented posts. Fast forward to the present, and Atwood’s blog The Stripe is her full-time job. As a microinfluencer based in New York City (she currently has over 88,000 followers on Instagram), Atwood has partnered with big-name brands including L’Oréal Paris, SK-II, Verizon and eBay to name a few.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would make money from my blog, I just thought it was a fun place to share things after a long day at the office,” she says. It’s Atwood’s commitment to authenticity and legitimacy that has contributed to her success in an already saturated industry, affording her opportunities such as attending the 2017 SAG Awards with L’Oréal Paris, and visiting fashion brand Saint James’ factory in Normandy, France.
Perks and experiences such as these spur many millennials to pursue a career as an influencer. And while the benefits seem endless (Atwood told me that having the autonomy to work for herself is by far the best), it’s not as glamorous as it looks on your Instagram feed. “People don’t realize how much work it is,” Atwood says. “There are so many different platforms, you have to reply to everyone’s comments and there’s pressure to project a perfect life. Last week I had strep throat, but I was posting pictures on the beach and in SoHo looking perfectly put together. It’s a lot of work and people don’t realize that.”
My conversation with Atwood made me think about the days when you could hire a certain famous family to attend your events for $5,000 a pop, and they’d throw in the two younger sisters for free. Is there a pattern of behaviour that is common to influencers that others can duplicate? What does it take to become a successful influencer? Many will tell you that apps such as VSCO and Facetune are paramount to raising your profile, but there are a few fundamental hacks that can set you up for success, and with that, an alternative revenue stream.
1. Own a niche.
Don’t try to be the next Kim Kardashian West. Size isn’t the only measure of an influencer — build an audience that is focused and interested in something you’re actually passionate about, and will therefore have a much stronger connection with you. An example of this is beauty influencer Katy DeGroot. DeGroot left her job as an executive team leader at Target in 2014, and within two years became a social media sensation as an authority on beauty. When analyzing her audience analytics, DeGroot has a 95 percent female following primarily interested in beauty, making her an excellent case study as someone who has built a targeted, interested and engaged social fan base. Niche-based influencers have a much more targeted audience that has a stronger connection to them. According to an analysis of hashtags using HYPR’s software, over 90 percent of brand activations on social today happen with these niche thought leaders.
Find other influencers in your area of expertise, and cross promote each other’s content regularly. Join forces and co-create content so you’re each introduced to the other’s audience.
Take YouTube vlogger Chloe Morello as an example. Morello often uploads videos featuring fellow vloggers Christen Dominique, Gabriel Zamora and Patrick Star, exposing these influencers to her 2.2 million subscribers. Most importantly, Dominique, Zamora and Star return the favor, making this a tried and tested strategy. Other examples of how this works vary from the biggest influencers in the world (Cameron Dallas, Nash Grier, et al.) to smaller influencers collaborating on Instagram — the broader your network of collaborators, the more you’ll be exposed to new audiences and the stronger the social proof that you are in fact an influencer.
3. Find a unique voice.
Be contrarian and tell the story in a different way. Billionaire businessman Mark Cuban is constantly offering nuggets of advice to his millions of Twitter followers. His advice is thought-provoking and at times, unconventional. But, it’s his slightly-left-of-center perspective that makes him stand out among other successful entrepreneur influencers. There are many ways to do this — through characters (Colleen Ballinger’s Miranda Sings), a twist on something we all love (PostModern Jukebox), a fake rivalry, crazy humor (Bart Baker) or shock and awe (Human Giant). Whatever it is, find a voice that works for you and will help you stand out and be memorable. If you can be controversial you’ll do even better.
4. Fake it ’til you make it.
Behave like an influencer. Tag brands generously. Name drop. Talk about big influencers as if you actually know them or if you happen to know them, get them to share your content. Create content that makes you appear larger than you are. Don’t forget to tell everyone about how awful the experience of hanging out with your famous friends can be.
5. Ride the waves.
There is always a going trend, so make sure you contribute to it. For example, “The Worst YouTubers I Met,” “Ice Bucket Challenge,” “Cinnamon Challenge” and “Touch My Body Challenge.” Contributing to a trend makes your posts more visible, helping them to gain traction with a new, previously untapped audience.
Follow these five simple rules religiously and I guarantee you’ll see an enormous spike in your following. The path to becoming a social media influencer has never been shorter. Small request — when you do become one, shout me out!