Back in the day when I used to go to travel conferences, I would introduce myself as a blogger and people would look at me with some confusion and say, “what is a blogger?” They saw the value of sending newspaper journalists to promote their destinations but it was really difficult convincing them that people read blogs. As time went on people became more and more familiar with the term but since some people became social media stars without owning an actual blog, PR and marketing companies needed to coin a new term. Thus the broader term “influencer” came about to encompass people who were famous on Instagram, YouTube and other social networks too.
Brands have been clamoring to work with influencers to promote their products and some of them make a full-time living from things like sponsored Instagram posts and videos. Whether you want to make money from sponsorships and collaborations or you just want to influence people and promote your brand, becoming an influencer involves work, dedication and consistency.
If you’re going to take this seriously then you need to come up with a solid strategy, so here I’ll lay out how to become an influencer:
A lot of famous Instagram influencers became big because they started on the platform early. Early on it was super easy to gain followers because the algorithm was different and your posts showed up on all your follower’s feeds. Some influencers were recommended by Instagram and so instantly got thousands of likes overnight. Those were the good ol’ days. Now it’s much more difficult to gain followers and get them to engage with your content. Many Instagrammers complain that they have lower engagement these days, partly because of the rise of “ghost followers”. You’re not going to be Insta-famous overnight, so be realistic about the work involved and what you can achieve.
Decide your niche
There are all sorts of niches, including fashion influencers, travel influencers, food influencers and even medical influencers. Many niches are already saturated, so within that niche you might want to come up with something a little more unique and specific. Perhaps you’re a traveller but you’re also vegan, so you could run a vegan travel account. Maybe you’re petite and you love fashion so you could cover fashion for petite women. You get the idea. If you’re aiming at lifestyle you can cover a few different areas but don’t just run a general account covering 100 different topics – just stick to one thing and do it really well. Be authentic and choose something that you’re actually genuinely interested in because this will really shine through.
Choose your platforms
Most people associate the term “influencer” with Instagram. But there are other platforms too such as Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and TikTok. Choose a couple to focus on and dominate those. Spread yourself too thinly and it will rarely work. You can’t be huge on all of them. Many people are watching YouTube channels instead of regular TV now so I would say that’s a great one to get into if you can commit to creating regular videos. TikTok is also experiencing a huge boom and you can get super creative with it.
Create great content
Content is key. If you’re focusing on Instagram it means high-quality photos that don’t look like they were shot on an iPhone 5. A professional camera (such as a DSLR or mirrorless) is best but if you don’t have one of those, the the iPhone 11 and iPhone 12 have great cameras that produce excellent photos. If a person sees a beautiful photo in their feed they are more likely to click on it, so hone your photography skills and learn about editing photos (or hire a professional photographer!). You’ll need apps such as Lightroom or ColorStory to add color filters to give your feed that uniform look throughout.
In addition to your content you’ll need to think about captions. It helps if you know your audience and can really speak to them. It is after all, a community. For video content platforms such as YouTube and Tiktok then you’ll want to create video content that’s either super entertaining or useful. Research other influencers in your niche to figure out what they’re doing so you can develop some great content ideas.
A lot of influencers now are discussing difficult topics or asking questions to start open conversation. Many are also talking about their personal lives which makes them more relatable. Whether you feel comfortable talking about your private life is up to you, but it seems to keep followers engaged. The key is to be authentic.
Work with brands you like
How many times do you come across a sponsored brand collab and think “that caption sounds so fake, I bet they don’t even use that product”. Stick with brands that align with your following and explain why you love them in a way that doesn’t sound like you’re starring in a toothpaste commercial. Discuss reasons why you’ve been using the product and what you discovered. Make it fun. Captions don’t sound as genuine if you just say “When I wash my hair I like to use X product” and then reel off a list of points from a press release.
Know your audience and give them something useful
Ultimately you need to know who you’re trying to target and what type of content those people might be interested in. At the end of the day, you need to be providing something useful to those people, or simply making them laugh. Figure out what you can offer them. Can you teach them how to trade the stock market? Can you show them how to make money with side hustles? Can you help them get fit and offer diet tips? Think about what you can offer them that’s different to every other influencer out there.
It goes without saying that you need to add hashtags to your posts in order to get found. If you pick generic hashtags like #travel or #food your post will probably get lost in a sea of Instagram posts so it’s often best to pick community hashtags or hashtags where your posts might get featured on other channels. Instagram’s hashtag limit is 30 – I suggest you use quite a few especially when you’re just starting out.
Avoid bots or buying followers
It can be really tempting to buy followers or run bots to grow your Instagram accounts but it will usually ruin your engagement. Instagram shows your images to a percentage of your followers and if a lot of them are fake, that means less likes. If the image starts getting quite a few likes it will be shown to more people, so if you have fake followers you’re just killing your chances of getting seen. Some bots auto-comment for you on other people’s photos but it can be super obvious so avoid those entirely. Instead, you want to manually comment on other people’s Instagram photos and interact on the platform. If you follow people they may follow you back.
Collaborate with other influencers
Social media sites are built to be communities and it often helps to collaborate with other influencers in order to grow your reach. You can attend conferences and attend influencer meetups to meet them in real life. If you start hanging out with other influencers then they’re likely to tag you in their stories and posts, or perhaps collaborate with you on a video.
Get featured in online magazines
A great way to grow your followers is by being featured on news sites, blogs and other websites. If you can get a mention in Business Insider as one of the top bloggers to follow then you’ll do pretty well. In addition to doing your own outreach and offering guest posts, you can sign up for HARO (Help A Reporter Out), an email newsletter that journalists use to find sources and experts to contribute to upcoming new stories.
Sign up for influencer networks
If you want to start getting paid gigs with brands you can sign up for various influencer networks such as Sway, Upfluence and Flatlay. Some brands may reach out to you directly but networks will also help pair you with brands and inform you of new campaigns.
Get yourself familiar with Facebook ads so you can run targeted campaigns on Instagram and Facebook. This works particularly well if you have your own product, such as an online-course. You can target a specific age group and people with specific interests who might actually want to buy your product. While it costs $$ to advertise on social media channels, it can be well worth it if you take your time to optimize your ads.
If you post a photo of yourself wearing say, a sweater from a particular store, you can tag them in the post. Not only will you often appear in the brand’s tagged images but sometimes they may ask you if they can repost the image and give you a quote. If they know that you genuinely like their product then they may ask to work with you in the future.
It’s no longer cool to post several times per day. Once a day is enough and some influencers are now only posting every few days. Try to stick to a regular schedule though and not disappear for weeks at a time. Keep up the consistency and post regularly to keep the momentum going and build a following. If you sign up for an Instagram business account then you can see analytics to figure out what times of the day/week are best for posting.
Engage with your audience
Lastly, social media sites are communities so part of that is engaging with your audience. If people leave comments on your photos then like their comments and reply to the things they say. They’re more likely to come back to your channel or page if you’re engaging in conversation with them.
So there you have it, everything you need to know how to get started as an influencer on Instagram, TikTok, YouTube or any other network. It takes some dedication so if you want to make it the bottom line is you’ll need to be consistent, create shareable content and ultimately treat it like a business.