How to become a successful influencer
If you’ve been hearing about the creator economy more and more these days, you’re not alone. This software-facilitated and influencer-generated industry gave rise to one of the fastest-growing economies to date, so it’s no wonder that it's been on the forefront of everyone's minds. Professionals and creatives alike are wondering how to break into it, how to use it to help grow their business, or frankly, what it even is.
We sat down with seven social media influencers to learn the realities of what it takes to become a content creator and how you can use your platform to start making money online. Here are the top pieces of advice they had to share.
1. Clarify your niche early
“The first and most important step in becoming a content creator is figuring out what you want your content to be. What is your niche? What do you want to say to the world? You need to give your audience a reason to want to be watching your stuff,” Instagram influencer Kim Johannson told The Org. “When you're making content from a genuine place, it's kind of hard for it not to do well, because people see the authenticity through the screen, and if it's good quality, it's always going to work. Eventually you're going to build a foundational community of people who genuinely want to see you grow and do better...and that's always better than having a bunch of people that just follow you because you went viral.”
Although boiling down your entire personality to a palatable niche is sometimes easier said than done, creators agree that it can often be determined through trial and error. Post often and observe what kinds of content resonates better with people and what formats seem to be most digestible. Once you determine your niche, many say the best way to grow your following and attract brands is by targeting your ideal audience. You can do this by using specific hashtags — for example, if you’re trying to break into fashion, maybe consider using #springfashion — and optimizing your bio with a headline like “Style and Beauty.” Most importantly, add your email address to your bio or in another publicly visible place so brands can easily contact you about opportunities.
2. Fake it ‘til you make it
Koli Marks is a micro-influencer on TikTok and Instagram who, in addition to making a sizeable income from her own content creation, works full-time in influencer marketing and coaches others on how to become successful in micro-influencing. One of the first pieces of advice she always gives to her community is to just start acting like an influencer. “I just started posting on Instagram a little bit differently. Moreso for my audience, and less like it was a personal account. And within a few months, I started getting brands reaching out to me,” Marks said. To her, this meant posting high-quality, stylized images, using keywords, reaching out to brands first and only promoting products that felt authentic to her image.
“You have to fight against the fear of being cringy. Don't worry about what people from high school think about you and if you are worried about that, then, just delete those people as followers,” Marks continued. “I'm sure there are people who make fun of me behind my back or poke jokes at me that I’m ‘trying’ to be an influencer. But if I could tell them how financially life-changing social media can be, I think they would probably feel differently about it.”
3. Consistency is key
The majority of influencers make it clear that the amount of content that you post is integral both for building your following and showing brands that you are serious about pursuing content creation full time. TikTok comedian Maame Adwoa who is popular for her niche African humor reflected on the exciting early stages of growth and how she used her first viral videos to propel her to the 340,000 followers she has today.
“When I first started, I was going crazy. I was posting almost three times a day because my content is pretty simple, short and didn’t take much time. I think that was why my videos were blowing up so much because I was just so consistent at it,” Adwoa said. “Posting frequently and also sticking with the kind of content and concepts that originally gained traction is how you build. You just have to keep at it, because you want your viewers to recognize you and be familiar with you. If they're constantly seeing different videos from you, it throws them off and it's like they're being introduced to a new person every time.”
4. Optimize for virality
Every single one of the creators we spoke with agreed that TikTok is the best platform today for organic reach and rapid growth. This is because on TikTok, unlike with other social media platforms, users rarely see content from the people that they follow and are instead fed a stream of new creators similar to videos they’ve liked. Creators find that TikTok is a great platform for discoverability and after building an audience, you can direct those followers to your other platforms.
Life and style micro-influencer Angelina Ngo offered a few tips for how to go viral on TikTok. “A lot of people want to see content that they can learn something from, so informative videos do really well. Also, your audience will often ask questions so you can create more content around that topic and engage with your audience further,” Ngo said. “And of course, anything that’s relatable, relatively short, and incorporating trends is always more popular. So utilizing any trends that can relate back to your niche, whatever your niche is, is really helpful for growing your audience and making sure that your videos consistently go viral.”
5. Be business-savvy
Many creators offer free advice or sell digital resources to help others grow their platforms because influencers know just how hard it is to build a following and start making money from your content. One of those online coaches is Jalyn Baiden, who after only beginning her career in content in 2020, has amassed a dedicated following of 8,000 followers on TikTok and 4,000 on Instagram. And while that number may seem small in comparison to other popular influencers, she has already been able to quit her full-time job and support herself fully through brand deals and her coaching business. “You'd be surprised how many influencers that I've worked with have a huge platform and don't know what to do with it,” Baiden said.
When working with clients, she supplies them with the knowledge and confidence needed to start making more money from their platforms. “Brands will often try to give you a low rate knowing that they have a budget to pay you more. So I always negotiate. What I do is charge a flat rate for whatever the deliverables are and then I charge usage fees on top of that if they want to continually repost my content,” Baiden said. “Exclusivity is a big thing as well. If a brand doesn't want you working with their competitors, they have to pay for that.”
However, in the early stages of growth, not every creator opts for a coach or management team to help them learn the ropes. Instead, many stress the importance of simply networking. They suggest connecting with creators who are similar to you in size and style to gain more insight on how to grow, what to charge, and brands to reach out to. Whether you work online or at a desk, networking is a great way to get your name out there, build a strong support system and partner up with other professionals.
6. Remember that it’s still work
If you are thinking about pursuing a career in content creation, be prepared to dedicate a lot of time to the process. Camila Vilas is a lifestyle influencer who got her start on TikTok in 2020 by sharing micro-influencer tips with her community. After dedicating ample time to her craft by researching, seeking expert help and consistently posting, she now has more than 120,000 followers on TikTok and creates content for a living.
“I consider being an influencer more than a full-time job because my content is my life. I am always looking for new ideas, emailing brands back and forth, reading over contracts, negotiating on my own behalf, filming, editing, and engaging with my community. There is so much that goes into content creation that people don't really realize and overall, I definitely work more than 40 hours a week,” Vilas said. “Many creators talk about how they like to set a nine to five for themselves, just like any other job. Set whatever schedule works best for yourself but once that time is over, log off…Setting boundaries for yourself is so important for your mental health.”
7. Do it for yourself, not for the money
Lastly, one of the tips that came up frequently amongst influencers advising anyone interested in making money from content, was to not even think about that. They reiterated over and over that all that glitters isn't gold, and while the lives of influencers can often seem glamorous and easy, the reality is that for most people it's unstable, exhausting and not always rewarding.
“I would advise against starting anything on the internet for the sake of making money. Because when you see people advertising the luxury side of it, that is often years in the making and you don’t know the hours of tireless work and outreach to brands that had to happen before you see them buying new cars and houses,” said Biobele Braide. Braide is a photographer and baking creator with nearly 300,000 followers on Tiktok. But what her millions of viewers don’t know is that she is a full-time med student simply cooking for fun.
“Just know that those first few months to a year of influencing is really for foundation building and developing a consistent brand and less about when your first paycheck comes in. Because then you'll just end up discouraged and burnt out. I continue creating content because it is something that genuinely brings me joy, not because it's sustaining my life.”