Recently there was a New York Times piece discussing ‘influencers’ on social media channels and their challenges and frustrations making a living online. This followed a previous, similar piece in the New York Post about someone attempting to gain Instagram stardom by purchasing elaborate trips and fashion, which left them in financial ruin.

For the uninitiated, influencers are people who are highly followed (often for a specific reason, like being talented at a sport, or sometimes for seemingly no reason at all, simply because the person is charismatic and people like to watch their lives) and earn a living online through a mix of sponsorships, ad revenue sharing, merchandise, etc.

Without question, this trend will continue as it’s clearly a seductive prospect for many to be in a position of digital influencer of culture who is also being compensated for their time.

While there have been many stories on how brands can use influencers as part of their marketing strategy (plenty written right here on ClickZ) there are not many on what influencers need to pay attention to to succeed. My Tweet on this topic generated enough engagement I thought exploring further might be beneficial to young people considering the influencer path.

Diversified streams of “top of funnel” attention (you need many sources of awareness)

A common complaint from influencers is that a platform they used to build their audience made a change in policy or algorithm update that impacted their ability to grow an audience.

My sense from reading the quotes from influencers in the NYT story is that many young people simply do not understand how these platforms work – or they may understand, but when something changes it feels like the move has been done unjustly.

Participation on many digital communities and social media products is (Read more...) you balance against these inevitable changes. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. The future will continue to bring additional networks, ways of sharing content / connecting and new corporately-owned and independent tools, channels and services.

This shouldn’t worry you, it should excite you. Your long-term path for digital success is simple: don’t be lured into banking all your equity in someone else’s platform. Embrace a platform-agnostic approach, and thrive. The goal isn’t to survive with a company, it’s to survive beyond it should it not exist in the future.

In addition, influencers still need a home base where they can funnel traffic to a destination they control the templates, calls-to-action, etc. This would ideally take the form of a self-hosted website or in some very rare cases for ultra-popular influencers ,an app might also make sense.

A steady stream of attention to a place you control will ensure you’re always converting new fans (ideally build an email list!)  regardless of changes on platforms which are nearly always undergoing experiments.

If your “home base” on the web, aka a self-hosted website linked from your social profiles, gets consistent top of funnel traffic that looks like the above Google Analytics graph, you’re well positioned to convert those visitors to paying customers or email subscribers you can reach outside the ‘noise’ of social streams.

Engagement and loyalty of your fans

If your goal is to establish a growing network that you are an influencer for, loyalty is likely the most important thing to focus on after you’ve got a good rhythm of tactics and content that are generating initial interest in your brand. Some engagement metrics you want to pay attention to would be things like likes, comments, ReTweets, etc — things that will indicate you are doing a good job to attract and hopefully retain new members of your community.

These of course aren’t your sole reason for being, but certainly are important for influencers not just for the engagement they create but the social proofing they provide.

While social platforms generally give you only a few key metrics (Twitter pictured above), engagement metrics can actually give you a pretty good picture of loyalty. For example, if your follower count is increasing but your engagement isn’t, you can have reasonable expectation your followers aren’t that interested in what you’re doing (if they are indeed real, which is a separate issue).

Try some native ads on the platforms you’re using

If you’re new to being an influencer (or really growing any type of social community, for a brand or person) you likely won’t have much initial data or insights to work with in terms of understanding the content types that work in said platform. There’s good news here, as anyone can run self-service ads with just a few clicks and spinning these up just requires a credit card. Once turned on, you’ll immediately get results of which ads are working which can also inform your organic content: an easy way to go from no data to a workable amount fast.

Qualitative feedback

Something I don’t see enough of is influencers going beyond boasting about their big follower counts and doing some extra legwork to get at the heart of what their audience really wants. For example, savvy marketing teams frequently run surveys to get at specific preferences of their users and improve content, products, etc.

Now that there are easy to use tools, like Google Surveys, you don’t even need to have a following to get started with getting this type of insight.

Brief summary

The bottom line? If you hope to generate revenue from your life as an influencer, you have to treat it like a business, including having measurable goals and diversified revenue streams (advertising revenue, t-shirt sales, brand sponsorships, etc, but remember you should have a mix of them).

If you are generating a good amount of top of funnel and engagement metrics, and have a compelling offering for your monetization mix, you should be able to convert users from fans to customers and/or attract the brands you want to sponsor you. As the influencer space gets continued attention and interest, having the right strategy will become increasingly important.

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