So, You’re a Social Media Influencer. What Did That Get You?

Some people want to become an online influencer on a platform like TikTok, a technical forum, or multiple venues. I usually ask them, “So, you’re an influencer… What did that get you?”

The question really intends to provoke a discussion about why someone would invest so much time and energy into cultivating a large and engaged community. Some offer very well thought out motives, others are unsure. Lack of clarity usually means someone has quite a journey ahead of them.

Understanding the Necessary Effort

Me and George Takei. I paid for the shot at a ComicCon, in spite of my 20,000 Twitter followers then 😉

Becoming an influencer is not easy. In most cases, people are not aware of the effort to achieve this level of notoriety. To develop some semblance of an engaged community, one needs to invest hours each and every day. It becomes part of your daily routine.

You need constant investments in content, community commentary, and analytics to optimize your effort. Days stretch into months and months stretch into years. It can become exhausting on a personal level as time marches on, at least it did become so for me. 

There is a reason why companies hire people to perform social media marketing for them. It requires a significant commitment of time and resources. That is even more true of a person trying to become influential online.

Investing that effort means that someone usually wants to accomplish some sort of a breakthrough. That may be for a business, themselves, or a cause. Whether you want to market something, create value as a subject matter expert, serve a larger social cause, or develop personal brand equity to garner monetary sponsorships, knowing that goal is essential.

Start with the End in Mind

This young lady is watching the Marasi Primary School World Environment Day Celebration from her classroom. I shot this photograph on behalf of Audi USA in Kenya, a project I won because of my social media presence and marketing.

When cultivating influence and attention, you want to have the outcome in mind. Then you can invest the time and resources necessary to achieve a specific outcome. Then regular videos, content writing, photography trips, podcasts, or whatever the right form of communication, all have a purpose.

That doesn’t mean your social media actions turn into an endless spamming effort, far from it. It is social media, after all. Being part of a community requires acknowledging the larger world, and spending time engaging with others. I liken it to participating in a large networking party or a family event.

Having the outcome in mind does keep you or your organization on mission, though. When the tactics aren’t working or the communities fail to respond, you stop. This prevents you from investing hundreds of hours in video production for Tik Tok when it doesn’t yield results. Or maintaining a Twitter account that no longer yields the results you seek from it.

Understand what you and/or your organization is getting for all that effort. With the end in mind, if being an influencer only gets you attention, it will not be enough. Analytics will prevent you from wandering too far from your mission.

Why Attention Is Not Enough

Someone taking a selfie at SxSW 2015.

If becoming an influencer provides a sense of personal validation, then I don’t have much to offer you in this article. At this point in my journey, I find minimal personal value in just getting a bunch of likes. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong, just that we are on different paths. Let me explain.

My original question parrots a question my Dad asked me towards the end of my social media peak. I had won a Washington Post reader survey as the Twitter personality of the year. When I called him beaming with pride he said, “What does that get you?”

Such a profound question. I got the underlying point, “Is there value in that?” And truth be told, there wasn’t. It was just a nice shout-out from people who knew me, some attention that provided an ego lift.

That moment began a journey, which eventually saw me leave Twitter in spite of a 20,000 person follower count. I made that decision in large part because there was no business or personal value beyond garnering attention. The nail in the coffin for Twitter was an analytics report that showed no desired outcomes despite a large amount of attention. Truth be told, I haven’t missed it in the five years since I left.

I stopped investing in being influential for the sake of attention. Yes, I may benefit from my social media heyday still. However, when I invest significant time in content or engagement today there is a reason.

Good luck with your journey!