Influencers are unique in that they are both a brand and a media channel themselves. Traditional brands can work with influencers to promote their products, but influencers must also maintain their image. Creators carry a different voice that is inherently different from corporate brands. Creating a “personal brand” as an influencer is vital to your longevity. Niches are critical because they differentiate creators from one another, especially in a saturated market like social media influencers. Creating an online presence and positioning and targeting is also crucial to getting noticed.
Lomit Patel is the Bestselling author of “Lean AI.”
Whether you are a company, a job seeker, or an influencer, building a brand is crucial to your success. And just like corporate brands, influencers and creators can use the same best practices to develop their brands.
However, influencers are unique in that they are both a brand and a media channel themselves. Traditional brands can work with influencers to promote their products, but influencers must also maintain their image — and the independent voice, unique perspective, or point of view — that built up your following and engaged their audience in the first place.
This means that creators or influencers carry a different voice that is inherently different from corporate brands. They can use that voice to create content that remains authentic to the creator, lending a powerful third-party endorsement of a type traditional, “corporate” brands cannot do themselves (for obvious reasons).
Creating a “personal brand” as an influencer is vital to your longevity.
Sharing high-quality, original content your audience finds engaging is the most powerful tool in the brand building shed.
One of the first things an influencer must do is establish reach and make their brand known. Creating a comprehensive online presence is paramount in the digital era—in other words, be everywhere. Like building a personal website or LinkedIn profile when applying to jobs, joining every social media platform using similar handles increases visibility and findability online. Even if the influencer only chooses to focus on one or two platforms, having the other profiles:
1. Protects them and their brand from being impersonated or abused;
2. Allows them to experience various platforms and narrow down which ones are the best fit for the creator and the content they want to create;
3. If they want to growーeasily allows them to expand into more platforms since they already have accounts set up;
4. Casts a broader net online to attract more viewers and followers. Creators can even use these profiles to direct viewer traffic and point them in the direction of their leading platforms, whether that is on social media or even to their website.
While being everywhere increases the chance of gaining an audience and following as an influencer, it also increases the chances of brands discovering them for lucrative collaborations. Establishing an online presence builds credibility and trustworthiness, making it easier for potential brands to reach out and collaborate.
Choosing a niche
As a creator, positioning and targeting are also crucial to getting noticed. For a corporate brand, positioning often depends on the product or service and how it compares or differs from competitive offerings. A creator’s positioning depends more on the expertise or content they create for a personal brand. Building a personal brand also takes discipline.
Tom Fishburne, a former marketing executive at General Mills who left the corporate world to pursue his passion for creating cartoons, understands the raw, under-appreciated power of a niche. In his case, Tom draws insightful cartoons that just about any marketer can relate to — and get a laugh out of. Usually, these cartoons address a topic of discussion in the space, and he accompanies his cartoons with compelling blog posts that add context and insight to the issue at hand.
“Your target market is not the same as anyone who could conceivably buy your product. A target market is deliberately exclusive. That niche focus is what gives it teeth. It is what compels consumers to identify with your brand. It is what gives you the insight to speak to them so clearly.”
Niches are critical because they differentiate creators from one another, especially in a saturated market like social media influencers. They provide a unique identity that is easy for brands to pinpoint and makes choosing influencers much easier. Niches can also establish legitimacy and expertise. Creators can “own” a space by becoming category leaders in their place, making them stand-out choices for brands to work with.
Simply put, having a niche establishes boundaries of what an influencer’s brand can and can’t be; subsequently, what an influencer can and can’t promote. Without context, it’s jarring to hear a financial creator extol the virtues of Hot Pockets. As an influencer, their niche makes them the expert; speaking on that niche gives them an authentic connection to their followers and appropriate promotion for a brand. Niches contribute to an influencer’s brand’s overall look and feel, making it easier for viewers to understand what kinds of content to expect.
However, a niche shouldn’t pigeonhole a creator into one piece or one form of content. Instead, it should focus on retaining a group of viewers dedicated to following that influencer’s content. Creators should be free to explore whatever topics and themes they want, so long as it is in their voice. One of the best niches to occupy is simply a creator’s personality. A creator who has a following solely on their personality will speak on any topic or theme with complete authenticity. Because each character is unique, the creator has an irreplicable position they can leverage forever.
Although there is technically no limit to what niches content creators want to occupy, there are some rigid boundaries as to what types of content are allowed on each platform. One of the most overlooked steps when signing up for a platform is reading the terms of service. These documents outline what types of content are banned or restricted on the platform. As a content creator, it is essential to be aware of these categories and avoid choosing a niche, as the platform can stop a creator’s journey before it even starts. Additionally, when it comes to promotions, platforms become even more restrictive of what kinds of products & services can be advertised. Some of the most common restricted categories
include financial products, gambling, health & wellness products such as
weight loss products or vitamins, and relationship or dating products. When unverified, these categories can carry significant risk to consumers and thus usually have to be directly approved by the platform themselves.
On the other hand, a niche is not an invitation to sell out either: creators who do not enjoy the content they produce are harder to watch and follow. While pleasing viewers is nice, it should not come at the expense of the creator’s joy and identity. Finding and maintaining that boundary and balance can be difficult, especially as the influencer’s brand grows.
Playing the Algorithm
One additional factor to consider is the platform an influencer is on—influencers who understand how their platform works can use it to their advantage and promote themselves more easily. Having a basic understanding of algorithms is often the key to achieving virality. One of the most studied platforms is YouTube: best practices on optimizing the algorithm, such as naming titles, thumbnails, and even how videos are posted, have been analyzed and shared across the platform. In theory, while these practices help everyone, they eventually turn into standards or “basic requirements” instead of real advantages.
Not following these practices puts a creator behind the competition and sometimes can restrict the content creators make. Conversely, TikTok, as the newest big social media platform, has an algorithm that is still largely unknown. Creators are free to experiment with their content and formatting, but there is no way to tell if their practices will succeed, apart from basic metrics like impressions and engagements.
However, it is essential to know that as these platforms develop, the algorithms will also shift. Keeping a keen eye on these shifts allows content creators to stay ahead and make changes as needed. It is also one of the reasons why creating content solely to go viral is a bad idea; desperately chasing the algorithm will only lead to burnout and compromise the legitimacy and authenticity of a creator’s brand.
At their most basic, social media platform algorithms are designed to capture and hold users’ attention so the platforms can observe consumer behavior and target ads they think will be most relevant to them.
To grossly over-simplify, these algorithms evaluate millions of factors to
determine what they think each user will find engaging from the people and topics they follow. And they closely observe how users react to each piece of content — scrolling past, slowing down, clicking, liking, etc. Users program their feeds essentially as long as what they’re seeing keeps them on the platform. Keep this in mind as you create content for your audience: make sure the opening pitch is compelling (does your content grab attention in a second or less?), and does it inspire people to spend more time with your content?
Listening to your audience
Lastly, while it is beneficial to have a large following as an influencer, having a significant engagement is just as important, if not more. One way to do so is by listening to and engaging with the audience. Audiences that feel seen or heard are much more likely to watch or follow content while taking their suggestions and include them in the creative process. The interaction also builds community around the personal brand, offering more opportunities to show off a creator’s expertise and further solidifying them as category leaders in their space.
As a creator in the pursuit of a million dollars, it is easier to convince 1,000
people to give $1,000 each rather than trying to convince 1,000,000 people to give $1. Having a dedicated following gives creators more authority to monetize their brand, whether from brands or the viewers themselves.
Ironically, being a creator is no longer solely about becoming as big as possible; as a creator grows more prominent, the connection to their viewing audience becomes smaller. Brands are starting to shift towards smaller creators with only tens of thousands of followers instead of hundreds of thousands or even millions of followers, as smaller creators can offer higher engagement at a more consistent frequency. Brands value the authenticity of a creator as much as the audience does; maintaining that essence while having a large following can be the most formidable challenge for a creator to face.
While there may be similarities between corporate brands and personal brands, ultimately, personal brands can reach others on a level where corporate brands cannot. A personal brand is both a tool and a reflection of the creators themselves; laying the framework for their brand puts a creator in the best position to succeed as an influencer and category leader. Even though the influencer industry may appear saturated, this peer-to-peer connection will always be valuable and occasionally necessary to get consumers to engage.
About The Author
Lomit Patel is the Senior Vice President of Growth at IMVU. Before IMVU, Lomit managed growth at early-stage startups, including Roku (IPO), TrustedID (acquired by Equifax), Texture (acquired. by Apple), and EarthLink. Lomit is a public speaker, author, advisor, and recognized as a Mobile Hero by Liftoff. Lomit’s book Lean AI, part of Eric Ries’ best-selling “The Lean Startup” series, is now available at Amazon.
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