How Do I Become an Influencer?
The goal of becoming an influencer is often hard to define. How do you know if you have achieved the status of an influencer? After all, what is an influencer? Because I’ve worked with over 100 influencers here at Adobe, some just starting out and some with already developed audiences, it is clear there are three stages to becoming an influencer: beginner, intermediate, and advanced. In each, influencers must pass through certain milestones to get to the next level. There is power in understanding where you are in your journey you are on. That is, before we get into a more in-depth discussion of leadership at each level, I have found that it is helpful to get familiar with the three stages. By doing so, you can determine what you need to do to progress in your journey.
Have you seen the movie Julie & Julia? It is quite a depiction of a thought-leaders journey to becoming an influencer from nothing. The movie is based on Julie’s book about her experiences along the way. As her story begins, Julie had newly moved into a run-down apartment with her husband in Queens, New York. With a stressful job trying to help meet the insurance needs of 9/11 victims, Julie had turned to cooking to let go of her stresses after a long day’s work. As her hobby developed, through her cooking she wanted to bring to the world the fulfillment she experienced through it. But, she had no idea where to begin. As this dream began to form in her, a coworker of hers began a blog. As Julie discussed her friend’s new endeavor with her husband, he suggested that she follow suit. He argued that, given her dissatisfaction with her job and their living situation, Julie needed “something to do.” Julie decided she could find fulfillment in the cooking journey and bring that fulfillment to others through a blog. So, she began defining her goals: she would cook all the recipes in Julia Child’s cookbook in 1 year: 524 recipes in 365 days. And, as she did so, she would write about her adventure in a blog. This is where her journey to becoming an influencer began.
The Beginning Influencer…
So, what has happened so far? Julie found her niche. She then worked to shape her thoughts on what she wanted to contribute to her niche. Still, nobody knew her. Nobody was listening. She even wondered if anyone cared about her topic. Despite this, she began writing with consistency and persistency. Put simply, she jumped in with both feet. She developed a strict writing routine. Each day, she came home from work and began cooking. Then, she let her “readers” know how it all went. She was transparent in her writing and her personality was strongly depicted as she portrayed her victories and her failures alike. Regardless of whether anyone was listening, Julie’s journey to become an influencer was shaping itself.
At this point, Julie laid the groundwork for long-term success by:
- Sharing her secrets. When Julie shared her failures, she followed up by sharing how she was able to fix them and what she had learned through the process. In doing so, her audience was able to learn her lessons and apply them in their own lives. This positioned her as an expert.
- Being transparent. She often wrote about her struggles in cooking and even her failures in finding a hobby/personal life balance. This transparency was a tool to creating a trusting audience through showing genuine vulnerability and humanness.
- Committing to consistency for the long-haul. She continued to write, despite little perceived progress in gaining an audience. Her audience could then count on content and was able to make it a habitual part of their routines.
- **Focusing the effort. **In this beginning stage, Julie set a time for the completion of her goal. She also decided exactly what her goal was. In doing so, she didn’t just start a blog about everything. She wrote about a specific niche, thereby setting the stage to attract a target audience. Here, Julie went through the process of “finding her voice” as an industry influencer.
- **Differentiating the product. **Instead of writing about “cooking,” Julie further differentiated herself in the niche by specializing in Julia Child recipes.
- **Offering solutions to audience pain points. **As Julie publicly worked through the glitches she encountered in her everyday cooking experience, she was able to pass along the lessons learned to an audience that would likely face the same struggles. Thus, she foresaw their needs and solved them.
The Intermediate Influencer…
In addition to learning how best to conduct herself as an influencer as well as what she had to offer her audience, Julie began listening to her market and learning who the influencers were in her niche. She then began to think about how she could connect with them and incorporate them into her audience. This would likely result in a growing following as she is appreciated before new audiences by influencers. Put simply, she began to feel around in the market to determine who her friends were.
And, as she discovered who the key influencers were in her niche, she also began to gain the attention of her target market. Her first comment was, admittedly, a disappointment: her mother expressed her disapproval for the time she was “wasting.” Still, despite the discouragement, Julie continued on, sticking to her plan of consistent writing. As a result, slowly, she began to receive a handful of comments a week … then up to a few per blog post. As she earned more engagement, she realized that she was becoming visible in her niche and had an audience that looked to her to resolve their cooking pain points. Her audience clearly felt connected to her and, she believed, they depended on her. Audience members derived value in her content as they lived vicariously through her in her learning process. This was knowledge they could apply to their own lives to avoid the mistakes Julie made. At this point, she may not have been influencing many, but she was certainly seen as an influencer to her readers. So, based on word-of-mouth and social proof, the word began to spread.
In this second stage, Julie laid the groundwork for becoming a long-term influencer by:
- **Engaging with her community. **She valued each comment, leveraging them to create relationships with her readers.
- Consistently educating her audience. Through this, she taught her audience to trust in her expertise. After all, her tips were practical. Her audience could test her expertise by applying it in their own cooking practices and seeing first-hand results; thereby, they learned to trust her.
- Centering her content around her audience’s pain points based on data gathered through community engagement and market research. For example, for her, it was a big deal to kill a lobster for one of her recipes. Comments by her audience may have revealed that this wasn’t a pain point for them. If her audience didn’t like her points, she took it as an opportunity to self-reflect and then changed her approach.
- **Reaching out to influencers for greater exposure. **Sadly, at first, Julie experienced much disappointment because she was seemingly ignored by key influencers. Though she was getting some interview offers, they fell through at this point. However, she didn’t let this deter her and was patient with herself and her audience. She continued her quest consistently to reach out.
- Building her portfolio of expertise validation. As Julie wrote each piece for her blog, she went about creating a “paper trail” of her demonstrated expertise. As she accumulated her proven expertise publicly, was able to then point to this as validation as she sought to branch out in her expertise. In this way, her blog (online presence) became her resume.
- **Lastly, Julie built her social proof. **As more and more engagement with her content took place, key influencers took notice. After all, she was visibly gaining the attention of the industry audience. This engagement meant that what she had to say was valuable to the market.
The Advanced Influencer…
Toward the end of her story, Julie was valued in her industry and, as a result, experienced some sudden breakthroughs. Her efforts to reach out to influencers paid off. One day, she received a call from an editor who wanted to do a piece on Julie’s experience and success. Sadly, this opportunity fell through. However, it was a sign that she was being heard in her industry and had come to the point that she wasn’t just a thought-leader before her inexperienced audience. No, she was now being selected to speak on behalf of her industry as an expert. As a result, she was even being asked to influence other influencers. She was no longer just responding to the market discussion. Instead, she was being asked to lead it.
Soon, Julie received another call from a reporter asking to do a piece on her, based on a personal interview. Quickly, this piece exposed Julie’s brand to a wider, influencer-based audience through appearance opportunities at industry events, in elite industry publications, and through movie and book requests. Julie’s expertise was now in industry-wide demand. And, she was a thought-leader.
At this point, Julie laid the work for continued and sustained success as the following events unfolded:
- Instead of Julie reaching out to influencers, industry influencers began to reach out to her for her unique expertise, creating greater exposure to wider audiences.
- In doing so, she received a “stamp of approval” by key influencers before ever-new audiences. Her reach grew rapidly throughout the industry and into its various sub-markets.
- Julie greatly expanded her engagement channels. At first, her blog was her only influencing tool. Quickly, she was sought for guest posting, speaking, and book publishing opportunities.
At this point, Julie had arrived. She was a key influencer, leading the conversation in her industry. She was now responsible for analyzing the industry and finding solutions to pain points that had not been formerly found.
Throughout Julie’s journey, there are a few key strategies that continually created her standing as a thought-leader/influencer.
- First, she jumped in with both feet. Many aspiring influencers hesitate to get started, fearing they aren’t good enough writers and don’t have valuable enough ideas. They must take the leap anyway.
- Second, she was consistent and persistent in her strategy. In doing so, she built trust and a demonstrated expertise that would open the doors for key relationships and opportunities.
- Next, she was continually seeking learning opportunities even after she had gained status as an influencer. At this point, she was an industry analyzer, pointing out the pain points that needed to be solved and solving them for audiences and influencers alike.
- **She engaged with her community. **At first, her engagement centered on her audience. Then, it expanded to key influencers. At each level, she sought new engagement opportunities without neglecting her previous engagement channels.
- In the end**, she was a servant in her industry**. This is the definition of an influencer: an industry expert and analyst who succeeds in serving her community with consistently unique value.
If you haven’t seen Julie & Julia, for a content marketer it’s a great learning experience. You can laugh and cry with Julie as she feels through the process of thought-leader growth. I highly recommend it!
I’d love to know: Do you know where you are in your journey as an influencer? Do you know what you need to do to reach the next level?