Is growth hacking social-media stardom possible?

Forget about vanity metrics and empty fame. I'm talking about growing a die-hard following, quitting your day job, and watching speaking gigs, podcasts, feature articles, and paid partnerships roll in.

The answer is: Yes, as long as you don't fall victim to popular wisdom.

Sam Hurley -- who was recently named the most influential digital marketer of 2016 -- did it from scratch... all in under 15 months without a website, a product, an app, or an ego.


By doing the opposite of everything you've heard about social media stars...

Building Relationships

Back in February 2015, Hurley was a genuine social media "nobody" with less than 500 followers and zero connections. He'd worked in search marketing for six years but hadn't invested in a personal brand.

And that's where growth hacking social media starts. As Hurley explains: "Building your brand intentionally -- as opposed to just 'putting in work' and hoping for the best -- is the foundation most people miss. The truth is: Anybody can do it."

For Hurley, building his brand meant two things.

First, he adopted a "guest-post-only" strategy for his online writing, publishing his work exclusively on sites he didn't own. Every byline drove traffic back to his social profiles instead of a product or service, which was why not having his own site was so strategic.

Second, he built hundreds of one-on-one relationships with bloggers, influencers, business owners, and fans all through direct conversations on Twitter and LinkedIn. Most of these kicked off with a compliment or a question, and in the vast majority of cases, the other people wrote back.

"I can't stress how time-consuming those conversations were," Hurley notes, "I'd be neck deep in back-and-forth social-media exchanges for upwards of ten hours some days and then have to cover my regular client work. But relationships are the original growth hack. Your relationships are your brand."

Saying No

It'd be nice if there was a single turning point in Hurley's road to stardom, but -- as he puts it -- "what finally helped me break through was the compounded results from multiple features and a relatively small number of connections I'd made with the right people at the right time. The real key was simply being present for the right opportunities and seizing them."

Seizing the right opportunities, however, demands getting ruthless with your priorities.

While Hurley's approach started broad, his endgame centered on reaching 10 to 15 key websites and influencers who he could enlist as personal evangelists. If anything came between him and one of those targets, he turned it down: "By January, offers started to come in and it was tempting to just say 'Yes.' I resisted only because I knew what my big wins had to be to make this whole 'influencer' thing work in the long term."

When Jay Shetty and Thomas Power -- two of the original names on Hurley's short list -- invited him to become part of Adobe's Digital Marketing Summit, he was free to go all in as both a presenter and a promoter.

The invitation to serve as one of Adobe's five global "insiders" represented an enterprise-level endorsement and exposed Hurley to a client and fan-base that would have taken years to accumulate: "If I hadn't said 'No' to so much early on, I wouldn't have been able to say 'Yes' when it finally mattered. And I wouldn't have presented to celebrity influencers like Colin Farrell and Davina McCall."

Being Selfless

Social media is notorious for its obsession with ego-driven vanity metrics: empty numbers that don't translate into anything of real value.

According to Hurley, "The biggest social-media 'myth' has to be that you can just buy followers, post a few hundred times, and instantly become famous!"

You can't. Without real fans, numbers don't mean anything. And the only way to hack social media stardom -- to generate those real fans -- is by providing value first.

As counterintuitive as it may sound, Hurley's social presence has been founded on sharing other people's content... not promoting his own.

If you visit his social streams, you won't find the usual self-centered rants, pitches, or videos so characteristic of would-be influencers. Instead, for every post about himself, you'll find 20-30 posts about others, celebrating and pointing his followers toward them not him.

Turns out, it is possible to hack social media stardom. So long as you do exactly what social-media stars aren't supposed to do.