The Ghost of the Gram defies most of the conventional advice about how to become popular on social media--post beautiful pictures of yourself, offer to help other people, and showcase your skills and knowledge.

In fact, during my conversation with him, he never once talked about what kind of pictures he posts and he certainly didn't mention hacks like hashtags and filters.

But, he's managed to attract more than a million Instagram followers by doing the exact opposite of what most people recommend doing. He's never shown his face, doesn't mention any type of talent or occupation, and hasn't even revealed his name.

He says the idea to become "ghost" came to him when he was in the Turks and Caicos with friends. Ghost was all about building a brand by immersing himself in influencer and celebrity culture.

He decided to become a nameless, faceless figure whom people would want to meet. And his idea--and his Instagram strategies--worked.

He currently has 1.2 million followers. And his Instagram page is riddled with pictures of him (whose identity is concealed by a mask) doing cool things alongside some of the world's coolest people.

So how does this guy who wears a bedazzled ski mask over his face attract over a million followers in less than six months?

And why are celebrities, professional athletes, and influencers (ranging from Paris Hilton to Gary Vaynerchuk) trying to get their picture taken with him when they don't even know his real identity?

These are the questions I asked him during a recent phone interview. Ghost says these strategies are what helped him build a massive Instagram following fast:

1. Network in real life.

Although many people talk about the importance of networking when building a social media following, most people stick to online networking--by commenting on celebrities' posts or messaging influencers.

But Ghost says he built his platform by making in-person connections in clubs in New York and LA.

He said, "I went from having to sneak the mask into clubs with me to getting invited to clubs by being a professional networker." Eventually, he says, celebrities and influencers began recognizing him and he became well-known on the social scene.

2. Build an online network.

He certainly didn't ignore online networking opportunities, however. He discovered other people who were doing interesting things on Instagram and he reached out to them.

But, he makes it clear that he doesn't invest any time worrying about other social networks. Prior to launching his Instagram account, he never used social media (although he doesn't rule out that he may use other social networks in the future).

3. Say no.

Ghost says he's been approached by a lot of brands to form partnerships. So far, he's turned them all down.

He doesn't want to accept any offers that aren't considered smart collaborations.

So while he could likely be making a lot of money already by being an influencer, he's not afraid to say no to things that aren't in line with his brand.

He currently doesn't monetize his page in any way but he's not worried about cashing in on his huge following. He is confident he'll turn his engagement into money down the road.

4. Be purposeful.

Ghost refers to himself as a social engineer who is capable of making things happen He keeps the big picture in mind when he's crafting his Instagram strategy.

He says he wants to eventually make the shift from "influencer" to "celebrity," which he says are two different things.

He is currently doing things that help him build clout by combining a bit of mystery with lifestyle elements that attract followers.

5. Invest time and money strategically.

Ghost acknowledges that he paid for promotions. He said, "Some people have a lot of content with multiple Instagram pages and they can help you build your brand."

He recommends "haggling prices" and "building relationships" as you look for others to help promote your page. He says this is an excellent way to help gain followers.

What's Next for Ghost?

For the record, I have no idea who Ghost is. The interview was arranged through several third parties--and Ghost's lawyer was on the line while we talked.

But, I can say he's charismatic, funny, and intriguing to speak to. He implied he has some big things in store for the future of his brand and after interviewing him, I suspect he's right.

And I suspect everyone can learn something from his strategies. After all, everyone else is following conventional advice. If you really want to stand out on social media, you need to do something different.

Published on: Aug 14, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.