When it comes to building a loyal audience on social media, there is a huge difference between acquiring followers in bulk, and attracting people who genuinely care about your content. In fact, it's far more valuable to have 5,000 people who keep up with your every move, than to have 50,000 followers with only a few hundred actively engaged.

With the rise of social media marketing, specifically influencer marketing, we are starting to see very clearly the gap between people who really know how to create valuable content, and those that seem lost in translation. Today's influencers are more intentional than ever with the content they post. Ask any one of them what drives their daily hustle, and they'll say, "Connecting with likeminded people." That's really what's at the heart of what they do.

A perfect example of someone who has built a powerhouse of a personal brand for herself from the ground up, and truly understands how to provide value to her followers is fitness entrepreneur Amanda Bucci. Boasting close to half a million Instagram followers and over 16 million views on her YouTube channel, it's safe to say she knows a little something about what it takes to attract (and keep) people's attention on social media. But even beyond her impressive social presence is her personal brand, co-signed by one of the biggest health and fitness brands out there, Bodybuilding.com, along with various other industry related brands excited to partner and be part of her daily content.

When I asked Bucci what the real value of building a personal brand is, her answer was simple: "I get to connect with likeminded people. When you have a strong personal brand, people want to connect with you just as much as you want to connect with them - whether it's people who would love to learn from you, or those whom you'd love to learn from - It opens so many doors of opportunity."

So, what does it take to build a strong personal brand on social media, and attract close to half a million followers?

1. You have to understand why you're doing it in the first place.

"Having a lot of followers on social media is great and all, but whenever someone asks me how they can do the same for themselves, I always say why. Knowing why you want to build an audience is the most valuable part."

Bucci went on to explain that you need a goal to aim for. If you aren't sure of why you want to invest all this time in building a personal brand for yourself, then chances are you're going to struggle to understand who you ultimately want to reach as well.

Start with the end in mind.

2. Let your audience see the real you.

Social media, even though it happens behind a screen, is all about authenticity.

"Something that works really well for a lot of massive YouTubers and online personalities is having big, bubbly, charismatic personalities. They just tend to be more entertaining to the masses. But that has never been my personality, and for me to do that would feel fake. It's draining for me personally. I think true connection and engagement is a lot less about being overly energetic on camera and more about just being true to who you are. People can tell the difference, especially in video. Unless your brand is based around acting or portraying a particular personality, of course."

With the rise of video content (and the fact that it's only going to continue), Bucci's advice rings true. So many people upload videos every single day--why do some perform better than others? The answer tends to always come back to authenticity.

3. If you're not creating every day, don't be surprised if your audience engagement slowly diminishes.

"The hardest part is keeping people watching, especially on YouTube." said Bucci. "Audiences who enjoy what you do and connect to you, always want more and new. They want you to be constantly creating, because they love it! So if you want to build a real audience around your content, you have to commit to that practice."

This is where so many aspiring influencers fail. You'd think something like consistency would be the easiest part, but it's actually the most difficult. It's not easy being creative, coming up with new content, and making the time to post on multiple platforms on a daily basis. It's actually more time consuming than is perceived. But it's also the differentiator between the influencers that rise to the top, and those who never see much traction.

4. Respond, engage, repeat.

"When I first started using Instagram, I think I responded back to every single comment. Every single one, all the way up until I reached around 70,000 followers. I would say 'Thank you!' to each person individually. I genuinely wanted to, and it opened up the door to conversate and comment for those people again. And they did. Engaging with your audience is a crucial part of the growth process!"

This is something a lot of aspiring influencers forget, or just flat out ignore. Everyone wishes they could just be that social media star who posts selfies and gets thousands of comments. Unfortunately, that's not how it works. If you want people to care about what you're posting and saying, then you need to care to respond to their questions and comments too. It's a relationship.

5. Collaborate with other influencers.

"One of the best ways to grow your own personal brand is to collaborate with other people who have strong personal brands," said Bucci. "You get introduced to their followers, and they get introduced to your followers. It's a win/win, especially if it makes sense and you actually like the person!"

This is a tactic that tends to come with some controversy. There are influencers who fear collaborating because they don't want their followers to leave them and follow someone else. But if you're worried about that, then chances are you don't have a good sense of what your value is in the first place.

Collaboration is one of the best (and fastest) ways to grow your presence, credibility, and social channels. But most importantly, it's one of the best ways to establish yourself in the community. When people see you interacting with people they already enjoy and follow, they consider you as someone they want to follow as well.

Published on: Apr 19, 2017