Want to start your own business by becoming an influence marketer? Scan random Instagram accounts and you'll find countless people who hope to turn a passion into a profitable startup, but the vast majority get no farther than -- maybe -- influencing a few of their friends.

And then there are people who actually succeed -- and turn the influence they achieve into a thriving business.

Amra and Elma Beganovich left their 9-to-5 jobs (Amra as an economist, Elma an attorney) to build Club Fashionista, an invite-only platform for influencers generating high-quality content, and Amra & Elma, an influencer-led digital marketing agency.

They started from scratch, going from helping struggling startups to working for major brands like Avon, Uber, HTC, W Hotels, and Johnson & Johnson... and along the way collected over 2.3 million social followers. The two ventures function as a flywheel; their extensive social media presence help grow their business, which helps grow their social following and influence, which helps grow their business...

How did they pull that off? And how can you become a superstar social influencer? And possibly even tap into influencer marketing, currently a $5 billion industry?

I recently talked with Elma (who is as delightful in person as she is on social media) about how to organically grow your social media following and become genuinely influential -- whether you're building a startup, building your personal brand... or, like Amra and Elma, both.

Here's Elma's advice:

1. Never forget that content is always king.

Of course you can grow through paid advertising, but if you want to grow organically, you absolutely must focus on content.

Not just that -- you need spectacular content.

And it must be strategically aligned. For us, it was travel. Travel is something we love to do, so we took advantage of that interest... but it had to stop being "let's go go Miami" and become advance coordination between airlines and hotels and PR to plan the right trips to the right locations.

It's not by accident that we end up in places like Tuscany. We look for popular destinations, We focus on places people dream of visiting.

It's not about you -- it's about your followers, and what they want to see and what they find useful.

2. Engage often... but engage strategically.

Where does your target market hang out? Who do they follow?

Then start to engage with them. Provide a sincerer compliment. Engage in a sincere conversation. Like some of their photos. You'll be surprised by how many of those people will start to follow you.

Say you're in tech; go to the social media pages of Google, WeWork, Samsung, etc., and engage with users. Go to their profiles and like their posts, repost them, or leave comments. If you're sincere and thoughtful, those interactions will definitely result in followers.  

That's how I built momentum on Twitter: Consistent, sincere engagement.

It won't happen overnight, though. To grow organically, you have to stick with it.

But what's really fun is that you will see immediate results. Liking photos, following people, giving sincere compliments... it's fun, because people genuinely appreciate when you do.

And over time it definitely pays off.

3. Decide how you will stand out.

To build a following you have to be memorable. You can't just copy what other people are doing -- that won't help. When someone lands on one of your social accounts, you have to stand out. Something needs to be unique.

Maybe it's exceptional expertise. Maybe it's unusual experiences. Whatever it is, it must be what your target market wants to see or hear about.

One way to get started is to look at brands that are similar to yours stand out, and then think about how you can strategically stand out within that market.

We originally thought our brand persona would be aspirational, so we started out by dabbling with fashion and travel. We quickly learned that travel was great for us. It's difficult to stand out in fashion, though, so we looked at other accounts to see what people responded to... and realized that our particular blend of travel and fashion really makes us stand out.

4. Accept that standing out is hard work.

Of course that meant we needed to travel frequently to the right destinations, to incorporate fashion, to take great photos... that means planning our trips months in advance, scouting the best locations, getting up early to get the perfect light...

We couldn't do it casually. That doesn't move people. Standing out -- on a consistent basis -- takes a lot of time and effort.

So does understanding your audience. Don't be afraid to experiment; you won't figure out your audience right away, but if you try different things and then monitor your data and evaluate the comments, likes, etc., that will help you determine what your audience appreciates -- and wants to see more of.

5. Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate.

Once you've determined where your audience lives, what they find useful, and how you will stand out, it's incredibly important to collaborate with other people. Collaborating is a great way to attract new followers by exchanging audiences.

How? Tag each other. Give each other shout outs. Actually do things together, like an interview for a YouTube channel.

All you have to do is reach out. Many people are happy to engage in a conversation about smart, authentic ways to exchange audiences. Start with accounts of similar sizes -- then, as your following grows, you can collaborate with larger, more influential accounts.

But no matter what, always be humble and appreciative of the people who collaborate with you. And be patient; focus on on healthy engagement.

And of course monitor those collaborations so you can determine what your audiences appreciates and enjoys.

6. Tag similar accounts and brands.

Accounts and brands that share your philosophy will be happy to re-post you. Brands are constantly looking for content. They need things to share. Tag them.

For example, Airbnb has a great following and does a lot of re-posting.

The key is to provide great content -- again, content is king -- that other accounts and brands will want to share. Get reposted by influential brands and you'll definitely see a bump in followers.

7. Organize giveaways.

Giveaways are another form of collaboration. Figure out how you can share your target demographic, and work with accounts of similar sizes to organize giveaways that are valuable to both audiences.

If you can't find freebies to give away, get creative. Put together a giveaway with a few other accounts, having everyone pitch in a certain amount in order to buy the prize. That can be a very effective way to gain significant attention -- and followers. (Of course, some people who enter a giveaway will un-follow you once it's over, especially if you don't provide content that otherwise engages them. That's sometimes how it goes.)

8. Never lose sight of who you are.

Early on you thought about who you are and what you represent: Your values, your philosophy, and how you want to stand out.

Don't lose sight of that when you get opportunities to collaborate and offer giveaways. It's easy to be tempted to collaborate with an influential account that actually confuses your audience.

Does it make sense for you to tag Airbnb and hope to get reposted? If you like to travel, yes. If not, then that really won't help you build an engaged audience.

Always be intentional. Figure out who you are as a brand, then start putting the pieces of the puzzle together. That's the best way to find your audience.

9. Let a little of yourself show through.

Too much of the same thing gets boring. Don't be afraid to weave in a few lifestyle posts.

What is your target demographic's personal life like? What are their hobbies and interests?

Posting an image from a day of volunteer work, a cool wine bar you just discovered, a fun getaway spot... those things add personality to your account.

Being a real person and not just a brand is crucial in gaining -- and more importantly, keeping -- followers.

10. Invest in quality.

For all the mistakes we made, one thing we did right was to invest in the quality of our content. We bought professional cameras, great lenses... quality mattered from the beginning.

Production quality is a big thing. And great production values don't have to be expensive. There are plenty of applications for editing images on mobile phones that are extremely easy to use. The cost of entry is very low, but still, there is a cost -- being willing to invest in quality will definitely help you stand out.

And of course that also applies to content. Investing time and energy in the quality of your content is critical. A mediocre image or post is not worth sharing. When people land on your Instagram page, it only takes about 5 seconds for them to decide whether or not to follow you. That's why all of your content needs to provide real value.

Invest in creating great content. That's the best way to grow and maintain your audience.

Published on: Sep 20, 2017
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